Tag Archives: Manitoba

To Close or Not To Close

Everyone is being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic – for some it may be just a mild inconvenience, for others it may be a major disruption to their daily lives. Some people are overwhelmed and beginning to panic while others are completely nonchalant.

For those of us working in childcare the big question has been ‘Is the daycare going to close?’ and the only available answer has been ‘We don’t know.’

Even in the field there are arguments both for and against closing childcare facilities. Many think that because the schools are closing, childcare facilities should too. Others argue that childcare is an essential service and must remain open for those parents who need to go to work.

My personal, possibly not popular opinion, is that licensed childcare facilities should NOT be forced to close.

Certainly, any sick children or staff should not be there and should be isolated at home, but what about those children whose parents still need to go to work? If they have a spouse or other family member who is temporarily off work then they have options but what if they don’t?

What if their only available childcare option is Grandma – whose immune system is already compromised? Maybe another choice is the unlicensed childcare provider who wasn’t forced to close and now has agreed to temporarily take in any and all the children who need childcare.

Wouldn’t a licensed childcare facility – with strict cleaning and disinfecting procedures already in place – be a better option?

Yes, social distancing is a very difficult if not impossible concept for children but most trained early childhood educators have the skills to implement games and activities to limit direct contact. Many of us will actually be spending most of our time playing outdoors in the fresh air.

If licensed facilities are forced to close where will those children go? Are they able to be with their family or are their parents at work and the children are huddled on the couch watching movies with their friends. What if their parents’ only option now is to send them to that one person on the block who says ‘No problem, send them all here, we’re having a party’.

Sure, if parents are off work and able to use this situation to be isolated at home spending quality time with their family that is probably the best option. The reality is that there are still a lot of parents who need to go to work and closing all licensed childcare facilities might just be the worst thing to do.

Parent Fees & Private Childcare

So, I wrote this post more than a week ago, published it, reread it, didn’t like it, removed it, rewrote it – twice, and I think now it might be at least a little closer to what I want to say. Writing is hard sometimes.

Childcare is an important issue for many parents in Manitoba – more specifically, the lack of access to quality, affordable childcare. I’ll admit that during the last provincial election I got more than a little excited when the PC government promised to streamline the licensing process to encourage more family childcare providers to become licensed – it is not often that the government puts any focus on home based childcare. Sadly, they then froze grant funding and encouraged newly licensed unfunded providers to charge higher parent fees.

Now I will also think parent fees could be increased to help offset all the increases in expenses faced by childcare facilities. I thought this article by Tom Brodbeck was interesting. Even in my lower income area most unfunded and/or private, unlicensed home based providers charge parent fees that are much higher than my parent fees – and parents pay it. In higher income neighbourhoods and daycare deserts unfunded/unlicensed homes often charge considerably more. Maybe it is a parent’s ‘choice’ to put their child in private, unlicensed/unfunded care with higher parent fees – or maybe it is their only available option.

Funded family childcare providers like me are not allowed to raise our parent fees if we want to keep our funding. In a funded childcare facility parent fees for a preschool child are only $2.70 per day higher today than they were 22 years ago when I first began my childcare career. Over those years I have received increases in my operating grant funding so that it is now 28% of my gross income instead of just 5% of my income 22 years ago. Still, even with that grant funding and parent fees combined my income is still less than that of most private home daycares – about $13.38 per hour for hours I spend with the children – prep, cleaning and paperwork are all unpaid hours.

So yes, I am horrified when I hear a politician say they want to create portable subsidies for low income families to use in private childcare facilities because I know that even with portable subsidies those parents will still be paying much more than what they would pay in a funded, licensed facility – which already accept subsidized families. The problem is there are not enough funded licensed spaces – so the politicians say they will increase the number of licensed childcare spaces but if they don’t fund them then the parent fees will need to be increased in order to cover the costs of operating.

Even funded childcare centres are finding it difficult to attract or retain staff with the current set parents fees. When I hear politicians promise to lower parent fees to make childcare more affordable for parents I want to scream ‘Do you have any idea how much additional grant funding it will take to compensate for lower parent fees?’ Or are you planning to lower wages too and drive more ECE’s out of licensed care.

