Its Time for Innovative Childcare in Alberta
December 17, 2014
I am a very concerned and frustrated parent and business owner in your riding. For the past two and a half years, I have been working diligently with dayhome owners and parents in Edmonton, Calgary and the remainder of the province. My business, Dayhome Registry, works with dayhomes to help them offer the best childcare possible and helps parents find quality childcare in a home setting. In this role, we have heard, over and over, how the legislation of both the province and the by-laws of the cities, hamstrings the abilities of the dayhomes to provide innovative and high quality care to children and support their own families at the same time.
Recently, I received a cry for help from a local Edmonton dayhome. This award winning childcare program is at risk of being shut down on January 13th, 2015 by the province due to the inability to meet certain city and provincial building code requirements in a very limited timeframe. This day home is at the top of its class in terms of safety standards, quality, and care for children. This same day home that won a provincial award of excellence last year, is, this year, due to stringent commercial classed occupancy requirements on the verge of being shut down, displacing the children and adding unnecessary stress to everyone involved. This is all happening while we are in a state of urgency around the lack of quality childcare in this city and in the province.
Lee currently holds an Innovative Childcare License granted to her under the former Minister of Human Services, Hon. Dave Hancock. This license allows Lee to care for 14 children within her home. He took the time to come to Lee’s home, see firsthand the safety and quality of the program being delivered. He was clearly able to see that there was value in this type of program and a gap with respect to this type of care in our province. This clearly demonstrates that current legislation is restrictive, stale, and truly preventing this type of care from existing in Alberta. I have spoken with many other dayhomes who would like to expand their care, and qualify for the Innovative Childcare License, but they have been stonewalled at every turn in their attempt to do so.
Two women, who have dedicated their lives to raising children, run Lee Stachniak’s dayhome, now classified as an Innovative Childcare Program (the only one of its kind in the province). This is run out of Lee’s home, where they have converted a 1000 square foot room into a reading area, eating area, play area, and have remodeled the kitchen to meet top sanitation and safety standards. This is because they care for 14 children, in the same residence, with two caregivers – and this currently doesn’t fall in the “box” of any other childcare classifications. I agree with the parents, who feel this is a higher standard of care than one single caregiver with fewer children given that there are 2 caregivers to assist with various activities, prepare lunch, read to the children, attend to emergencies, etc.
Lee has been working diligently and is in the final stages of meeting all requirements to receive her license to run as an innovative childcare program. She has met all provincial health and safety requirements, after 23 years of childcare, and has completed the required level II early childhood certification. She recently met city-zoning requirements, and now the last hurdle is meeting municipal commercial occupancy requirements. Due to her classification, she is grouped with commercial buildings such as penitentiaries, which is beyond ridiculous. At this time, because there is no building code specifically for the innovative childcare program, they are lumped in with building codes required for commercial childcare programs in commercial buildings. 14 children is a far cry from the 50-200 children at the commercial businesses.
Unfortunately, the codes and classifications for family dayhomes are outdated and are not flexible or adaptable at encouraging innovative childcare programs (when in fact they should be doing the opposite). Nor are they in keeping with the rest of the country, where family dayhomes commonly allow 12 or more children with multiple caregivers. B.C., for example, has many different levels of dayhome care that providers can apply for, based on their level of expertise, and how many caregivers are in the home. Alberta is lagging far behind other provinces with respect to flexibility and innovation in childcare licensing. Excessive code requirements and a lack of innovation and understanding on the part of the government are contributing to the astronomical cost of quality childcare.
One of the many roadblocks, is in regards to enhanced firewall requirements, which require extensive construction, upwards of $100,000, which is beyond excessive for a residential home. I have heard from other dayhomes, who also want to provide innovative childcare that they too have run into the same roadblocks (among many others). Retrofitting a home with firewalls, sprinkler systems and many other commercially required fire prevention tools, is not financially feasible for a family dayhome. Nor is it reasonable to expect a family and a business to be displaced for, potentially months, to undertake these retrofits. After all, these dayhomes are exactly that, HOMES. Dayhomes, parents, and we understand how critical fire safety is. Lee, as an example, has received a safety report provided independently from a city of Edmonton fire prevention officer confirming the safety of the facility.
Lee’s Innovative Childcare Centres was informed by the city of the deficiencies on November 12, 2014, leaving them with a nearly impossible timeline to meet given the January 13th deadline, especially considering the weather conditions and Christmas holidays. All parents are aware of the deficiencies in the code for Lee’s home and have made informed decisions as parents to accept any liability as a result of the deficiencies, removing any risk to the City or Province.
There are upcoming changes to the Alberta Building Code that would have a strong impact on the requirements for firewall enhancements. The classification of Day Care facilities will be included within the Group A, Division 2 list with a noting conformance with the Child Care Licensing Regulation. This change will be included in the 2014 Alberta Building Code when it is adopted early next spring. You will see that group family day homes (10 children or less) are re-classed to residential occupancy, and childcare facilities (greater than 10) are downgraded to class A2 from B2, requiring less stringent fire safety measures such as sprinklers and fire separation. It is not reasonable to expect any dayhome to undertake the significant enhancements associated with class B2 when A2 will be in effect in a few months.
We are asking for your urgent support. We would like to work with the province and Human Services to explore alternate solutions that meet the objectives and intent of the code without tearing apart and commercializing family dayhome residences (solutions such as fire resistant rated paint, retrofit paneling for doors, extra layer 5/8” drywall on interior walls, etc). We need to consider the objectives of the code, a dayhome’s safety standards and impeccable safety record, the upcoming changes to the Alberta Building Code, the need for innovation and forward thinking with respect to innovative child care programs such as Lee’s, and the fact that alternate solutions can meet the objectives of the code in this childcare space with 14 children. We are asking that urgency be put to this to avoid forcing all of these Edmonton families to find unknown and untrusted childcare options in a very limited timeframe.
We have a childcare crisis in this province, and we need to encourage more people to open up innovative childcare programs like Lee’s. We, as a province, need to recognize the need for change, and make it reasonable, accessible, and encourage the fantastic work people like Lee have done.
If you have concerns about the state of childcare, particularly the impossible legislation pertaining to family dayhomes, please feel free to copy and paste this letter and send it to your own MLA.