Parents left scrambling after daycare pulls 'guaranteed' spot
Some Halifax-area parents who believed they had a guaranteed daycare spot have been left scrambling after Kids & Company informed them no spaces are available.
Reese Clements put her child on a wait-list at Kids & Company when she was eight months pregnant in March 2022. At that time, she paid a refundable deposit of $1,180 and a non-refundable registration fee of $200.
The company told her the fees would guarantee a spot for her child, who was scheduled to begin attending daycare in May 2023, when Clements will go back to work after maternity leave.
Then last week, Kids & Company called to inform Clements that there's no space, but they would put her on a "priority" wait-list in case a space becomes available.
"It's very stressful not knowing when I can return [to work]. My mental well-being, my financial well-being, my child's well-being, really, it's all dependent on finding proper care and going back to work," Clements said Monday.
Meaghan Kerman's family is in a similar situation.
She paid the required fees last July when her son Owen was just two months old, and believed she had a guaranteed spot lined up at Kids & Company beginning this April.
"I didn't really have a Plan B because I thought, you know what? This is great," Kerman said.
At the beginning of March, she received a similar phone call to Clements, informing her there was no spot.
"I was so shell-shocked when she phoned," Kerman said.
Soon afterward, she began calling other daycares to see if anyone had space available.
"I'm not kidding when I say I've called about 50. I think I called 52 daycares, reached out to dayhomes. I spent honestly about two, three days just calling daycares within HRM."
Some told her they would not have availability until September at the earliest, and many said they were booked until March 2024. Kerman said she found two dayhomes that seemed promising, but she pulled out after realizing they were not licensed by the province.
'We feel horrible,' company said
Sue Purser, the chief operating officer of Kids & Company, said the company had to deliver the unfortunate news to about eight families in the area recently.
"We feel horrible about this and we're so apologetic to our families. It's not anything we'd ever want to see happen for any family who is needing care," she said.
Purser said the company is doing its best to find care for the affected families, and is confident they'll have spots by July.
Kids & Company also plans to offer the families one month of free child care once a spot does become available. Families that choose not to remain on the wait-list will have their fees fully refunded, Purser said.
The CBC is among a number of corporate employers across Canada that have an arrangement with Kids & Company to grant employees priority access to child care.
Purser said the 2021 federal-provincial agreement that reduced daycare fees caused a spike in demand. Families that may have previously sought part-time care are now seeking full-time care. Parents are also keeping their children in daycare longer because of the lowered fees.
"It really did quickly disrupt the way that we have historically managed our child-care spaces," Purser said. "There are fewer new spaces for children to actually have, and so for us to be able to offer new spaces to families has decreased substantially."
The province promised to create 1,500 new child-care spaces by the end of December 2022, but it only created 400.
Premier Tim Houston says his government is working as quickly as it can to open daycare spaces.
"We know the importance of affordable child care," he said in the legislature Wednesday. "That's why we're working so hard to open up the spaces for families, Mr. Speaker.
"We know what it means to families, we know what it means to our economy. We're focused on opening up those spaces. We're working just as hard as we can with the operators and we'll get spots open as soon as we can."
Pam Aucoin, the executive director of early learning and child care with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, said there are several factors that have slowed down the creation of spaces.
Supply chain issues and cost overruns during the pandemic have made it difficult to obtain some materials needed for construction projects, she said, and labour challenges that have plagued many industries are also affecting child care.
Aucoin said the government increased compensation for early childhood educators by about 30 per cent last fall and has committed to ongoing wage increases in line with other public sector wages. Later this year, the province will look at benefits and retirement issues in the sector.
Asked whether the province would allow private, for-profit daycares to add spaces, as some have called for, Aucoin said, "at this time, our prioritization is on the not-for-profit sector."
She said the province is anticipating that another 1,000 spaces will open this year.
She encouraged families in need of child care to contact the province at ECDServices@NovaScotia.ca for assistance.
The difficulty of finding daycare means families are forced to explore other alternatives they find less desirable.
Clements is considering delaying her return to work, sending her child to a dayhome — if she can find one with an available spot — or hiring a nanny, which would be "a huge expense."
She is also on a wait-list at two other daycares, but the earliest she may be accepted is September.
Kerman said Kids & Company called her on Monday to tell her they had a part-time spot available for Owen three days a week. She feels she has no choice but to accept it, and will likely hire a nanny for the other two days a week.
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