Trained ECE’s are already leaving their jobs in childcare centres and some of them are choosing to open private, unlicensed childcare homes. I fully understand the allure of home based childcare but with no funding available for new providers there is no financial benefit to becoming licensed – in fact they will probably earn more being unlicensed/unfunded and only accessible to higher income families willing/able to pay higher parent fees. There are no numbers available as to how many unlicensed childcare homes there are because there is no way to track that because they are unregulated. There are only just over 200 licensed home based providers in the whole province – far fewer than there were when I first became licensed.

Many parents and even politicians do not understand the difference between licensed and private childcare homes. When I was talking to a politician on my doorstep and mentioned that I was a licensed family childcare provider they said they had met a couple of other providers on my street – they couldn’t tell my if they were licensed or not ‘but they had business cards’. *sigh* Not licensed – there are no other licensed providers on my street – or any of the streets around me – that is easy to check here.

It is true that licensing does not guarantee ‘quality’ but I think ‘unlicensed’ is also ‘unprofessional’ even, or maybe especially unprofessional if you are a trained ECE. Many parents may not understand the difference between training and licensing and not realize that their trained private provider is in fact not licensed. In Manitoba a private home childcare provider, trained or untrained, may not care for more than four children under 12 years of age including their own children. Yet, I know many trained ECE’s whose only experience is in centre based care and who are surprised to learn that child/caregiver ratios are different in home based childcare. I also hear from many parents who are unable to find licensed childcare and have placed their child in a private home but are unsure how many children are actually being cared for there.

Yes, training enhances the quality of childcare but it is licensing and funding that enable childcare to be accessible and affordable. Private childcare is not affordable nor accessible especially for low income families even if there was a subsidy available. I don’t believe families of any income level would choose unlicensed care if there was enough licensed care available.

Maybe what should be suggested is that childcare waitlists and enrollment forms should include information about each family’s income level so licensed funded childcare facilities could weed out all the high income earners who were using up all the childcare spaces with low parent fees when they could really afford the higher fees in the private centres. I’m sure that then we’d hear a lot more public outcry that it is not fair that licensed care is only accessible to low income families.

So, I love my job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else and so far I can still pay all my bills and I get to play outside and I get paid in hugs every day so I shouldn’t complain – right? There are so many other people who are worse off than me – but really, that is my point. Even though, like other licensed funded facilities, my parent fees haven’t increased and my grant funding has been frozen for the past three years and my expenses have increased – I can still provide childcare to low income subsidized families.

Yes, I could drop my funding and raise my parent fees and still be licensed but earn more money – but then I’d have to exclude low income families and I won’t do that. I will continue to pay 22% of my taxable income back to the government because I know paying taxes is important for everyone. Then I’ll use my remaining $2400 a month to pay my ever increasing bills so I can be here for the families that trust me to provide care and education for their children while they go work to pay their bills and their taxes. I also really, really hope that the government then uses all those tax dollars to help those who don’t have as much as I do instead of offering it to those who already have more than they need.

Students & Mentors

Throughout my career I have had many opportunities to welcome students and other educators into my home for tours, observations and practicum placements. I have found these visits to be enlightening and I am certain that I learn just as much or more than any of the ‘students’.

Sometimes visitors are here outside of regular working hours simply to see my childcare environment and get ideas for their own programs.  When there are no children present we have plenty of time for discussions and often the visitors will ask why I have things arranged the way they are.  Even as I answer their questions I may also begin to ponder ‘Is this really the best way or could I do it differently?’

The visitors who come for ‘observations’ have the most difficulty and sometimes it is downright hilarious.  Usually they’ve been instructed to ‘observe’ the children and/or me but not ‘interfere or interact’ with us. LOL The second they entered the room they became the children’s favourite toy.  “Who are you? What are you writing? Can I have your pen/some paper? I drew a flower. I have Darth Vader on my shirt. Do you like light sabers? We aren’t supposed to hit with toys. I’m hungry, did you bring a snack? …. It doesn’t end and honestly I doubt anything they observe would resemble a ‘normal’ day.

