Nova Scotia

Daycare owners unhappy about school closures in teachers contract dispute

A child care centre operator says the Nova Scotia government is being "hypocritical" by asking centres to quickly accommodate school age children after pushing for stronger regulations.

Opening unlicensed day camps 'goes against everything we believe in,' owner says

Daycare operators are upset the province has suggested speeding up normally lengthy processes to help with its closure of schools.

A child care centre operator says the Nova Scotia government is being "hypocritical" by asking centres to quickly accommodate school age children after pushing for stronger regulations.

With less than 48 hours notice, the education minister announced she had cancelled classes province-wide on Monday, to avoid planned union job action she said would make students "unsafe." It's unclear when those classes will resume.

Now parents are left scrambling to find supervision for their kids — something the education department anticipated.

Early last week, staff called all licensed operators in Nova Scotia to see if they had space available, and what they might be planning in the case of the contract dispute disrupting students' ability to attend school.

Several licensed daycare owners have told CBC News they were offered help to speed up normally lengthy processes and suggestions for opening unlicensed day camps on the side.

Opening day camps

Lisa Rondeau, co-owner of Giant Steps Children's Centre, says she was asked whether she'd be interested in accepting school-aged children for a day camp run out of her gymnasium.

Licensing is not required for school-age camps when they're held at a separate location with different staff.

"It's deplorable that the government would impose a school closure under the guise of it being a safety issue, but at the same time that they've contacted early childhood centres," Rondeau said.

"I find it very hypocritical and quite maddening."

Rules still apply, says education department

Education Department spokeswoman Heather Fairbain said in an email the province never intended to make operators feel like they were encouraged to bend the rules.

"Our message was clear, we will do what we can to speed up processing. That's it," she said. "The rules and requirements under the [Day Care] Act still apply. Required checks will be completed."

"There may be confusion as some operators have asked about offering camps. Camps for school-age children are already exempted from the regulations."

'Very ironic'

Licensing is essential to keeping children safe, Rondeau said. In fact, she said Giant Steps tried to take on new school-age clients in the fall, but could not get a licence in time because the approval rules were so strict. This time, staff offered to help speed up processes that are usually lengthy, she said.

This comes after the province worked to strengthen rules last June, focusing on providing quality child care, but to the criticism of some child care operators, who worried about increased salary requirements.

"That's why we find it very ironic," said Mandy Fahie, owner of After the Bell Inc.

"They called all of the high-quality programs and asked us to run unregulated programs when they're potentially putting us out of business."

'It's unregulated child care'

Fahie contacted the department inquiring, because she has 75 school-age kids that come before and after school, and felt the department had indeed suggested to her that she should open a day-camp side business.

"Everybody's saying they're not doing it because it's unregulated child care and it doesn't represent what we are," Fahie said. "It goes against everything we believe in."

And this comes the same week the auditor general slammed the province for not adequately inspecting family home day cares and enforcing standards, such as criminal record checks.

I don't think it's ever a good idea to put childcare together hastily.- Bonnie Minard, Portland Daycare Centre director

Bonnie Minard, director of Portland Daycare Centre, said she was worried when she received the call about the urgency of putting together programming. Her centre doesn't have the room or time to organize an unlicensed day camp, so she declined.

"I don't think it's ever a good idea to put childcare together hastily. It's a pretty important thing and I think you have to absolutely be sure that you have the right facilities, the right programming and the right people and I don't think that can be done quickly and easily," Minard said.

"If you have lots of things on standby, sure, if you have everything at your fingertips. But I don't think running mass, unlicensed care is a good thing."

Parents rush to make arrangements

On Monday, parents will have to make arrangements, but there are few options so far. Some have responded by creating a Facebook page, Parent-Based Childcare Share. The Nova Scotia government offers an online directory parents can search to find licensed and family home daycares to see if they have any room.

"I feel the pain and the struggle of those families who are looking at the last minute, scrambling for after school care," Rondeau said.

Talks between the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and the province broke down Nov. 25. The school closure could last a week as legislators debate what to do at Province House.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with The Fifth Estate. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

With files from Carly Stagg and Melissa Friedman

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