Nova Scotia

Province looks at daily child care for before and after pre-primary

The provincial government has started work on creating wraparound care for kids enrolled in the pre-primary program.

Deputy minister wants 'seamless day' for those in the program for 4 year olds

The provincial government wants to partner with daycare operators to offer wraparound care for kids attending the pre-primary program. (Robert Short/CBC)

The provincial government has started work on creating wraparound care for kids enrolled in the pre-primary program.

The free program for four year olds, which in two more years will be universally available across the province, has proved extremely popular. Heading into the second year of the program, 2,300 kids are registered, which Education Department officials say exceeds expectations.

But it only operates during school hours, which means in most cases parents are left to find child care for before or after the school day, if necessary.

Deputy education minister Cathy Montreuil told reporters on Thursday her department is working with daycare operators to help provide what she called "bookend care."

"It would provide kids with a seamless day — before pre-primary, during the pre-primary program and after the pre-primary," Montreuil said following an appearance before the legislature's economic development committee.

Deputy education minister Cathy Montreuil, left, and Denise Stone, the department's director of early years integration, speak to reporters. (CBC)

Denise Stone, the department's director of early years integration and community development, said they're in the process of determining what operators would require to make such programs viable and successful. That includes regulation changes that would make it easier for regulated daycares to provide care outside the hours of the pre-primary program.

Stone said the changes would likely focus on ages and ratios.

"Now that we have pre-primary, it changes the landscape," she said. "And so we're looking at any regulatory changes that may prohibit before-and-after-school care from occurring and supporting pre-primary programs."

Pam Streeter, an executive with the Private Licensed Administrators Association of Nova Scotia and an early childhood educator, said the ability for daycares to take advantage of this approach will depend on the individual operator and whether all barriers can be removed.

Transportation, staffing, major barriers

Regulations for ratios and ages can be barriers, she said. Conversion of space to accommodate pre-primary kids is another, something Streeter said the government has helped address through grants to help offset those costs.

But for Streeter, bigger challenges exist, such as transportation and staffing. While she expects operators who can take advantage of the potential partnership will do so, others could find it difficult.

"To me, the biggest [challenge] is transportation," said Streeter. "To me, it's getting those children from my site to the school and back again."

Better communication

Still, considering the concern from her industry about the government's unilateral approach to introducing the pre-primary program and the lack of industry consultation ahead of time, Streeter said she's glad to see the Education Department working with them now and seeking feedback. Operators were surveyed in the fall about their needs, she said.

"They're certainly being more open to hearing what we have to say," said Streeter.

Stone said wraparound care would be paid for by parents, however, people would be able to apply for a government subsidy and, if they are eligible, receive assistance with the cost.

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

With files from Jean Laroche