Nfld. & Labrador

Labrador West daycare dreams drowned by sprinkler system cost

Becca Muggridge wanted to expand her care services in Labrador West, but is being held back by high expenses.

Expense of licensing for daycare is keeping this young entrepreneur out of business

Becca Muggridge is a 24-year-old certified early childhood educator in Labrador West. (Submitted)

Becca Muggridge knew that opening a business, especially one involving work with children, would mean jumping through a lot of hoops. 

Muggridge, a certified early childcare educator, planned to open her own licensed daycare for children under the age of two — a service Labrador West is still without.

"I was trying to open up six spaces so it would work out to be a baby centre to make room for children … probably start at about one-year-olds," Muggridge said.

But her dreams were drowned when ServiceNL said her licensed daycare space would have to be outfitted with a sprinkler system, at an estimated price of $200,000.

Lack of infant spaces in N.L.

Under current regulations, one caretaker is required for every three children under two years of age, versus one for every five children older than two. Each room in a daycare can have a maximum of six children under two, versus ten toddler-aged children or 16 preschoolers.

One result of the stricter requirements is that there's a desperate lack of regulated care for children aged one to two. This leaves many parents struggling to find a space for their one year olds when they return to work after parental leave.

For many of these parents, the solution is to use a dayhome, which is exempt from licensing when it has three or fewer children under the age of two, or four or fewer when only one or two children are under two.

LeeAnn Toomashie has struggled to find care for both her one year old and her seven year old. She said many parents she knows rely on unlicensed care providers, but that they would prefer the reliability of a regulated centre.

LeeAnn Toomashie with her husband Jordan Brown and children Coraline, 7 and Rosette, 1. (Submitted )

"It causes a lot of anxiety for me honestly, because it's just one day to the next," Toomashie said.

"Daycares are so secure, you know you can take your kid there even when school is cancelled … but babysitters are only human, they get sick and they have appointments."

New regulations as of July 2017

The province's childcare regulations were part of the reason for a need for spaces that Muggridge hoped to help fill, but those same regulations also made her planned expansion financially impossible.

Instead of renting a space for a daycare, Muggridge bought a home for her business in order to fulfil the regulation for a fire-resistant ceiling, she said. The 2010 home was inspected by the local chief when she bought it in 2016, and deemed up to code at the time.

Becca Muggridge with Madalyn Avery, from her Little Twigs daycare. (Submitted )

"When they came into the 2010 [home] they were like, 'Wow this is perfect everything's up to code. Everything we're looking at is pretty black and white here,'" she said.

But months later, ServiceNL told her she could not open a business in the home to increase her child ratio, hire staff, and become licensed because the house was not outfitted with a sprinkler system.

New regulations had just been enacted in July 2017.

"We realized then we needed a full sprinkler system and integrated fire alarm system in the home," Muggridge said.

"I was quoted by ServiceNL to say that you're expecting anywhere between $150,000 to 200,000 for sprinkler installation."

The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment said in a statement that not all family-based daycares in the province require sprinkler systems.

However, new daycares opened since Sept. 1, 2015, or those that have expanded their floor area by 50 per cent or more since that time, must have a sprinkler system in place.

Labrador West still in need

At that point, Muggridge had spent the previous year getting together the other equipment and general supplies she needed to open her business.

"If anybody has kids they know exactly how expensive this stuff is," she said.

But her entrepreneurial road came to an end when she decided the cost of the system's installation outweighed the benefits.

"I can't spend the next 15-20 years paying this off when at the end of the day I'm not even going to be able to sell my home," Muggridge said.

"I can't spend the next 15-20 years paying this off ...- Becca   Muggridge

That still leaves Labrador West without licensed infant care for children under two.

"People don't know where to go now because at the end of the day they have to go with a babysitter and they may not know that babysitter from the next person, they don't know where their children are going," Muggridge said.

That may include Toomashie, who isn't sure if her younger child will have a regulated spot even once she is a toddler.

"When she was three weeks old I put her on the wait list for the daycare in Wabush — and that's for when she's two," Toomashie said.

"Chances are she'll still be on the wait list when she's two."