Edmonton

Lack of child care remains a challenge in rural Alberta despite government supports

One of the least-served areas in Alberta may have up to 100 new daycare spaces by the fall due to a collaboration between a for-profit daycare and the region’s school district.

Province offering space creation grants in high demand and remote areas

Taylor Dublanko stands with her husband. She is wearing a neutral shirt and her husband is wearing a light shirt and cowboy hat.
Taylor Dublanko stands with her husband. Dublanko is struggling to find childcare for her kids and may lose her contract if she can't get daycare in time. (Submitted by Taylor Dublanko)

One of the least-served areas in Alberta may have up to 100 new daycare spaces by the fall due to a collaboration between a for-profit daycare and the region's school district. 

Miss Claudia's Academy in High Level, 740 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, plans to move into a building owned by the Fort Vermilion School Division by Easter.

The new space will allow the daycare to expand and access space creation grants from the province. 

Mike McMann, superintendent of Fort Vermilion School Division, offered the space to daycare owner Claudia Lindberg. He said the partnership could eventually give older students who wish to work in the child-care system a place to do their practicums. The partnership would also help parents in the area who are desperate for child care. 

"We have a very hard-working group of people up here, most parents work both jobs and and so childcare is really tough," McMann said. 

The daycare currently has 32 spaces. Owner Claudia Lindberg, who opened it two years ago, said it has a waiting list. She regularly fields calls from parents desperate to find care for their children. 

"I've been maxed out since last year," Lindberg said.

"Before Christmas, I was scared to look at my waiting list because I'm like, 'I don't know if I could help you.'"

According to a report from the Alberta government, High Level is a community with extremely high child-care needs.

The area has only 91 child-care spaces in an area with 2,035 children under the age of six. That works out to a coverage level of just 4.47 per cent. The region would need another 581 spaces to reach a coverage level of 33 per cent, which the province defines as an "adequate" coverage rate. 

High Level is not the only community facing high demand for limited childcare spaces. 

Taylor Dublanko is a teacher who is home with two children under three years old. Dublanko wants to return to work at her school in Calmar, 40 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, but can't find child care.

She is currently on several waitlists for childcare in the area. 

Dublanko wants to go back to work full-time but is currently picking up about five casual shifts a month whenever a friend or a visiting family member can provide care.

She's afraid she will have to give up her teaching position if she can't return to full-time work by the fall. 

"I love teaching," Dublanko said. "Teaching is my passion and I want to go back, but if we don't have child care we have no other option."

Dublanko also hopes to find a daycare or day home that is licensed and included under the child-care deal. Otherwise she and her husband will end up paying higher fees that will take up most of her teaching paycheque.

Dublanko said the wait and the uncertainty is causing a great deal of stress.

"It feels like I'm faced with having to choose between my career or raising my family now," she said. 

"I'm pretty sure many people might think, well, that's a no-brainer, choose to stay home with your family. But in today's economy that's not as easy to do.

"If I chose to stay home with my kids, if we can't find child care, I'm also giving up a permanent continuous teaching contract that I've worked very hard for at a school that I absolutely love."

Space grants

In an effort to create more capacity, the province is offering licensed daycare and day-home providers a grant of $6,000 for each newly-created space in areas like High Level that are underserved. 

The government of Alberta set $59 million in last year's budget for space creation grants to for-profit and non-profit providers. Alberta Children and Family Services approved applications from 95 non-profit and six private operators as of December 2023. Another 31 non-profit and 90 private applications are under review. 

CBC News has requested numbers from the province about the numbers of applications located in areas with low to no child care.

The transition to fully rolling out the federal government's $10-a-day child-care plan in Alberta has hit some speed bumps.

The province has insisted private, for-profit daycares, remain part of Alberta's system. 

But the Alberta Association of Childcare Entrepreneurs (AACE), which represents those daycares, can be a thorn in the government's side. 

Child-care operators were required to sign the affordability grant agreement by Jan. 31. AACE said members signed "under duress" in order to receive funding. Some daycares held one-day strikes to protest the agreement. 

AACE said operators face a 40- to 45-day delay in receiving payments from the government. The association also said the grants don't help cover operators' costs. 

Matt Jones is Alberta's Minister of Affordability and Utilities.
Jobs, Economy and Trade Minister Matt Jones will now helm the affordable child care file for Alberta. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

On Friday, Premier Danielle Smith appointed Matt Jones, minister of jobs, economy and trade, to take over implementation of the federal-provincial child care agreement, which was previously the responsibility of Children and Family Services minister Searle Turton.  

Nate Glubish, minister of technology and innovation, is tasked with setting up a new system to ensure operators receive their grants without a delay.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada.

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