New bill would change frequency of Alberta child-care centre inspections

·3 min read

New legislation would change the frequency of Alberta child-care centre inspections to put more focus on those struggling to comply with rules.

Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz tabled legislation Wednesday that would license daycare centres in good standing for three years at a time, instead of one.

"I want to emphasize that these changes will absolutely not compromise the safety of children and youth in child care," Schulz said at a news conference.

"I feel very strongly that we still have to have set check-ins to ensure that all centres are adhering to the guidelines," she later added.

The frequency of inspections, and what qualifies a centre as higher risk, will be set later this fall in regulations.

Centres in good standing would also have an easier time applying to open new locations.

Bill 39, the Child Care Licensing and Amendment Act, would also allow licensed daycare centres to operate 24 hours a day if needed — something the law doesn't currently allow.

If passed and proclaimed, the legislation would also allow the province's 2,900 licensed child-care programs to keep digital, rather than paper files.

Schulz said the changes would tweak the rules to encourage more day homes to pursue licences.

Under the current rules, for example, unlicensed day homes can care for six kids, plus the owner's children, whereas licensed homes can only have a maximum of six children. If the legislature adopts the proposal, all day home operators could care for their own children plus six kids.

The bill would also allow centres more flexibility to mix age groups together, which could help with staffing and in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Oct. 9, only half of the province's 111,252 child-care spaces were in use.

The minister said the changes are intended to modernize rules, allow daycare operators more flexibility and add more transparency for parents and guardians looking for child care.

Daycare centres would be required to tell parents directly if there are any changes to their licence, rather than posting a bulletin. Members of the public could also find out if unlicensed day homes have been ordered to stop caring for kids at any point in the previous two years.

The provincial government already has an online tool where people can look up daycares and see any problems cited by inspectors.

'Best news I've ever heard'

Tricia Cunningham, executive director of the SIGIS child care society, said many of the proposed changes are ideas that people in the sector have long hoped for.

Her society has 20 locations and rents a storage unit to keep all the required paperwork — there's not enough room in the daycare centres.

Cunningham said she is "thrilled" to see a potential change to the frequency of inspections based on risk.

"It's the best news I've ever heard," she said. "(Inspectors) are going to be able to take the energy that they need to be, and put it into the field in centres that need that support. So that is a brilliant plan."

Schulz said the changes would free up daycare operators to spend less time and money filling out paperwork and ticking boxes.

In March, the government eliminated a separate system of daycare accreditation. Schulz said her goal was to simplify the regulatory system. Now, daycares are either licensed, or not, and there are two rather than five categories of licensure.

If passed by MLAs, the legislation would take effect in Feb. 1, 2021.