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U of A signs with private day care [CA-AB]

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Zabjek, Alexandra
Publication Date: 
2 Mar 2009

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The University of Alberta has signed an agreement with a national, private child-care company that could open hundreds of new day-care spaces for the children of university staff. But the move has blindsided five non-profit child-care centres already affiliated with the university who fear the deal could jeopardize their futures.

Kids & Company, an Ontario-based care provider with partnerships with universities and companies across the country, will open a flagship centre with 140 spaces in the Icon building downtown this April. The university has paid the company $5,000 to ensure university staff receive priority for those spots.

There are currently 600 children of staff and students on child-care waiting lists at the university. Kids & Company has guaranteed it will find places within six months for any staff member who registers with them, said Chris Cheeseman, vice-provost and associate vice-president of human resource services at the university. … The agreement with Kids & Company will not affect the five non-profit centres that receive university support, he said.

They include the Garneau/University Child Care Centre, the University Infant and Toddler Centre, and the University Early Learning Centre. Together, the centres provide about 250 child-care spaces. Competition for spaces has traditionally been fierce.

The non-profit centres said they weren't consulted in the new partnership, which leaves some wondering about the university's commitment to the non-profit operations. The Garneau/University Child Care Centre has been open since 1986. The university pays its rent in the Garneau Elementary School. Its agreement with the university comes up next year.

"If the university has decided to go to private child care, is that because they no longer want to invest the money in the non-profit centres? It leaves you with questions that are to be answered yet," said Vivian Turner, the centre's executive director.

Turner knows more child-care spaces are desperately needed. What she doesn't know is if a for-profit child care centre will provide the same standards of care that have become a trademark at the university-affiliated centres. Non-profit centres have been leaders in establishing provincial accreditation standards, she said. "They think they're providing faculty with an alternative, but it's not an acceptable alternative to many of us," said Laurie Adkin, associate professor of political science at the university.

Adkin, who previously sat on the board of a non-profit university child care centre, said the University of Alberta has been "intransigent" about increasing support for the non-profits and finding space solutions. "If they had taken seriously the concerns of employees a long time back, they could have built spaces into new buildings and come up with budgetary ways to give more funding to day cares. But they chose not to." She said for-profit child-care centres typically pay staff lower salaries and have higher staff-to-child ratios.

"This was not the necessary solution; it was not the optimal solution," she said. Kids & Company started in Ontario in 2001 and has been expanding across the country. The company could not be reached for comment Friday.

- reprinted from The Edmonton Journal