Eastern P.E.I. daycare nearing closure, as retiring owner struggles to find buyer

Unless a new buyer decides to take over operations at Child's Play Daycare, the business near Souris will close Dec. 22, after 31 years in operation.  (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)
Unless a new buyer decides to take over operations at Child's Play Daycare, the business near Souris will close Dec. 22, after 31 years in operation. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)

A retiring daycare owner in Eastern P.E.I. says without immediate help from government, the Souris area will soon lose 32 child-care spaces, leaving some parents unable to work.

Norma Brown, who has owned and operated Child's Play Daycare for the past 31 years, is retiring and closing the business Dec. 22.

She's had it on the market for the past year, with the hope she'd find a buyer to keep operating it as a daycare — but that hasn't happened.

"It's worn on me a lot. We want to leave here, but we want the centre to remain opened," said Brown. "We have one dad thinking he may have to work from home. We've got one mom, either her or dad will have to quit their jobs. So it's just really tough for parents."

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

Two of Jessica Townshend's three children attend Child's Play Daycare full-time during the week, while she works as a registered nurse at Souris Hospital, and her husband farms.

With no other full-time spaces available in the area, she said, she'll be forced to work only part-time at the hospital starting in the new year.

"This is an essential service we really, really need, especially up east," said Townshend. "There's not a lot of daycares up this direction."

Push for government financing help

Townshend and her husband actually looked into buying the centre this summer. But she said high interest rates made it impossible.

According to Townshend, she reached out to multiple P.E.I. government officials looking for help, but came up empty.

"I would've needed the business to be on a very low or no interest loan through the government. I thought for something that's such an essential service, I was hoping our government would come through and help us out somehow," she said.

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

Brown said another person has expressed interest in buying her daycare, but is also struggling with financing and high interest rates.

The current owner recently sent a letter to several government and opposition members, pleading for help.

"I just can't understand with government saying they're always creating new spaces, how they can just let 32 spaces be gone," said Brown. "There's got to be some way they can help somebody keep this opened. I would think they might be able to offer them a low interest loan.... I know there's got to be funding out there somewhere."

Discussion in P.E.I. legislature 

In the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday, Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker questioned whether government is making any efforts to keep the centre open.

Natalie Jameson, Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning said her department "has been working with families to find alternative arrangements."

Jameson said Child's Play is a home centre, however the owner says it is a fully licensed centre. It is also listed as an Early Childhood Centre on the P.E.I. Childcare Registry.

Jameson also pointed to various government grants available to Islanders starting a centre — to help with renovations, new equipment, and some operating and licensing costs.

However she made no mention of financing help for those looking to take over an existing child-care business.

"If they don't support child care, and parents can't work, what does that tell you? Where does that leave people?," said Brown. "You're going to have families with no income. Someone's going to have to look after them. So it'll be better to have them working."

Brown said whether or not her daycare is is sold over the next month, she'll still be shutting it down Dec. 22.

"She deserves this break. She deserves retirement," said Townshend.  "But ...we're going to be lost without her. We will be.