My favourite visitors are the Early Childhood Education students here for their practicum placement.  They come for longer periods of time – usually six full days.  They are expected to join in and even plan activities.  They get to know us and we get to know them.  All of the practicum students that have come here were part of the Red River College Workplace program which means they already have experience working in licensed childcare facilities.  Usually these students have only had experience working in centres but have expressed an interest in learning more about family child care as a possible career choice in the future.

They already understand child development and guidance.  Many are well acquainted with licensing regulations, policies and procedures – at least in the centres in which they work.  Some have already worked in childcare for many, many years as childcare assistants.  Really there is little or nothing I could teach them about doing their current job.  However, they are here to learn about family childcare and for most of them that is something new – and very different from what they currently do.

The first comment I hear when these practicum students arrive is almost always ‘I can’t believe how quiet it is’.  Yes, even though I may not always find it ‘quiet’ here, in comparison to working in a centre it is very quiet.  Sometimes I even find it too quiet – especially when I have a particularly independent group or there are some children absent.  There are days that I am tempted to initiate new activities simply because I am bored – I have to stop and consider if the children would actually benefit from my activity or if I would be interrupting a wonderful child-led experience in order for me to feel more productive.

Of course the play space also excites many of the students – especially the use of environmental guidance so I/they don’t have to  constantly provide direct guidance.  I love that the students recognize this.  🙂 They also note how easily the children choose, engage, and clean-up activities with little or no assistance from me.  We often share stories about behaviour issues we’ve experienced at our respective programs and how changes to the environment have/could address them.  I think that the ability to control the environment is what draws many centre staff to family childcare – they see issues at their workplaces, have ideas that could help but for whatever reason are not permitted to implement them.

However, I don’t feel that these practicum students ever experience ‘real’ family childcare when they are here.

Firstly, they are only here for eight hour days, not the eleven I normally spend with the children each day.  The college also expects that I will give them  breaks – many of the students choose to forego their break and leave earlier instead.  There was one who never wanted to leave and often stayed longer than required but still not my full day.  One insisted on taking her lunch break at lunch time – the busiest part of my day – instead of joining the children and I for lunch.  She spent an hour sitting in her car and returned when I had the kitchen clean and all the children settled in for their naps.  In my opinion there were several factors that made me doubt she was suited for ANY position in childcare.

Secondly, these students are never alone here or in their regular workplace.  Certainly there are times when I busy myself elsewhere and observe the student engaging with the children independently but they are not truly  ‘alone’.  There is nothing I can do to allow the students to experience what it is like to be the only one responsible for doing everything all day, every day.  As much as they may think that they would love to be their own boss, that freedom comes with a whole lot more responsibility and time commitment than their current jobs.

Then there is all the other stuff – the evening and weekend stuff when the children are gone.  The cleaning, the paperwork, contacting prospective parents, meetings, interviews and more – the students see none of that.  Are they prepared for the challenge to their work/life balance when they work from home – and what about their families?  The ‘family‘ portion of family child care is a HUGE factor and many providers who choose FCC specifically to stay at home with their own children also discover they prefer working in a centre and can’t wait to ‘get their house back’.

I have had a couple students who claim to understand how much time is required for FCC but then remark that they aren’t actually planning to work in their ‘real’ home because they ‘won’t do that to their family’.  They want to rent/buy a second house or use some other space away from their true home.  We sit down and review some regulations and do some financial calculations for FCC income vs expenses for a separate space. Even if the regulations allowed it, financially this is not a viable option.

Family childcare homes are not centres – they cannot be run the same nor can they be compared to centres.  Not all ECE’s with experience in centres are equipped for working in homes and many FCC Providers would not survive working in centres.  Still, there is a lot we have in common and there is a lot we can learn from each other.

My experiences with mentoring practicum students has been enlightening.  I have observed how the behavior of the children in my care, in my environment, changes with the addition of another caregiver.  I’ve been able to reflect on whether it something I do or the student does that influences the behaviours.  I’m also certain that even though there are days when I could use an extra set of hands to get everything done, I am still much happier working alone.  That’s not the case for everyone – some ECE’s need the larger groups and daily interaction with colleagues and family childcare may not be the best fit for them.

