On Monday, March 6th, the Governments of Saskatchewan and Canada announced that parent fees for regulated childcare in the province will be reduced to $10 a day starting April 1, 2023. Parents whose children are under the age of six and attend a licenced childcare facility on a full-time basis can expect to pay $217.50 per month. The fee reductions will result in families saving an average of $395 to $573 per month for each child under six from the average comparable fees as of March 31, 2021. However, as a condition of the Canada-Wide agreement, in Saskatchewan and across the country, federal funding is to be invested in regulated early learning and childcare for children under the age of six, which means the fee reduction ends once the child turns six years of age and parents of school-age children will still pay full fees for their children.

Saskatchewan is one of the first Canadian provinces to achieve this milestone. Manitoba announced it would achieve the $10 per day milestone on April 1st just a few days before Saskatchewan made its announcement. The two provinces follow Nunavut, which became the first territory to hit the target in December. 

Under the Canada-Saskatchewan Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, the province committed to reaching a goal of $10 per day childcare, on average. In alignment with federal government expectations, the monthly fee of $217.50 was determined as follows: $10 per day X 261 assumed operating days in a year / 12 months in a year = $217.50 per month. 

“Today is a major achievement for families in Saskatchewan, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould said. “By working together, Canada and Saskatchewan have achieved our shared goal of affordable childcare three years ahead of schedule. We are continuing to focus on achieving other important targets through the Canada-wide system, such as space creation and support to early childhood educators, to ensure that every family has access to high-quality, affordable, flexible and inclusive childcare.”

This marks the third fee reduction in the province since first signing the agreement in August 2021. The first occurred in February 2022 and the second in September of that year. Through the Canada-Saskatchewan Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, the governments are also providing funding for free training and education to increase the number of early childhood educators, wage enhancements of up to $5.00 per hour, and a range of grants for regulated childcare facilities in an effort to increase and retain the number of ECE’s who would be needed for the proposed increase in childcare spaces. In Saskatchewan, the reality is that, although the training is free, there are still only so many class spaces available for in-person training, and though non-accredited childcare workers can take the required three courses to get their Level 1 ECE online, that is something that must be done on top of everything else in life, which usually means working full-time. Rural child-care centres this reporter talked to are already struggling to find workers to staff the present number of spaces. For example, the Three Lakes Childcare Centre is currently operating at about half capacity because it can’t find enough workers. The Rosthern Learning Tree reported that they have advertised job postings for two to three months before getting any applications. Every centre that was contacted, reported a waiting list with times ranging anywhere from six months to two years for a spot, and in small towns, it’s not like there is another facility a few blocks away.

Education Minister Dustin Duncan admitted that is still work to do on the file, as there are substantial wait lists to get a regulated child space in Saskatchewan. “It was always part of the vision to make sure that it was affordable but also accessible,” he said. From April 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2022, the agreement has created nearly 4,700 spaces — 3,402 new spaces in child-care centres and 1,294 spaces opened in-home child-care facilities, according to a spokesperson from the education ministry. However, when the announcement of the agreement was made in August of 2021, the government promised an increase of 28,000 regulated spaces by 2026. Dean Dodge, CEO of YMCA Saskatoon which has built two new child-care facilities in the past three years and still has more than 700 children on its wait list, said the child-care spots are needed, but the province will have its work cut out for it in terms of staffing new facilities.

“The 28,000 spaces is fantastic and we’ll do everything we can with the other nonprofit and charitable providers, but it really will come down to the staffing.

As of December 31, 2022, a total of 19,790 regulated childcare spaces were operational in Saskatchewan across 144 communities. Regulated centres and family child care homes meet and maintain specific standards stated in The Child Care Act, 2014 and The Child Care Regulations, 2015 and will have a provincially issued child care licence posted in their child care centre or home. Since the signing of the agreement, the Government of Saskatchewan has announced new spaces in both urban and rural locations namely Borden, Central Butte, Edenwold, Foam Lake, Hepburn, Humboldt, Kindersley, Kyle, Lucky Lake, Middle Lake, Mossbank, North Battleford, Odessa, Prince Albert, Raymore, Regina, Rosetown, Saskatoon, Stockholm and Viscount.

It further announced on March 16, 2022, and November 17, 2022, 1,202 and 1,599 new spaces respectively that would be added to communities through either new facilities or added to existing facilities that will either build new facilities or add new spaces within their existing facilities. Those communities included Asquith, Bethune, Bredenbury, Grayson, Gull Lake, Hague, Humboldt, Kindersley, Lloydminster, Martensville, Milestone, Moose Jaw, Montmartre, Pilot Butte, Outlook, Prince Albert, Regina, Saskatoon, Swift Current, Warman and Zenon Park. A remaining 598 funded spaces will be allocated through an application process.

Part of the changes that go along with the fee reduction is the elimination of part-time, weekly and hourly fees. Families with children less than six years of age who are enrolled fewer than 10 days per month will be charged a daily fee of $10. Any family with a child enrolled 10 days or more will be charged the full-time fee of $217.50. Facilities currently providing care for families enrolled less than full-time (ex. part-time, weekly) will continue to have the ability to do so, the move to full-time and daily fees is not, the government Fee Reduction Information Sheet stated, intended to impact the number of children a facility may provide care for. Facilities are encouraged to continue to provide services to families who require less than full-time care and that vacancies are prevented.

A facility may have enrolment in excess of the number of regulated spaces as long as the number of children in attendance does not exceed the number of regulated spaces, however, when it comes to funding, the maximum monthly funding amount will not exceed the number of regulated childcare spaces. As an example, if a facility is licensed for 10 children, and has 10 enrolled full-time, but two of those children only attend 10 days of the month, the facility can enrol more children who only want very few days of care to fill the spaces. Since the facility is already receiving funding for the ten children enrolled as full-time, it will not receive any additional government funding for the children who attend as ‘in-fills’. The facility will, therefore, only receive the $10 per day that the parents pay for their child’s care. It is foreseeable that this could act as a deterrent for facilities to accept additional ‘day-rate’ children.

While the stated intent is not to limit access to families needing only casual childcare, and facilities “are encouraged” to continue filling empty spaces with casual drop-ins, there may be some who will look at it in the context of ‘is it worth it for $10?’ Not every child that is cared for in a childcare facility is an ‘easy’ child and parents of children with challenging behaviours, who need the occasional day of care, could face barriers to receiving that, if a facility is only being compensated $10 for their efforts.

The $10 per day childcare for children under the age of 6 is definitely a bonus for those parents, but there is some fine print that I don’t think many people considered. Especially those parents who will suddenly face a huge increase in childcare costs when their child turns six. 

By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 20, 2023 at 19:43

This item reprinted with permission from   Wakaw Recorder   Wakaw, Saskatchewan
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