(The following is a transcript of the radio interview "Licensed VS Unlicensed Day Homes: Do their track records speak for themselves" from the Ryan Jesperson Show on 630 CHED, which aired August 16, 2016.
Ryan Jesperson: Hi Nicki.
Nicki Dublenko: Hi Ryan.
Ryan Jesperson: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Why don’t we establish your position Nicki, before we get into specifics on some of these heart wrenching stories that have caught our attention here. What’s your take on unlicensed day homes here in the province of Alberta. For those of you that aren’t necessarily familiar, what does that even really mean?
Nicki Dublenko: In the province of Alberta, we have licensed and approved child care, so childcare that can be delivered in center-based care and in a regulated day home setting. There is also an option for families to choose what we call private babysitters and that’s where people look after children in their home. They are not regulated, approved or monitored, checked-in on by anybody and they just operate out of their own residence and they don’t have any support or anybody checking in or giving families the peace of mind that the checks are taking place.
Ryan Jesperson: I don’t want this question to come across as flippant because I know that many operators of unlicensed day homes care very deeply about the children that they oversee and they care very deeply about what they do for a living but in a sense you talk about no licensing, no monitoring. Is it a bit of a free-for-all, in other words you never really know what you’re going to get?
Nicki Dublenko: Yeah, for sure. I think that if we had an adequate system of early learning and care in Alberta, we would have enough spaces that were high quality, affordable and accessible for families to choose from and then they wouldn’t have to be put in this position of having to find child care anywhere that they can. And also, if we could encourage private babysitters that, like you said, care deeply and are providing really good programs, that are safe, stimulating environments, then they would choose to attach themselves to an agency so that they would have the support of an agency but also that parents would have the peace of mind that things like criminal record checks and ongoing monitoring of these homes, training, things like that are being done in the day home.
Ryan Jesperson: Nicki, when we talk about licensed day homes, who is issuing the license?
Nicki Dublenko: In Alberta, agencies are contracted with the government and so agencies have to make sure they are maintaining the family day home standards that are put out by the government. Then, the agencies in turn contract with the individual day home providers to look after children in their homes.
Ryan Jesperson: Now we’re talking about two stories in particular and I know you know all too well that there are way more than two. The first one here reported just about a week and a half ago: Calgary Police have laid charge of criminal negligence causing death, Elmarie Simons, 57 years of age, facing that charge after an 18 month old girl was taken to hospital in life threatening condition, later pronounced dead. She was left in a car seat unattended within the residence for a prolonged period of time. It’s been reported she wouldn’t stop crying. The day home provider left her in the car seat for an extended period of time. The other story, this one just a short time ago making headlines, a Fort McMurray man, 30 years of age, Shawn Giles, charge back in July with two counts of sexual assault, one count of sexual interference, after RCMP investigated the assault of a person under the age of 16. Obviously completely different circumstances, but what did you find of note, Nicki, with these two stories that really raised your eyebrows? Was there something in particular about these stories where you went “Man, you know if this wasn’t necessarily an unlicensed day home, this may not have happened, these instances?”
Nicki Dublenko: Well, I mean I’m devastated by both of those situations and I feel so awful for the families that are having to go through this. Obviously, like you said Ryan, both of those homes were unlicensed and in the first situation, part of the family day home standards is to go over sleeping arrangements and child guidance. If a day home provider is having trouble with a child that’s maybe crying a lot, they can call their agency, they can talk to their childcare consultant, we can come out and offer support in that situation if she’s struggling with a situation like that. In the other situation, I could only hope that things like criminal record checks, including vulnerable sector searches, help to mitigate some of these situations; reference checks on all the adults that are living in the home. And not just that, the agency will come and actually evaluate whether this is a good place for children to be but to make sure the actual program, the day home program, is the number program that is happening during day home hours. We are making sure that somebody is there to do these checks and then they are ongoing checks, they don’t just stop at approvals. Agencies are in there every month checking on things, going over safety checks, making sure that criminal record checks and things like that are up to date. Hopefully, those types of things would help to support a quality program.
