Kathy Sager wants her multi-age child care centre to receive the same funding as similar centres that only care for one age group.
The operator of a child care centre in the Kootenays wants the B.C. government to give equal funding to multi-age centres that allow siblings to be cared for together in a residential setting.
Kathy Sager said the parents of the children who attend her Bonnington Blossoms centre receive a smaller government fee reduction — up to $5 less per day — than those whose children attend the same type of centre in a commercial building.
“It doesn’t really make sense,” she said Friday. “We’re getting the short end of the stick.”
Bonnington is near Nelson.
While Sager’s centre is licensed, led by an early childhood educator, and separate from her house’s living area, it is only eligible for the family funding rate. Other early-childhood-educator-led child care centres that do not provide multi-age care, but are also in a residential setting, are eligible for the higher group funding rate.
“The funding disparity creates a huge disincentive to operate multi-age programs,” she said. “I would be getting more money in funding if I didn’t offer my centre to all ages.”
Sager said she could easily change her licence to provide care to one age group — children under three, children two-and-a-half to school-aged or only school-aged children — and thus receive additional operating funding, as well as a greater fee reduction for parents, but she believes in the multi-age model and the benefits it provides.
“To (change the licence), I’d have to kick out some siblings,” she said.
Multi-age centres are only allowed to care for eight children at a time and cannot be in a house’s living space. But because they care for children of different ages, including siblings, they have “more of a family feel.” They also provide much-needed spaces for infants and very young children, which are in short supply, said Sager.
Danielle Campbell searched for child care that would allow her two daughters to attend the same centre.
“It was really important to me that they be together,” the Nelson mother told Postmedia.
In other facilities, Campbell’s one-year-old would have been separated from her three-year-old big sister, but at Sager’s multi-age centre, the girls were able to play together and gain comfort from each other. The family also liked the eight-child limit, which meant the environment was less overwhelming.
“I don’t like it that the funding is based on the type of centre, rather than on making it equitable for all families,” said Campbell. “Parents should be able to decide what is the best fit for their family, rather than having to go with the cheapest option.”
Campbell said she is able to pay the higher fees, but some families may, forcing them to split up siblings of different ages at different centres.
Karin Gavac is expecting her second child in about a month. Her three-year-old daughter attends Bonnington Blossoms.
“Multi-age is really great because I’d like my kids to go (to the centre) together,” she said. “I don’t understand why the funding for that would be different.”
The Multi-Age Child Care Association of B.C. is encouraging its members to write to child care minister Katrina Chen to express their concerns about funding inequalities. The association represents 250 early childhood educations, who are hoping to see changes when their contracts are renewed in March.
A petition created by Sager has received more than 250 signatures so far.
“Multi-age child care centres (located in the licensee’s residence) are currently eligible for only family funding rates, rather than the group funding rates that they really deserve,” reads the petition. “The difference between group and family funding rates works out to hundreds of dollars per month that group centres (located in the licensee’s residence) receive and multi-age centres (located in the licensee’s residence) do not.”
In a statement, the Ministry of Children and Family Development said it will “take time” to build a child care system that works for diverse child care operators. “We understand (early childhood educators) operating a child care program out of their personal residence are meeting a very real need and we want to do more to support them.”
The statement said the ministry committed to increase the base funding rate for early childhood educators receiving family funding by 20 per cent retroactive to September 1, 2018, but added “we know there is more to do in order to support this sector, and we welcome feedback from providers.”