'They shouldn't have to suffer': Government changes funding for special needs daycare workers

Some daycare staff who work with special needs students could soon be out of a job due to changes in the provincial budget.

Instead of funding specific daycares, money will now 'follow the child,' says government

Julian Swain, Hailey Harrison and Hailey Beck work at a table at the Spadina Early Learning Centre in the basement of St. Paul's Hospital. The centre, and others around the province, are losing their special needs co-ordinators due to provincial budget cuts. (Jason Warick)

Some daycare staff who work with special needs students could soon be out of a job due to changes in the provincial budget.

Minister of Education Don Morgan said the overall daycare funding across the province remains the same but is being distributed differently.

The changes don't sit well with Saskatoon mother Jannica Hoskins.

Her daughter, Mya, is afflicted with osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition which makes her bones and teeth extremely brittle. She's just four years old, but has already broken her foot once and arm twice.

Staff at Saskatoon's Spadina Early Learning Centre help Mya to brush her teeth three times a day. They help her to participate in hoop dancing, field trips and other activities that might otherwise prove too dangerous.

This week, the government told Spadina staff they'd lose funding for their inclusion co-ordinator and two other positions.

That's a huge blow to kids like Mya, said Hoskins.

"Every individual has the right to have a sense of belonging in the community in which they live and this cut just takes all of that away," she said.

Spadina Early Learning Centre's inclusion co-ordinator, Danielle Nhampossa, reads to Mya Hoskins-Fiddler, who needs extra help to deal with her brittle bone disorder. Nhampossa's position and two others at the centre were cut in this month's provincial budget. (Jason Warick)

Similar cuts affect nine other daycares across the province.

Morgan said the overall amount of money to daycares and special needs kids will remain the same. However, instead of "block funding" for these daycares to pay the workers, individual funding for special needs kids will move with the children to whatever daycare they attend.

"The money will follow the child rather than the centre … we're focused on the kids," Morgan said.

The changes take effect July 1. At that time, Morgan said these 10 daycares will be expected to "transition over to the individualized funding" model followed by other facilities.

"We're trying to be somewhat predictive of their needs as they go through," Morgan said.

Spadina board chair and parent Jen Budney said the changes will make things worse. Some of the families who use their core neighbourhood daycare at St. Paul's live unstable lives due to poverty, lack of housing and other issues. Applying for individualized funding and grants is difficult, and their situation may change by the time it is approved, Budney said.

The new system will make it hard to hire quality staff if they aren't sure how many hours will be funded. It will also create another layer of paperwork and bureaucracy, Bundey said.

"It's absurd."

The changes weren't immediately known when the budget was announced nearly one week ago — a budget in which the provincial government attempted to deal with its ballooning debt. 

Instead, Spadina staff got the bad news in a call this week from a government official that the non-profit organization — the oldest daycare in Saskatoon — would lose funding for the three positions.

They aren't sure how they'll care for the centre's 36 preschoolers, 10 toddlers and six infants. That doesn't include more than 200 children on the waiting list.

Spadina inclusion co-ordinator Danielle Nhampossa spent part of the day Tuesday reading to Mya in the centre's Rainbow Room. She gently brought the tiny girl onto her lap.

"What does this say?" she asked Mya.

"I — love — you," Mya read from the large hardcover book.

Nhampossa, whose position is being cut in June, said the cut is contrary to the government's claims to support pre-kindergarten development. She said special needs kids shouldn't be punished because the government is in debt.

"We'll try to support them, but if we don't have the staff, you know, they're going to suffer. And they shouldn't have to suffer," Nhampossa said.

Spadina executive director Belinda Helstrom hopes the government will reconsider. If not, the only options are to take in fewer kids or raise fees. Raising fees is not a fair option, as it will create more barriers for the lowest income families, she said.

"We want this service to remain alive," she said.

"It seems the most needy people are losing."