Reagan Gasparre of Little Willows preschool with business director Myra Johnson. (THE NEWS files)

Why some B.C. daycares didn’t opt in to subsidy program

Deadline passes for program aimed at laying foundation for universal child care

The deadline has passed for daycares to opt into the provincial government’s new plan for child care in the province, and private operators in Maple Ridge are still not signing up.

That means many local families have missed out on the opportunity for saving $350 per month for infant and toddler care, and $100 per month for children three and older, for the month of April.

The deadline had been April 1, but was extended to April 20 after public criticism of the government plan. About 15 people from the largest Maple Ridge private daycare providers met in March, and agreed they would not be taking the deal.

The province has invested $1 billion over the next three years to offer financial relief to parents needing child care, to lay the foundation for universal child care.

Private operators fear the government could put them out of business, because a condition of accepting the fee subsidies is allowing government to approve future rate increases for a year.

Brittany Zimmerman, who owns and operates Conscious Kids Care in Maple Ridge, said she still needs assurance from the government that it isn’t going to put her out of business. She said the NDP has been open about wanting a publicly run system.

In its Child Care BC Caring for Kids, Lifting up Families document, the government calls the current system fragmented, and is critical of private daycares.

“The current market-based system is not meeting the demand for spaces, resulting in higher prices, lower quality and fewer choices for parents,” it says. “Research indicates – and the current state of child care in B.C. confirms – that there are many challenges associated with market-based models …”

Zimmerman wants to know how the province hopes to provide universal child care, and whether she will be run out of business. So far, she said she is being given no reassurance.

“I want to opt in, but I need some answers,” she said.

Reagan Gasparre, of Little Willows Early Learning Childcare, said she would like to opt in, to get the families that patronize her business a break, but said there is too much uncertainty. It’s likely she won’t opt in for May, either.

“It’s still such a big mess,” she said.

“I want to opt in. Give me some more information. Calm my fears,” she said.

Gasparre said the government is expected to make an announcement next month about capital funding for daycare spaces. In the past, up to $500,000 was available to non-profits for building projects, and $250,000 for private operators. The private funding was cut, and she said the government’s announcement next month will be a signal to private daycare operators whether the government wants them to stay in business.

What’s more, some private operators asking to opt in have been refused. Others have not heard back yet.

Marianne Whitaker, of Victoria-based Alphabet Zoo, said she was refused to opt in for the program, because she raised her fees by $50 per month for infant and toddler, and $20 per month for older students. She let parents know the increase was coming in January, and it took effect on April – the two-year anniversary of her business was March 7.

She had already given parents the $350 break on their fees, and Whitaker was faced with not being able to pay her staff.

“It’s humiliating for a business owner to ask parents, ‘Can I have my money back.’”

Any daycare that recently raised its fees could be in danger of being refused to opt in by Victoria, said Zimmerman, who had a fee increase this year.

The subsidies could put those daycares able to lower their fees at a competitive advantage.

“I’ll go under for sure if everyone around me lowers their fees,” Zimmerman said.

MLA Lisa Beare, who has returned home from hospital after requiring heart surgery early in April, said in a written comment that the government is working for child care providers.

“We want to work with everyone — including non-profit, family, and private providers,” said Beare, minister of tourism, arts and culture.

“For too long, parents struggled to find quality care for their children in an ever-growing childcare crisis. We know many providers shared the same concerns, and they are an important part of our plan. Our new government has engaged both parents and child care providers in British Columbia, and we are taking action to make childcare more affordable through the fee reduction initiative. After engaging stakeholders, our government found that the fee reduction initiative would be the quickest way to offer immediate relief to struggling parents,” she added.

“I am proud to say that in its first month, the initiative has helped over 22,000 children and their families across B.C. This initiative is only one step in our plan to ensure British Columbians has access to quality child care. This plan also includes a $136 million investment to increase supports for Early Childhood Educators, which will also involve looking at wage improvements.”

Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’Eith did not respond to requests for comment about the issue.

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