The Canada-Alberta Cost Control Framework agreement between the federal and Alberta government threatens the promise of high-quality child care at $10/day for all children because it will allow operators to charge families more for so-called “enhanced” care services.
Under this new deal, the $10/day program will include only “core” child care, which has yet to be fully defined. Anything above “core” care will be considered an “enhanced” service. Providers will be allowed to bill parents additionally for these services. Neither the Alberta nor the federal government has said what services could be subject to additional charges. It is possible that enhanced services could include day-trips, meals and snacks, “special” programs related to physical fitness, and perhaps extended hours of early learning and care.
The agreement on the introduction of a cost control framework was reached to allow the Government of Alberta to use federal funds to expand for-profit early learning and child care programs in the province. Although the Canada-Alberta Early learning and Child Care funding agreement reached in November of 2021 favours not-for-profit expansion, it included a clause stating that additional federal funds would be transferred to the province to support for-profit expansion once a framework was put in place that limits how much profit can be made from public investment in child care. However, the cost control framework agreement does not set a ceiling on profit and will apply to both for-profit and not-for-profit providers.
This new framework is bad for Alberta families and children and for most operators in Alberta. It undermines the work of Early Childhood Educators and has the potential to ensure $10/day childcare is never achieved and that quality becomes available only to those who can afford it.
Parent fee increases undermine access
The goal of $10 a day child care in Alberta has been under threat for some time. In December 2022 Child Care Now Alberta wrote to the Minister of Children Services expressing concern about new parental fees being introduced to cover child care cost increases that outpaced government funding. Additional parent fees were being charged for services or quality measures that had previously been included in daycare fees, such as food, staffing, and programming. The Minister did not respond, but the Cost Control Framework entrenches extra-billing and creates a two-tier system of child care when what providers need is additional public funding to cover the cost of high quality child care for all.
Under this new deal, anything that is above “core” child care must carry an additional and optional fee. Families trying to get access to the limited supply of $10/day childcare spaces will question if opting out of additional fees may mean they are passed over for families who opt-in – which is possible, since waitlists are not regulated in Alberta. For families who currently have a spot in the $10/day program, this may mean that important quality components of your child care program will be divided out and cost an additional fee. The additional fees may completely wipe out any cost savings under the $10/day program as there is no regulation or limits on these additional fees. Parents will be put in the near impossible situation of deciding if their children can participate fully in their daycare program or if they will only receive “core” childcare. For many families the quality of childcare they currently receive will drop as these quality components are labeled an “enhancement.”
If a child care center is found to be forcing these additional fees on any family, the punishment is that they are no longer part of the $10/day program. This means that all families in the center will lose affordable childcare, including their own subsidy, through no fault of their own. With current waitlists in the hundreds in some locations, it would be near impossible for those families to find affordable childcare quickly to replace their lost care. Again, this is an impossible situation for families who would be asked to report and monitor their childcare providers and be at risk of losing affordable care for doing so.
Many providers in Alberta strive daily to provide affordable quality childcare in their communities. This new deal makes that overall goal much harder to achieve.
Now that the government will only be covering costs associated with “core” childcare, providers will have to divide out their program into “core” or “enhanced.” Anything considered an enhancement will have to have an independent financial stream from the “core” program. This will create an immense administrative burden. Key quality programming labeled an enhancement will have to be optional for parents, which may require additional staffing and actually increase the cost for providing that key quality component. As previously mentioned, the penalty for not ensuring anything labeled an enhancement is optional is losing all government funding, including family subsidies.
Even if providers do not want to charge families additional fees, they will likely be forced to divide out their program to first ensure government funding is only covering “core” childcare, but later to cover the cost of providing quality care labeled an “enhancement” as the government funding only keeps pace with the cost of “core” care.
All of this piles on the already significant stresses that came with the elimination of the full provincial Benefit Contribution Grant that increased the cost to all providers.
Early Childhood Educators
A lot of the fallout of this new deal will be on the backs of those working directly with children. The Educators are the ones that will have to keep children divided out from those who could afford enhancements from the children who could not. They are the ones that will have to explain to children why they cannot engage with their peers in key quality components of their day, why they are not served lunch or snacks like their peers whose family can afford it.
On top of this, ECEs have only seen a small portion of their wages kept up with inflation as they still have no provincial pay scale. Without a set wage scale the government is unfortunately allowing ECE wages to be set by the market and in many cases kept too low and pitted against a profit motive. ECEs still have limited resources or programs to increase their knowledge or professional development. More importantly there is still a severe shortage of ECEs to staff the original 40,000 promised spaces in Alberta which has now grown to over 60,000 and absolutely no provincial plan to fix this issue. There are currently empty childcare spaces in Alberta because there are not enough ECEs.
This new deal is bad for children, families, providers, and early childhood educators in Alberta. This new deal means that true $10/day childcare will likely only exist in very few instances, that families currently in childcare could see the quality of care fall, and opens the possibility that the full cost of childcare could become more expensive than before the $10/day program.