Local family denied access to extended child care

·4 min read

A Medicine Hat family feels they’ve been left in the lurch following the local YMCA’s decision to end after-school and summer care for their 13-year-old disabled daughter, due to her age.

Ryan and Kalle Kingsley first contacted the YMCA about extending care for their daughter, Madi, in September of 2021.

Madi, who has Rett Syndrome – a neurological disorder affecting brain development, specifically language and motor development, was 12 years old at the time, and had been an active participant in the care programs for several years.

“Myself and my wife both work full time,” Ryan told the News. “Of course, school is done at three o’clock, so Madi needs somewhere to go until we’re able to swing by after work and pick her up.”

Kingsley says the care programs, open to children ages 0 to 12, had been of great assistance to their family, which is why he and Kalle chose to request an extension which, if approved, would have allowed Madi to continue attending the program until the age 15.

“We were quite aware of (the age cutoff) and approached the YMCA at the beginning of the school year,” said Kingsley. “At which time, the lady we were dealing with said ‘It won’t be a problem. It’s an exception. Not very difficult. We do this all the time.'”

Kingsley says having not received any updates by January, he and Kalle followed up with the YMCA, but never heard back; a pattern he says continued until May, when the couple was informed their request to extend care had been denied.

“We were extremely shocked and concerned,” said Kingsley. “So we moved up the line to the manager of childcare services with the YMCA, Sandra Warkentin.”

All attempts to appeal the decision were futile though, Kingsley says, and come June, when Madi turned 13, her care was discontinued.

“Some of the most disturbing things we were told as to the reasoning behind the YMCA not going forward with giving an exception to Madi was if they were to make an exception for Madi, they’d have to make an exception for every child aged 13 and 14 with a disability. I thought that was the point – why that’s written into the provincial legislature.”

When contacted for comment, the YMCA of Medicine Hat did initially tell local media the request for extension was denied due to provincial legislation which does not allow for children over the age of 13 to access any Alberta child care programs.

However, following a statement from the Government of Alberta’s Office of the Minister of Children’s Services, which confirmed “the Early Learning and Child Care Act allows licensed child care programs to continue the enrolment of a child with a special need or disability up to the age of 15,” local YMCA CEO, Sharon Hayward, said in a statement to the News, “the YMCA is not equipped to provide licensed programming that meets the developmental needs of teenagers.

“We commend this family for advocacy for services to meet the unique needs of their daughter. Their advocacy efforts highlight the lack of summer and out-of-school care programming options for teens with disabilities. This is a gap in our community.”

Kingsley says he and his wife have received a similar statement from the YMCA, but feels the response in inadequate.

“They’re passing the buck because they’re saying they hope to get more funding in order to increase the support, whilst the funding is there,” he said.

The Office of the Minister of Children’s Services confirmed licenced child care programs have access to funding support through the province’s Inclusive Child Care Program. But because child-care programs operate as independent organizations, they are required to use such. Nor are they required to accept children with special needs over the age of 13.

Kingsley says he and Kalle have secured summer care for Madi, but are still searching for private after-school care, which is both affordable and can meet Madi’s needs. He also plans to follow-up with YMCA Canada about the organization’s inclusivity policies.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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