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Cape Breton mother questions low-income child-care subsidy restrictions during Omicron wave

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Sullivan, Nicole
Publication Date: 
6 Feb 2022


Crystal Tutty doesn't want to send her two-year-old daughter back to daycare on Feb. 15.

While the Glace Bay mother wants Taylor Tutty-Bethell to attend daycare because of what she does and learns there, Tutty is more worried about COVID-19.

When Taylor was an infant, she needed special care in the neonatal intensive-care unit. Because of her medical history, Tutty worries her daughter might be at a higher risk for severe illness.

"She's in a small bubble, as far as keeping her at home. I don't take her out to stores. I don't take her to people's homes, other than my parents," Tutty said.

"When she goes to her father's house, he doesn't take her to public places either."

Thus, Tutty hasn't sent Taylor to her child-care centre since Christmas break, hoping to keep her toddler COVID free.

But, the current province low-income subsidy program's absent days policy states Tutty has to send Taylor back to her Glace Bay early education centre on Feb. 15 because she has used all her monthly sick or absent days. And the yearly 15 vacation days for April and March have also been used. Now, if Taylor misses a day until March, the provincial subsidy won't be paid.

Without it, Tutty couldn't afford it and she'd have to withdraw Taylor from the program. Something she doesn't want to do because as soon as case numbers are down she wants Taylor back in an early childhood learning centre where Tutty knows her daughter flourishes.

Different before

Due to being a low-income parent on a fixed income, Tutty is eligible for the current provincial child-care subsidy plan. Based on Tutty's situation, the subsidy covers $25 of the $35 daily cost. This bring's Tutty's child-care payment to $10 a day, something she can afford.

As part of the subsidy agreement, Tutty signed acknowledging she accepted the conditions regarding the amount of days missed.

The province agrees to pay the subsidy for up to five sick days and three absent days (with no reason) per month and 15 vacation days for the year, from April to March.

Any days missed on top of these for people receiving subsidy are charged full-price to the family.

Taylor wouldn't lose her spot because she lost her subsidy. However, the full day cost is out of budget and Tutty explained she'd be forced to remove her from the program.

"I don't understand why it is different now. When it was really bad the first time, the director said it didn't matter how many days you missed because the government was going to pay the subsidy," said Tutty.

"This time there are more cases. And there are cases at the daycare. It should be up to a parent if they want to keep their kid home because of COVID and it shouldn't affect their subsidy."

If a child has tested positive for COVID-19 the number of sick days might be extended and subsidy still provided. However, this doesn't apply for children who are close contacts.

Government response

An interview request with the Department of Education or Deputy minister wasn't granted. Lynette MacLeod, a communications person with the department, said in a written statement that while the provincial subsidy policy is "flexible," there are families waiting for daycare spaces, so spaces can't be "held indefinitely."

"The fourth wave of the pandemic has been challenging, including for parents navigating child care. We work closely with families who access subsidised child care space to understand their unique needs and circumstances.… We encourage parents and guardians to reach out to their caseworker directly," MacLeod said in the statement.

"While we are flexible, spaces cannot be held indefinitely as this puts undue pressure on the centres and other families who could use the space."

MacLeod also pointed out all child-care centres follow public health guidelines and have been open throughout the pandemic.