Fees for child care at designated Early Years Centres in P.E.I. will be reduced to $25 a day starting Jan. 1.
Islanders currently pay between $27 and $34 a day for child care. The reduction to $25 a day would mean savings of $2 to $9 every day for those families.
"I know being a mom myself of a three and a five-year-old, the affordability of child care is key to ensure that families and parents, and especially women, can re-enter the workforce," says P.E.I.'s Minister of Education Natalie Jameson.
"We're hearing it loud and clear. The cost of goods are rising and the cost of services, so we want to be there to support our families."
The reduction in fees is part of a larger plan between the federal and provincial governments that was introduced in July. The deal promises that child-care rates would drop to $10 a day in P.E.I. by 2024.
The federal government made similar deals with six other provinces and one territory to reduce child-care fees to $10 a day. But P.E.I. has the fastest timeline laid out to reach that goal within the next three years.
Big impact on parents
The $25-a-day rate won't immediately apply to all child-care centres on P.E.I. in the new year. It will come into effect at licensed Early Years centres Jan. 1, but licensed non-designated centres will have to apply for provincial funding to reduce fees starting.
Elizabeth Jeffery, owner and director of Little Wonders Early Learning Centre in Charlottetown, said the reduced rate will have a big impact on parents with young children.
"Oh my gosh, it's going to be huge for them," Jeffery said.
"It will be a lot less, especially for people who have babies — that's a big rate change for them.
"That will impact some people's ability to buy groceries and pay rent and put gas in their car."
Jeffery used to be president of P.E.I.'s Early Childhood Development Association, and she said that experience showed her how difficult it can be to make changes in government policy.
"I have learned how freaking long it takes for everything to happen in government because there are so many steps," she said.
"The fact that they're able to get this happening as quickly as they are, although it might seem really slow to those from the outside, having been on the inside, I know that it's actually quite remarkable."
Public pre-K and demand for space
In September, the provincial government launched its free pre-kindergarten program for four-year-olds. Before the program, about 75 per cent of Island four-year-olds were already enrolled at licensed child-care centres.
Jameson said the program hasn't seen much of an uptick since its launch, with an increase to about 76 per cent of four-year-olds now in child care. The lack of interest could be due to parents choosing to keep their children home an extra year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
"There's a lot of parents that are doing wonderful work with their kids at home, but certainly we wanted to ensure that this universal program was available to all Islanders who wanted to take advantage of it."
The province will conduct an evaluation of its public pre-K program in the coming months, she said.
Despite the limited interest so far in the public pre-K program, there has been concern from some Island parents about a lack of child care in some areas of P.E.I.
"We here in Prince Edward Island, we have more access to child care than anywhere else in the country," Jameson said.
"It's not perfect, but again, we're leading the country in this… and we're only going to make this system bigger and better."