Panel of parents, educators and operators to give N.S. feedback on affordable daycare plan
The 21-person group will begin meeting in June as the province transitions to $10-a-day child care
Nova Scotia's education minister announced a 21-person group on Friday that she's hoping will make for a smoother rollout of the affordable child-care program that is intended to bring $10-a-day daycare to the province by 2026.
Becky Druhan said during an interview that the so-called engagement table is a way for her department to hear directly from the people most affected by and engaged with the sector. The group includes parents, educators and operators.
"It will provide a really unique opportunity for us to hear from folks, you know, from one tip of the province to another and from diverse backgrounds with a broad variety of skills and experiences related to child care," she said.
Since details of the affordable child-care plan started to emerge, there has been criticism from some people in the sector — particularly for-profit operators — that they haven't been consulted enough and that the government is forcing them to alter their business model for the sake of conforming to the $605-million agreement signed last year with the federal government.
Druhan said the engagement table is intended to help work through those concerns and, in the meantime, the government is hitting pause on a plan that would have had for-profit operators make a choice about how they will alter their business model to be a part of the agreement.
Along with the new group, the government announced Friday it's removing the hold that was in place on operators being able to apply for changes to their total licence capacity. Owners can also apply to sell their business and licence under existing terms and conditions.
Ten private operators are voluntarily beginning a pilot program to transform to a non-profit model, but the minister said even that is not set in stone.
"If they decide it's not the path that they want to be on, then they certainly don't have to proceed," said Druhan.
Michelle Conrod is executive director of Alexandra Children's Centre in Halifax and a member of the new 21-person panel.
With 34 years of experience in the sector with both private and non-profit centres, Conrod said she's pleased by the responsiveness of the department to concerns and she believes the creation of the engagement table is a positive step.
"We're hearing the feedback from families, we're hearing the feedback from our teachers, from other directors in profit and not-for-profit on what we see as the need and what we see has been lacking," she said.
Fees lowered last month
She said her site is already seeing the positive effects of the affordable child-care plan. As of April, fees were reduced by 25 per cent retroactive to the beginning of the year. Fees will be reduced on average by 50 per cent by the end of the year.
Conrod said those changes are creating more breathing room for families that were struggling to pay for care or even access it in the first place. She is especially pleased that the new agreement also includes plans for wage increases and benefits for early childhood educators, which she hopes will lead to an increase in people working in the sector.
"Right now we're struggling, needing trained staff just to meet our ratios and to provide the care that families need," said Conrod.
Druhan said the plan remains to have an announcement about compensation ready for the fall, and that it would be one of the first things the engagement table discusses when it begins meeting in June.
The sector is going through "a seismic shift" and Druhan said the government wants to get it right.
"We're shifting from a structure where child care in Nova Scotia is funded primarily by parents — individual parents paying individual operators' fees — and we're shifting to a model where the government is the primary funder," she said.
Druhan said as long as a private operator is regulated and signs a funding agreement with the province, they'll be able to participate in the affordable child-care program, with the province paying for the savings the centre passes on to families.
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