P.E.I. daycare owner hoping billions from Ottawa funds more infant spaces

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P.E.I. daycare owner hoping billions from Ottawa funds more infant spaces

The longtime owner of a Charlottetown daycare is hoping some of the $7 billion in childcare spending announced in Wednesday's federal budget will help subsidise more infant spaces on P.E.I.. 

Sandra Mills, the owner of First Friends Child Care Centre, says she constantly gets calls from worried parents looking for a daycare for their child under two, and coming up empty handed. 

"We do have a fairly large waiting list for infants, and that's one we'd like to see improved," said Mills. 

The Trudeau government says much of the $7 billion spent over the next decade will be used to create more affordable child care spaces across the country. 

It's not clear at this point how much of that money will be spent on the island.

But in an e-mail to CBC, a spokesperson for P.E.I.'s  early learning department said access to child care spaces for infants is an issue that needs addressing. 

"PEI does well in terms of access to child care for 2-5 year olds.  But infant care is a challenge here like most other places," the e-mail said. 

Infant spaces costly for owners

Mills says of the 50 children at her centre, only three are infants. Most other centres, she says, take no more than six. Mills says it all boils down to dollars and cents: Under provincial regulations, centres need one staff person for every three infants, but can only charge parents $34/day. 

"You're covering one staff person's salary with that money, also food, and the ongoing operations of the facility," said Mills. "So it's pretty easy math when you look at what you bring in for infants...We're doing the best we can I think now.  But if there was the possibility of getting more infants in, that would be great."

Longer parental leave could ease demand

P.E.I.'s early learning department is hopeful Ottawa's plan to extend parental leave to 18 months will ease some of the demand for infant spaces. 

Mills isn't so sure. She says given the fact those who choose to take the 18 months off will just have their 12 months of employment insurance payments spread out, the longer leave won't be affordable for most. 

"I would say there's going to be a small percentage of young women out there that can actually afford to take that much time off," said Mills. "I still feel there are going to a large number of people looking for infant spaces at their 12 months."

The P.E.I. government says just how much child care money the island gets and how it will be spent won't be known until later this spring, when agreements with the provinces are finalized. 

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