To support those returning to work this month and to provide a safe, supportive environment, childcare facilities will need substantial financial support as they prepare to reopen this week, advocates say.
A general outline of operational restrictions was released late Monday, including the need to limit groups of children and staff to 10 or fewer as well as new physical distancing measures.
An association of childhood agencies is calling for funding built up over two months – such as program grants and subsidies to parents, held back during a COVID lockdown – to be redeployed directly to centres to aid the re-opening under massively altered operating plans.
“Educators and children will have to be well-supported,” said Jennifer Usher, the secretary of the provincial Association of Early Childhood Educators of Alberta, as well as co-ordinator of the Medicine Hat Early Childhood Coalition.
She told the News on Monday that two thirds of providers say they won’t be able to remain in business and face permanent closure beyond this summer without “significant public investment.”
She expects more details about operational restrictions during a conference call with the Ministry of Children’s Services on Monday night.
Alberta government released guides late Monday for re-opening businesses in 17 general categories.
Those portions of the general economy are set to reopen on Thursday, including a wider arrange of retail stores and restaurants, as well as churches, campgrounds and work camps.
Most businesses that require public access were closed either by owners or by health orders in mid-March, along with schools and daycare centres, though day homes, which have smaller numbers of pupils, were not.
Many workers are now facing a possible return to work and arranging childcare for toddlers as well as, now, older children, while the initial plan for facilities outlines a reduced number of spaces to align with public health guidelines.
Usher says that immediately providing more than an existing $3,000 per facility grants to help cover fixed costs is a “good start,” as well as release of plans in a recently announced $45-million bilateral deal on childcare with Ottawa.
Money held back by the province since March could help cover the costs of re-opening under more strict operational and health guidelines, deal with financial strain caused by limited capacity, and potentially improve the system in the long term.
“Up to this point it’s been a patchwork, deeply underfunded without long-term planning of development,” said Usher.
The immediate challenge for the sector is that fewer spaces also means less revenue, and potentially higher costs to abide by health orders.
Parents are also looking for more answers this week.
Before the pandemic, mid-day programming for school-aged children simply didn’t exist because they would typically be in school from September to June.
Before- and after-school care programs aren’t structured to pick up the slack, said Usher. As well, regulations at standard daycares require age segregation rather than keeping family members together, which might be preferable to isolate groupings and better contain any virus spread, said Usher.
Currently, four childcare centres in Medicine Hat are operating at reduced capacity to accommodate the children of workers deemed essential. They received a partial grant for each space left vacant to meet health guidelines.
Gallant, C., 2020. Childcare facilities in dire need, they say. Medicine Hat News, [online] Available at: <https://medicinehatnews.com/news/local-news/2020/05/12/childcare-facilities-in-dire-need-they-say/> [Accessed 15 May 2020].