 

My Dream

In Manitoba a licensed family childcare provider can care for a maximum of eight children under 12 years of age.  Of those eight children, no more than five may be under six – the other three must be in grade one or older.  I love having a mixed age group and the opportunity to build a relationship with the children in my care from infancy through school-age.

Over the twenty years I have been providing childcare in my home I have known many amazing school-age children who have thrived in this setting.  Some struggled with peer relationships in their school environment but enjoyed being the ‘leader’ here – idolized by the younger children.  Some embraced responsibility and enjoyed helping the little ones.  Some were wildly creative and independent and of course there were also some who resented being with ‘babies’.

I’ve watched older children gain confidence and build their self-esteem by mentoring the younger children.  I’ve seen younger children develop skills they learned from watching and copying the older children play. I’ve also had some older children that taught the little ones things/words that I wish they hadn’t. *sigh*

I’ve noticed something else – the cost of providing food, craft supplies, activities and equipment for school-age children often exceeds the income I receive for their care.  I find that the school schedule is disruptive – breaking up what could be longer periods of engagement in learning activities for the preschoolers.  So, for several years now I haven’t made an effort to fill empty school-age spaces.

Summer was the exception.  I loved having all the ‘big kids’ here for the summer – working in the garden, going on adventures, making incredible creations, sharing fantastic stories – without the rigid school schedule.  It was wonderful to have all this time with the older children instead of just the fleeting moments before/after school when everything was so hectic and there wasn’t really any time to do anything.

Yet, when I only enrolled school-age children for the summer I was finding that the first month was spent getting everyone acquainted with each other, learning routines etc. Then, just when we were starting to develop relationships, summer was over and they were gone. The ‘freedom’ of summer wasn’t quite the same with ‘new’ school-age children instead of ones we already knew.  So, for the first time ever – I didn’t fill any of my school-age spaces  this summer – and I’m loving it.

The school-age table has been empty;

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The little ones are engaging in more age-appropriate dramatic play.  They are demonstrating their creativity instead of copying someone else. I haven’t heard ‘I’m bored’ once this summer, nor have I had to spend hours shopping for tons of additional food and supplies.

I’ve also been imagining what the little ones and I could do with that extra space I have set aside for bigger children and all the supplies they need but the little ones don’t.  I’ve started to think that it would be really, really nice if the province would let me exchange those three empty school-age spaces for one more preschool space.

Group childcare homes have two licensed providers and up to 12 infant/preschool children – that’s a 1:6 ratio.  I have five preschool spaces and although three of those five could be infants I rarely have more than one or two – sometimes even none. If they stay with me until they start school each one year of infant care will need four years of preschool care.  Hence, I’d have to kick out preschoolers if I wanted to keep those infant spaces full – I would never do that.  One more preschool space would help.

Big dream – I know.

 

 

The ‘Un’ Factor

‘Un’ is a prefix meaning “not,” freely used as an English formative, giving negative or opposite force in adjectives and their derivative adverbs and nouns.  In the field of family childcare we often use the words ‘unlicensed’, ‘unregulated’, ‘untrained’ yet for many government officials and people outside the field of childcare those ‘un’ words are not viewed as negative – simply a choice that parents should be allowed to make regarding the care of their children.

There are regulations governing the manufacturing of items like cribs, strollers, carseats, and toys etc so parents know they are safe.  There are regulations regarding the production, packaging, and labeling of food products to ensure they meet predetermined standards so people know what they are buying. Why do government officials and the general public think that parents should be able to choose unlicensed, untrained childcare but need regulations to assist them to safely feed, house, and transport their own children?

What other career field allows some businesses to operate unlicensed and/or untrained when others providing the same service are licensed?  What is the incentive for any business to be licensed if they can legally operate without any oversight?  Without any licensing/training requirements?  What if, like in childcare, they could actually make more money if they were not licensed/trained than if they were licensed/trained?

Let’s use truck drivers as an example.  The majority of adults have a class 5 driver’s license and have experience driving their own or a friend’s vehicle.  What if there were no restrictions on what size of vehicle you could drive and anyone could just decide “Hey, I’m going to buy a big truck and start a business delivering things for other people.”

