Adjustments to child-care subsidies worry parents: Children are being pulled out of after-school care because of climbing fees

Tamara Cunningham, Nanaimo Daily News

Government cuts to child-care subsidies are creating latch-key kids, Nanaimo advocates say.

Nanaimo’s poorest families are pulling their children out of after-school care because they can no longer afford the fees. Fifty families have left Nanaimo area Boys and Girls Clubs this September alone.

The province adjusted its child-care subsidy program to make way for five-year-olds heading into full day kindergarten. Families can now make no more than $21,480 a year to qualify and rates have been lowered. The Ministry of Children and Family Development say five-year-olds are no longer spending as much time in childcare and should get the same subsidy rates as other school-aged children.

But child-care advocates argue that the changes are forcing low income families to make tough choices. Some parents no longer qualify for childcare subsidies and are leaving work early to care for their children, while others are sending their five year olds home alone after school.

“Parents have been put between a rock and a hard place,” said Melissa Burke, owner of KK… after-school care. “I’m seeing them choose between paying for daycare or putting food on the table … and if they choose food on the table, what happens to their children while they’re at work. It’s a horrible choice to make.”

Under the new rules family income can be no higher than $21,480 – nearly a $12,000 drop from the previous $33,300 requirement. Parents also used to get full subsidies of $340 until their child was six years old. That’s been reduced to $210, giving five year olds the same subsidy rate as other school-aged children.

The Ministry said they understand the challenges the new adjustments have on families but added that there are many choices for before-and-afterschool care, including licensed group and family day cares and recreational activities.

Burke says the new rules have limited families’ ability to afford many of those options.

She runs five before-and-afterschool programs in the Nanaimo school district…. Most of the cost is covered by subsidies – if parents are eligible – but the programs are full with 30 to 40 families on each wait list.

An alternative is daycare, but those centres can’t hold a full day spot for two hours of afterschool care. Parents will have to pay a full day rate.

Burke said she knows of one family paying $650 a month just to hold a spot for her child after school. That’s out of the price range for parents who can now only access $210, she said.

The biggest blow to local families, however, has been the change in income levels, Burke said.

She sent claim forms for 25 families this September unaware the criteria had changed and received a notice back saying subsidies for four children were cancelled. She had to break the news to the families, who had been counting on the extra support.

“There is one single working mother, who has two children and she had to pull out of the program because she doesn’t qualify for aid anymore,” she said. “I have no idea where she is going to go.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs were also unaware of the changes and said families were ill-prepared to find alternative childcare.

“Parents are in a pinch and have been panicking, asking us where they are supposed to put their children,” said Kellie Hawkins, billing coordinator for the club. “They don’t understand why the province made these changes.”

Families at the Ladysmith club and Nanaimo’s 5th Street location have been especially affected, she said. Parents have said they are working fewer hours to be home with their children after school or they’re sending their five year old home for a few hours with a house key.

Children should be in a care setting, Hawkins said, but parents are feeling they have no choice but to send them home to wait.

There has also been more paperwork to file for claims and the ministry has flip-flopped over September about its new procedure.

Leonard Krog, NDP MLA for Nanaimo, called the new rules “poor policy,” and agreed its forcing families to make choices that could potentially put child safety at risk. It could also increase Nanaimo’s poverty level with families giving up gainful employment. He believes the issue will be brought up next week in Legislature.

Ron Cantelon, MLA for Parksville-Qualicum, hasn’t heard any complaints about the changes from families, ….