Provincial grant provides new $25 daycare spaces in Banff
Thursday, Apr 13, 2017 06:00 am
It was a good news day for the Banff Child Care Centre last week when the Province of Alberta announced it would invest $30 million to create new daycare spaces over the next three years that would be available to families that need it for $25 a day.
That’s because the non-profit society that operates the daycare centre was one of 22 pilot programs that successfully applied for grant funds.
Karen Foster-Jorgensen, president of the Banff Child Care Society, said it is exciting news for the organization because spaces created by up to $500,000 in funding each year over three years is going to help create “non-traditional” child care spaces for one to five year olds in the Bow Valley.
“What we do know, and have known for some time, is there is such a large need for more child care spaces in Banff and the Bow Valley and some very specific kinds of child care and that is particularly for families that have non-traditional work schedules,” Foster-Jorgensen said.
Traditionally, child care is provided Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., she said, but the plan for the new child care program in Banff – dubbed Puzzles – is seven days a week with hours earlier in the morning and later in the evening.
Those are the non-traditional hours the local workforce in a tourism driven economy operate within and makes finding child care that works for a family employed in that sector difficult.
But, just like finding child care is a challenge, finding space to create child care space is also a challenge, according to Foster-Jorgensen. She said the organization has been looking for appropriate space to develop more child care for years, but it cannot pay market rates or compete with businesses that pay market rental rates.
That is where Banff YWCA comes into the picture as a partner with the daycare society. YWCA CEO Connie MacDonald said through conversations with the child care centre, a partnership emerged to use the Kay Watt training centre building at the YWCA in Banff to create the new program.
“For the YWCA, we see it as a win-win,” MacDonald said. “It is very much about supporting families and other community agencies – that is a priority for us.”
The timing of the grant program, the partnership with the YWCA and a child care summit hosted by the Daycare Society of Banff at the beginning of December, was fortuitous for all involved.
Foster-Jorgensen was already working on identifying the needs for child care in the community when the summit took place to share those findings and the week before the grant program was announced.
“It was able to come about rather quickly when we realized we could work together to meet community needs,” she said.
The needs assessment, as it turned out, was important background work that supported the grant application.
With funds now in place and a location chosen, Foster-Jorgensen said work will continue on creating the program itself.
The program is meant to address three priorities: the non-traditional work schedules of families in the Bow Valley; the need for part time or flexible child care schedules and the need for child care in general, demonstrated by the fact that all three daycares in the valley have waiting lists.
“Our real hope and motivation as we wrote the grant is to meet our community’s need and provide a model of child care that does not exist,” Foster-Jorgensen said. “We plan to be open seven days a week, earlier in the morning and later in the evening than traditional child care to meet those needs.”
The Puzzles program will also be at a rate of $25 a day, nearly half the rate of childcare currently available in the valley. Families interested in the program should express their interest sooner rather than later, Foster-Jorgensen said, because information gathered from prospective families about days and times that child care is needed will help inform the program’s creation.
She also said families that meet the criteria of the grant to obtain access to $25 a day child care will be accepted into the new space.
“Priority will be given to those who have an identified need,” she said. “It will be an educational learning child care centre just like we have here (at the Banff Child Care Centre).”
The funding from the province covers the retrofit or renovation needed to transform the Kay Watt training centre into Puzzles, furniture and learning materials. It also covers the additional cost of providing child care above the $25 rate parents would pay.
“It is seldom that one organization can solve many of these community issues,” MacDonald said. “It is with the strength of working together and that alignment … supporting each other and working together (that we succeed).”
Foster-Jorgensen said the grant application set out to meet the needs of 40 families and what was approved would accommodate 24 children at any given time. Given that some families only need part-time child care, she hopes Puzzles will improve access to child care for up to 40 families.
Enrolment in the program is open to all families in the Bow Valley, said Foster-Jorgensen, and that is important because the issue of available and affordable child care is not isolated to just Banff.
“These kinds of programs are not without challenges and to do it you are fitting a lot of things together and that is why we call it Puzzles,” she said. “Families are already fitting a lot of things together in their lives and we are trying to help.”
The provincial child care program, announced last Thursday (April 6), is a three year pilot program that is supposed to create up to 1,300 new spaces. It is estimated 119 new child care staff would be hired to support the program and more people will be able to participate in the workforce as a result.
For Banff-Cochrane MLA Cam Westhead, affordability is a major issue in the riding and child care plays an important part in the daily lives of Alberta families.
“Having affordable child care spaces available for folks in the Bow Valley that are struggling with affordability is one way we can help make life more affordable on a daily basis,” Westhead said.
With many non-traditional jobs in the valley, he said, the program that was proposed and approved by the childcare society is a good example of how addressing those different everyday schedules goes above and beyond what is available currently throughout Alberta.
“Some of the criteria we looked at in approving the different applications was the ability to serve people who have different work schedules,” he said. “So, child care centres with more flexible hours was something we were trying to focus on.”