The Westlock Community Daycare has been approved for a $500,000 grant as part of a provincial government pilot project to offer $25-a-day daycare.
The centre was one of 22 approved for the program, which will provide funding for up to 77 childcare spaces.
“This means a lot for the community,” said Westlock Child Care Society president Christine Villeneuve. “Parents who are able to access our services can do so at a reduced rate.”
Essentially the program enables the daycare to charge less for services, while the province reimburses the centre for the difference.
“Right now my room rate is $840 for one space in the centre, so the grant is going to do is set the rate at $550,” she explained. “So we’ll charge the parent the reduced rate then the government tops us up.”
The grant starts May 1 and Villeneuve noted they have room for 25 more children at the facility, with six families currently on the waiting list.
Another benefit of the grant is that it can also be utilized for other aspects of running the centre, including expanding its size and scope.
“Part of this grant was giving the government different goals we would like to achieve with the extra money,” Villeneuve said.
“A large portion of that was reducing parent fees, but some other goals we had were to be a little bit more flexible in our hours of operation and our staff will be able to have a wage supplement.”
In being awarded the grant, Westlock outpaced a large number of other childcare centres across the province.
“We had a lot of applications and they were evaluated on our criteria, which was a balance of a number of factors including space creation, operating flexible child care, working with diverse populations,” explained children’s services spokesperson Aaron Manton.
“The Westlock Community Daycare centre met that criteria, so we’re excited to approve their application.”
Seven goals were presented to the province, which included hiring a part-time inclusive program co-ordinator, expanding training for staff and offering more supports for vulnerable women struggling to find childcare.
Also in the works is a new “quiet space” or Snoezelen room, which will benefit children with sensory disorders and give them a place to relax. The room would feature specialized walls and multiple sensors to assist the children.
“Materials for building such Snoezelen rooms are quite expensive,” she said. “We can definitely see the need with some of the children we have.”
While the program starts May 1, Villeneuve noted that she needed to wait and see just how much demand there is for the lower-cost childcare before she makes any serious staffing choices. She noted that any new staff hired on would be eligible for schooling.
“As I know that people need care, then I can hire staff,” she said. “Childcare is one of those few institutions where we want our staff to have college diplomas, but the money is not there so right now we pay close to minimum wage. With this grant I can also hire several people and put them through college.”
While she’s taking her time, Villeneuve added that this was a big chance for anyone who wanted to break into the industry.
“I am always accepting applications,” she said. “If there’s someone fresh out of high school who knows they want to work in childcare, we would be putting them through school as well. It’s a decent career opportunity.”
While the program provides some extra cash to help educate staff, Villeneuve noted that she had a number of grant programs to draw upon to help strengthen her workforce.
“Our organization actually sets aside some funds to start them to go to school,” she said. “I have access to just about $5,000 per staff per year, so if they decide to go to Portage College and the course fees for one year is $4,500 for the certificate, we should have access to enough funds to make that happen.”
The funding stays in place for the remainder of the year, at which point the society will have to reapply. The pilot project will be examined yearly by the province to determine if it’s working, though Manton suggested they’re in it for the long haul.
“The pilot runs three years,” said Manton. “After that point centres will have the ability to continue on with the funding. Because this is a pilot project, there’s a pretty rigourous evaluation process that’s part of this. We hope and expect to see our programs be very successful.”