New Alberta child-care policy helping fill a gap in rural communities

·2 min read

Alberta has entered into a historic agreement with the federal government that will see child-care expenses decrease, and greater diversity introduced to early childhood education programming.

Officially announced by the federal and provincial governments Nov. 15, the agreement will see child-care expenses reduced to $10 per day by 2026 for parents with children kindergarten age or younger, with fees already capped by half starting next year.

The agreement will see a total of $3.8 billion put toward the industry, funding the creation of about 42,500 non-profit child-care centres in the next five years and prioritizing the development of overnight care programs and spaces for disabled children.

“This agreement means bringing 3.8 billion tax dollars paid by Albertans to Ottawa back to Albertans to address a key priority for so many families,” said Premier Jason Kenney at the official announcement last week, adding the agreement would bring Albertans one step closer to abolishing equalization.

Pincher Creek town council is pleased with the decision and Mayor Don Anderberg said he thinks the policy will be well received.

“It’s a game changer for both the early-learning centres and the people that use them,” he said.

“We have a lot of young professionals, a lot of teachers, doctors, nurses working that need this service when they go to work, so it’s great for the community and it’s going to just help a lot of people save money and use it in different ways towards their families.”

He estimated that about 25 per cent of early-childhood educators in the province have left the industry due to the pandemic, but remains optimistic that recent changes would help stimulate growth again with more dollars being put toward attraction and retention of educators.

Rebecca Schultz, Alberta’s minister of children’s services, said the decision will see centres built in “daycare deserts,” rural areas where there has been a shortage of child-care services.

“When we’re talking about economic recovery, we want to talk about affordability and choice,” she said. “Well, affordability and choice don’t really matter if there aren’t any spaces in your bigger community.”

Over the summer, she discussed changes to child-care policy with rural communities and found that flexibility was also a top priority for families. Firefighters, paramedics and police working irregular schedules were in need of overnight child care, something she said the province will be able to provide with the new agreement.

Industry changes will impact middle- to low-income families, she said, with the $10-per-day policy applying to families with annual income under $120,000. Families making $120,000 to $180,000 per year will pay around $12 to $20 per day, she added.

Gillian Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze

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