Why, is an experienced driver with their own vehicle not allowed to start up a trucking business without additional training or license? Why don’t people argue “It’s his truck, he can do what he wants with it.  If other people are OK with letting him transport their stuff why not let him/them.  He’s never had an accident and doesn’t need a little piece of paper to prove he’s a good driver.”

What if that same driver or another class 5 driver then decided “A bus isn’t much different than a big truck.  If I had a bus I could earn money driving people around.”  What if you’d seen that driver on the street with his bus full of happy passengers and decided to take a ride on his bus.  Then imagine that one day there was an issue – something was wrong with the bus or the driver.  What if it is too late to get off the bus before the accident happened?

Some argue that licensing all childcare facilities and requiring training for all childcare workers doesn’t ensure quality – but it helps.  Just like trained bus/truck drivers in licensed companies will still have accidents there are standards and checks in place to limit them.  Why don’t we hear arguments that training/licensing truck drivers doesn’t prevent accidents so let’s save some money and not bother requiring them to be licensed?

Do we need more incentives for family childcare providers to become licensed or do we need to eliminated the option for them to operate unlicensed childcare homes?  Currently only licensed providers can accept government subsidized families but private paying families usually pay higher rates than the maximum subsidized rate so that isn’t an incentive to be licensed.

What about training?  Currently family childcare providers with Early Childhood Educator II/III training can receive slightly higher subsidized rates than untrained providers but those rates are still lower than the private rates most unlicensed/untrained providers charge so why bother?  Just think of all the tax dollars we could save if we had trained and untrained police officers  – both had the same duties but the city could pay the untrained ones less – but either trained or untrained officers could go work privately for more money without a gun permit or any other type of license.

In an effort to increase the number of licensed childcare spaces, the provincial government is considering lessening the requirements and ‘red tape’ needed to open licensed childcare homes.  Why, when there was a shortage of family doctors was it never suggested that we lower the requirements to become a doctor?  I don’t think lowering FCC licensing requirements will increase the number of licensed childcare spaces and I’m absolutely positive it won’t improve quality.

What part of licensing do they think is unnecessary?   Criminal record/child abuse registry checks? First aid training or a 40 hour course? Behaviour management, nutrition, safety and supervision policies? Adequate equipment? Developmentally appropriate activities? Documentation and record keeping?

I don’t think any part of the licensing process is difficult or unnecessary.  If fact, I’d like to see more.  I’d like to see MANDATORY licensing for ALL childcare homes.  Greater incentives for trained providers (possibly higher ratios).  MANDATORY annual professional development and more.  I’m thinking about the best interests of the children, not just convenience and the cost for quality and safety.

 

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Licensing Manual

Fluffy Rain

One of my fellow family childcare committee members coined the term ‘fluffy rain’ in reference to the white stuff falling from the sky during our meeting last Thursday.  Maybe it was positive thinking or maybe it was just denial – none of us wanted to believe that it was snowing again at the end of April.

There was no school on Friday and although not all the children were here we still had a larger than normal group.  The ‘fluffy rain’ did not dampen anyone’s mood – outdoor play in any type of weather is still preferred over being stuck in a classroom all day.

Most of the morning there was an elaborate dramatic play activity involving an eccentric designer, an art exhibit, and various other characters.  I was assigned the role of ‘photographer’ to document the event – perfect because I was taking pictures already.

There was artwork everywhere;

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Then someone discovered the steady stream of water running out of the rain barrel overflow spout;

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Eventually we had to go back inside because it was too cold for soaking wet toddlers (my decision, not theirs).  Before that though we still had some more time to play with wet fluffy rain – on the plexiglass;

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One toddler was super excited to discover ‘flowers’;

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Hmmm, those ones might be remnants from last summer.  However, the pasture sage has been eager to get growing this year.  It has been active for a couple weeks already.

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Hopefully it won’t be deterred by a little fluffy rain – after all, it is a hardy native prairie plant.  It, like the rest of us Manitoba prairie dwellers, should be used to this by now.