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Qualified for-profit centres would be eligible for child care funds: Dryden [CA]

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Bailey, Sue
Publication Date: 
10 Feb 2005

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Social Development Minister Ken Dryden says for-profit child
care centres that meet federal standards will be eligible for public funds.

His comments Thursday alarmed child care advocates who say federal money should primarily bolster non-profit centres that consistently out-perform commercial agencies. "As the studies suggest, on average, the not-for-profits score higher than the for-profits," Dryden conceded.

"That doesn't mean that there aren't some very good for-profits. It doesn't mean that there's not some very bad not-for-profits.

"The challenge here is (to) focus on quality. If you can meet the standard, then you're eligible for some support."

That includes even small home-based operations that are regulated, he says.

Dryden also said $5 billion is enough to kick-start a national system - even as a group of fellow Liberal MPs calls for double that amount.

He made the comments in Ottawa before heading to Vancouver to meet with provincial and territorial ministers Friday. He must pull together 14 jurisdictions to forge a national child-care deal first promised 12 years ago.

The minority Liberals have pledged $5 billion over five years and seem determined to have a deal in place before they wind up back on the election trail, possibly within two years.

It won't be easy.

Alberta has said it won't sign any deal that shuns for-profit centres, which it calls a crucial link in Canada's weak chain of early learning services.

Quebec, with its vaunted $7-a-day child care program, says it's already a national leader and shouldn't have to account to Ottawa for how it spends related federal funds.

Dryden says the $5 billion will be available to any regulated centre that meets federal quality standards that have yet to be clarified.

Such principles, especially when they're not backed by legislation, can get watered down when big business gets involved, said Debra Mayer of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada.

"We believe it's up to the federal government to take the leadership on this issue."

Dryden has compared the push for national child care to past fights for cross-country education and medicare systems.

"Those kinds of services don't take place in the for-profit sector," Mayer said.

"Keeping the focus on the not-for-profit sector means that the community is in charge of their child care service. Decisions aren't being made by some corporate office in another part of the country or even another part of the world."

In fact, for-profit child care in Canada exists pretty much in name only, says Barbara Coyle, executive director of the Canadian Child Care Federation. The umbrella group represents more than 11,000 members, including workers in the non-profit and commercial sectors.

"You don't make a lot of money in child care," she said in an interview. Coyle is confident that clearly defined federal standards will help ensure quality care across Canada.

She says she's more concerned that provinces offer detailed reports on how they've spent money for services that are desperately needed.

More than half of Canadian children were in care in 2001, says Statistics Canada, but there are regulated spaces for only about 12 per cent of kids under the age of 12.

More centres, better training and higher wages should be among top concerns, Coyle says.

Child care workers, who typically take home under $20,000 a year, are paid less than parking lot attendants, she added.

"It's a national disgrace."

- reprinted from the Canadian Press