Ryan Jesperson: Nicki Dublenko is the Chair of the Alberta Childcare Association. Nicki, are some of these visits from agencies, and when you talk about agencies, the Albert Childcare Association is not one of them, correct? It’s made up of these agencies?
Nicki Dublenko: Yes, so members of Early Childhood Educators that work within childcare centers and day homes, they can be members of the Alberta Child Care Association and then also programs. So agencies can be members of the association and centre-based programs and supporting members of the community could be members.
Ryan Jesperson: Nicki, how often are these visits you talk about agencies paying, I mean are they random visits much like the health board to a restaurant type of thing?
Nicki Dublenko: Yeah, and so those types of guidelines are set out in the government family day home standards manual, and so ideally those visits are random, they’re unannounced and they’re monthly. So at anytime, a day home provider could expect a visit from their childcare consultant or another member of the agency. Also, the government does checks as well. They are obligated to do a percentage of so many homes a year as well, so they could be knocking on the day home provider’s door at any given time, whenever the day home is open and caring for children.
Ryan Jesperson: To be fair, to represent the other side, particularly in this story out of Calgary, the death of 18 month, I believe it’s Ceira McGrath. By the way, her brother, her twin-brother Colby also there, one of two other children in the home, neither deemed to be at risk by police. I suppose those that operate unlicensed day homes with great diligence and have done so with a fastidious nature for years and years and years will say “Listen, this type of thing could have happened in an unlicensed or a licensed day home.” I have a hard time believing, and obviously the police believe the charges are warranted or they wouldn’t have laid them, but you know someone will say “I had a hard time believing this caregiver was too distracted with just three children in her care, this could have been just a horrific nightmare and now all of a sudden, all of these unlicensed day homes are being painted with the same brush after a tragic circumstance occurred at just one of them.” How would you respond?
Nicki Dublenko: Well, you know, operating a child care program these days is not just about watching children. There are complex situations that sometimes caregivers have to deal with. They need to have ongoing training. They need to be within what I’d like to call a system where they have people they can call if they are having trouble, if they need extra support. You know, maybe they are going through something in their own lives that someone needs to come in and evaluate and say “You know what maybe running a child care program at this time isn’t the best thing for you. So it’s not just about watching, it’s not about babysitting anymore, it’s about delivering a high quality program to children and families in this province. And so, back in the day, maybe we said, “Yeah, it’s just about watching children and you could watch three children or you could watch many children,” but it’s not about that anymore because we know more things now, we know about the way children’s brains develop, the importance of delivering high quality programs to children in their early years so I don’t even think it’s part of the conversation anymore that we talk about whether a day home provider can just watch children, because it’s much more, it’s about program planning, it’s about menu planning, it’s about communicating with families, and serving our communities. It’s just so much more than just babysitting anymore.
Ryan Jesperson: Nicki, what’s the cost to operate or to be accredited as a registered day home, a licensed day home?
Nicki Dublenko: Most of the time, agencies don’t even charge the providers for doing an approval process. Every agency is different throughout the province, but the government provides the subsidy to families, low-to-moderate income families that attend day homes as well as centre-based care, I think some agencies do charge a bit of a monitoring fee or something like that, but I would say the majority don’t.
Ryan Jesperson: So, if it’s not even going to cost day home operator to become licensed, what’s going to stop them from doing it, the fact that they may have to change some of their protocol, change some of their, let’s call it day home infrastructure, things like cribs that wouldn’t pass the test?
Nicki Dublenko: Yeah, they might have to up their game a little bit, but I mean the thing is, if they are really in it for the best reasons, then that’s what they would hopefully choose to do. Also, Ryan, you and I talked about before, that day home providers that are with an accredited agency are also eligible for a wage enhancement. And so, for every hour that they provide care, depending on their level of certification that they have, they will get additional money back beyond the parent fees.
