Nfld. & Labrador

New child-care regulations change worker qualifications, removes space caps at centres

Minister Dale Kirby says new child-care regulations are meant to improve the overall quality of early childhood learning and care.

Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dale Kirby says changes made to improve quality

The new Child Care Act for Newfoundland and Labrador came into effect on Monday, replacing the former Child Care Services Act. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

New child-care regulations are meant to improve the overall quality of early childhood learning and care in Newfoundland and Labrador, according to Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dale Kirby.

We're always going to have folks that are not satisfied with government regulations.- Minister Dale Kirby

The new Child Care Act, which came into effect Monday, updates regulations that haven't been refreshed in nearly 15 years, according to Kirby.

The act was first passed through the legislature in December 2014, but it took government several years to iron out the details before being implemented.

"There's a variety of changes in here that really bring us into the modern world of early learning and child care," Kirby told CBC Radio's On The Go.

"I always liken child care to a three-legged stool. You've got to have affordability, you need access and you've got to have quality."

Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dale Kirby says it was necessary to update child care legislation in Newfoundland and Labrador as it hadn't been in nearly 15 years. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The new regulations have a heavy focus on ensuring the quality of child-care delivery, Kirby said.

Those improvements include new requirements around qualifications of facilities and workers, a larger cap on spaces for child-care centres, and committing to five-year reviews and consultations to allow for improvements.

Qualifications of staff

Many of the changes in the new act relate to the qualifications that people working in early childhood education and care will be required to have.

Kirby said current workers shouldn't be worried about the changes, as there is some grandfathering in for those already working in the industry.

However, he added there is now a much more stringent path that new workers will be required to take if they are to work in child-care centres in the province.

Education Minister Dale Kirby says incoming staff at centres will now have a more stringent path to follow when it comes to their own education and qualifications. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

For example, people just starting to work will be placed in a category called trainee level, and following that will be levels one through four. Those who are trainee level must be working towards their level one status, which means they will have to be doing a one-year post-secondary program.

From there, educators can work towards a final goal of being Level 4, which requires the individual to have university credentials in early childhood education.

"It's sort of a graduated scale of qualifications," Kirby said. "The change will be now that within five years you have to move from the trainee to one of the levels."

Moving cap on spaces

Another big change is that government is removing the cap on spaces for child-care centre licenses, which Kirby said makes sense, as up until now centres were sometimes required to get multiple licenses to adhere to the cap requirements.

It's really about the safety of children, that's really what's first and foremost.- Dale Kirby

"There were child-care centres that had multiple licenses because they had children beyond the cap that was allowed for one licence," he said. 

"So now you will only have to have one licence per child-care centre regardless of the number of children that are receiving early learning and care there."

Confident in the new act

Kirby said he feels good about the level of consultations that went on prior to replacing the old legislation.

Those steps involved talking to people in the sector before the act passed, then allowing those same people to see the first draft of the new regulations in the spring prior to bringing them online on Monday.

The feedback from that process even led to several changes after the first draft, Kirby said.

Some daycare owners have previously said rigid provincial regulations make it expensive to operate, but Minister Dale Kirby says those rules are there to protect children. (CBC)

The current state of early childhood education in the province is good compared with other parts of the country, Kirby said, but he acknowledged there are areas in Labrador and rural Newfoundland where finding enough space is a problem.

With another $7.5 million in federal funding on the way this fall for the child-care system, Kirby says he's confident with where things are headed.

There will be some people who won't be happy with certain parts of the new legislation, he acknowledged, but added any new regulations were created in the interest of the province's children.

"We're always going to have folks that are not satisfied with government regulations," he said.

"You have to have regulations to have regulated child care. It's really about the safety of children. That's really what's first and foremost."

With files from On The Go