Stricken with low wages and marred with overregulation, many licensed home daycare providers are going private — or quitting altogether, according to a local 22-year veteran of the business.
Judy Walker of Brandon runs a 24-hour home group daycare in the city’s downtown area, taking care of 32 kids. She now runs the only licensed five-day ’round-the-clock shop in the city.
When she began her career in 1991, she was the 202nd licensee in the city, and at the time — there was even a waiting list because the market was saturated.
According to Walker, there’s now around 30. Daycare need is no doubt increasing. Walker has a waiting list of 150 potential clients administered by an online registry through the government.
“Plus my phone rings all the time,” she said. “It’s really hard when people are crying on the other end of the phone because if they don’t find a daycare they are going to lose their job, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
And with Brandon’s population increasing by leaps and bounds, there is almost 6,000 children under the age of nine in the city according to 2011 census data — a jump of more than 1,000 from the 2006 tallies.
“All of the regulations are fair, they’re not unrealistic,” she said. “Some things are just overregulated.”
In recent years, the maze of red tape has grown, including a code of conduct policy under the Child Care Safety Charter of 2008, which outlines “appropriate behaviour, inappropriate behaviour and the consequences for inappropriate behaviour not only for the children, but also for parents and others involved in your child care home,” according to a government manual.
“I haven’t taken it out of my drawer since,” Walker said. “Most of the good rules are common sense.”
“A lot of people left (the daycare business) after that.”
Licensed daycares are inspected four times per year. Once at the time of annual licence renewal and three random drop-in visits.
“To me, a lot of the stuff we’re made to do is somebody justifying their job in Winnipeg, I really feel that way,” Walker said.
In the eyes of the government, she’s self-employed. But in the sea of regulations, she describes a licensed daycare operation as being in a oxymoronic grey area.
“They always tell you you’re self-employed and then you go to do something, and they remind you that so-and-so regulation tells you you can’t.”
While the myriad of rules may make sense, the fact is they are deterring many from getting their licence.
Walker chalks up the significant decrease of licensed daycares to the overregulation, wages in comparison to private daycares are low, which she said also drives daycares into the private market.
Walker charges $17.30 per day, per child and $21.30 for infants up to 10 hours a day, as set by the government. On top, licensed daycare providers can apply for grant funding which has increased substantially in the past eight years to give daycares more money while maintaining a low cost for parents.
“But I have to make a living too,” she said.
Unlicensed Private daycares can charge as much as they want, with many in Brandon advertising between $25 and $35 per day.
Walker is contemplating giving up the grant money she receives, while keeping her license, which would allow her to hike up her rate.
The catch is, half of the children she cares for are subsidized by the province. Of the $17.30 daily charge, low-income families only pay as little as $2 per day.
The subsidized families would still be covered by the province if Walker decides to stop getting grant money, however she said she’s not able to charge the low-income families more than the government-set $17.30, no matter what her rate is.
Though daycare workers like Walker may seem to be getting the short end of the stick, low-income families have fewer and few options for subsidized daycare.
“I am feeling very caught,” she said. “What do I do with those parents? Some of those kids have been with me six, eight, 10 years, do I say ‘find another daycare?’”
She will remain licensed because of the credibility associated with it and the resources the government has to offer, for example, when dealing with a problem child.
“I am not totally against unlicensed daycares,” she said. “A lot are licenced people that have left the system so they can make more money.”
Connie Ducharme ran a licensed daycare out of her home for nine years, bowing out for the same reasons in 2006. She too felt the pressure of the regulations and the strain of low pay.
“Nine years with it and I wasn’t going anywhere, no increase in money, no benefits, I just wasn’t going anywhere,” she said. Meanwhile, it wasn’t until 2010 did the provincial government start a pension plan for daycare workers.
“I’m finding people now are just going out private and getting to charge a much more reasonable rate and they don’t have the regulations other than the number of kids they have.”
Unlicensed daycares can only have four kids, including their own children.
“You definitely see more private daycares,” Ducharme said. “That includes people that I work with too that were looking for licensed daycares, having trouble finding spots.”