Ryan Jesperson: With the day home operator, there is a positive for you but maybe on the flip side, I won’t call it a negative, but a challenge to their bottom-line if they are licensed or perhaps required to pay their employees a little bit more.
Nicki Dublenko: Well, day home providers are contracted with one person in the day home so they do have other people coming in to support and help them. That would be a private arrangement between that person, that person would also have to be checked out by the agency and things like that. I don’t think that that would be an issue that would be preventing private babysitters from looking to get support from an agency. I think that they would be better off. Maybe some of these people are looking after more children than they could be if they were contracted with an agency and affiliated with the government. But the reason those ratios are in place is because that’s what states what a quality program would be like and how many children a day home provider could supervise at one time.
Ryan Jesperson: Ryan McGrath is the father of young Ceira, who died in care, and he issued a public Facebook post, Nicki I’m sure you’ve read it, but he talked about how he would like to see the province tighten oversight of childcare facilities, but he testified that hey listen our family was turned away from licensed daycares because they had really long wait lists, he said they cost a whole bunch, there is also no guarantee that our twins would remain together. A listener by the name of Carrie is chiming in on Twitter, she says “You know difficulty for parents includes cost and accessibility. Child care is a huge expense and hard to find, licensed or not.” I don’t know that there is anyone that would disagree with her so who is it up to to fix? Does this fall on our government and if so, is it Provincial, is it Federal?
Nicki Dublenko: Well, I think it’s both, I think both our Provincial and our Federal governments are looking at this now. They are seeing that there are not enough spaces that are available for families that need them. We need to be providing options to families because that is reality. Families are not having access to an approved and regulated child care system in Alberta right now. We need to start thinking about how we are going to increase the spaces and make sure the spaces are filled with educated and trained day home providers and people working in centre-based care, we need to make sure those spaces are high quality, that they are affordable, and that they are accessible to families that need them.
Ryan Jesperson: Nicki, before I let you go, Duggie is listening in and he says, “We provide daycare for our friends. If we got licensed we would have to quadruple what we charge.” Another listener out of Red Deer says “Hang on a second, if agencies aren’t charging anyone to be licensed, how are agencies even making money?” What would you respond?
Nicki Dublenko: So, usually what happens is that families pay an agency fee that is part of their child care fee. So a portion of that, the majority of it goes to the day home provider that is providing the care and then the day home agencies would usually take a bit of that fee in order to provide their monitoring service.
Ryan Jesperson: Ok, so it would cost families a little bit more?
Nicki Dublenko: It could but I think some of these private babysitters are also charging quite a bit more and remember that regulated day home providers are also getting a wage enhancement from the government as well so I would challenge that and that the day home provider would come out on top if they were affiliated with a day home agency and then connected to the government that way.
Ryan Jesperson: Nicki, one last question, a listener’s wondering how many children are allowed in a day home with one person watching them? I suppose if it’s unlicensed there wouldn’t be a standard, would there? If it’s licensed is there a ratio?
Nicki Dublenko: There are regulations even for private babysitters but there’s no one to check in on that. A private babysitter can look after 6 children, beyond their own children. If they had 5 children of their own, they could still look after an additional 6 children. A contracted, approved day home provider has to include their own children in those ratios, so there can only be 6 children in the home. And then there are specific ratios within that, there can only be 2 children under the age of 2 and a maximum of 3 children under the age of 3. And altogether there can only be only 6 under the age of 13 in that home.
Ryan Jesperson: Jack says “Options for families is a bit of a contradiction because if we licensed everyone which is what Nicki Dublenko wants, it would shut down a lot of spaces and actually create more of a shortage.”
Ryan Jesperson: You’ve given us a lots to debate over the next little bit. Nicki, thank you for your time!
Nicki Dublenko: Thanks Ryan.
Ryan Jesperson: Appreciated, Nicki Dublenko is the chair of the Alberta Child Care Association.