Nfld. & Labrador

$25-a-day daycare begins in N.L., 'a weight off our shoulders' to lucky parents

The province's boosted child-care subsidy rolled out on Jan. 1, but only to qualifying operators and their families.

'It makes our lives financially possible,' says one dad

Dad Matthew Drew says the $25-a-day daycare makes it possible to keep his older son in daycare while his wife is on maternity leave, and he finishes graduate studies. (Submitted by Matthew Drew)

Cheaper child care has arrived for some families in Newfoundland and Labrador, lifting a financial weight on parents able to access the $25-a-day daycare rate as of Jan 1.

Matthew Drew, dad to 2½-year-old Charlie and six-week-old Joseph, is completing his PhD, and with his wife on maternity leave, finances are tight. The prospect of eventually paying for care for two children had been a daunting one, with the couple having considered leaving the province or pausing studies in order to cope.

But having daycare costs for their eldest slashed in half is a "weight off our shoulders," he said, and keeps them living and working in St. John's.

"It makes our lives financially possible," he said.

"It's around $500 per month that we now have to keep the groceries coming in, keep the renovations to our house going, and keep gas in the car," he said.

Dad Chris Dowden has seen his daughter's monthly daycare bill of around $1,200 drop by around $300. While he said his family could previously make ends meet, he knows of many others where child-care costs make or break bank accounts.

"It's another mortgage. It's essentially one of the major expenses that you deal with in your life," he said.

"For some families, it's the difference in either working or not, because you simply can't afford child care at the rates that were previously being offered," Dowden said.

Chris Dowden, right, says with child care often adding up to a mortgage payment, the $25-a-day initiative means the difference between some parents being able to work or not. (Submitted by Chris Dowden)

$25 tweaks made

Dowden and Drew are some of the lucky parents in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Liberal government's budget in October unveiled details of the $25-a-day initiative, allotting enough money to subsidize 8,000 such spaces across the province, delivered as a top up to an existing child-care operating grant system paid out to qualifying licenced operators.

The beefed-up grant remains available only to licensed operators, either based in centres or homes across the province. The Department of Education said, in a statement, that as of Jan. 1 the bulk of such operators — 80 per cent of child care centres, and 70 per cent of registered dayhomes — have opted in to the program, totalling about 7,000 spaces.

There are about 8,100 such licensed spaces in the province, but there also exists an untold number of unlicensed or informal daycares whose families won't see such a financial break. According to 2020 statistics, there are more than 20,000 children under the age of four in the province.

Kendra Harrigan, who looks after Dowden's daughter at her home-based daycare in Witless Bay, has joined in the $25 program, even though signing up has meant she is losing some income.

She used to charge $45 a day per preschooler, but under the new deal will make $42.50. That adds up to about a $3,000 loss a year, and while that's a hit, she said since it was announced she knew she wanted to offer the substantial savings to her parents.

"It's a huge impact on them, because they're saving $20 per day for their children. So I know they're very appreciative of it and it's great to be able to see affordable child care finally come into play in our province," she said.

Harrigan said she could have fared far worse, financially. When the program was first announced, the top-up amount for home-based daycares was even less, and she and a few others spoke out, organized and met with Department of Education officials to make their case.

"They've been respectful, they've been open to our concerns and actively listened," she said, adding changes were made to bring their rates up soon afterward.

Witless Bay daycare provider Kendra Harrigan, seen here with her family, says her concerns about the cheaper child-care plan were addressed by the provincial government, and has meant she can take part in the $25 plan. (Submitted by Kendra Harrigan)

Future hopes

Going forward, operators and families hope improvements and investments to child care keep coming. 

"I know that so many parents struggle, and so many people want to be in the workforce, but it's not really feasible when they have to pay for child care," said Harrigan.

When she moved into the regulated system, she availed of government grants to get her home up to code. Those grants were curtailed a few years ago, she said, and she'd like to see them restored to help other unlicensed operators move into the regulated world.

Education Minister Tom Osborne said Thursday the province has brought those grants back in late 2020, with up to $7,500 available to help with expenses incurred by, for example, complying with building codes or buying baby furniture.

"We have already had a number of operations apply to that, and there have been some approvals already," he said.

Drew would like to see parents using unregulated providers be given a break as well.

"I would just like to see consistency, across the board, for everyone," said Drew.

"And the recognition of the important role that early childhood educators play in the development for new families, and for getting our careers off the ground and contributing to the Newfoundland economy."

Premier Andrew Furey has previously stated the $25 move is a first step in addressing child care issues in the province, and on Tuesday the Department of Education announced it would boost its operating grant even more for qualifying child-care centres in Labrador, in order for those businesses to pay their early childhood educators more and compete with wages in other sectors in the region.

The Department of Education says it will also begin consultations in the child-care sector in the coming weeks, a step needed before a mandatory review of child-care legislation begins later this year.

"We want to hear from parents. We want to hear from early learning child-care educators, from operators both regulated and unregulated, so that we can help shape the future of early learning and child care in the province," Osborne said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show


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