Giant day-care chain promises quality care; Australian firm ABC’s move into Alberta creating apprehension

Mike Sadava, The Edmonton Journal

Canadians have nothing to fear about the quality of day care if an Australia-based corporate giant moves into the field here, says a spokeswoman for the company’s American arm.

Child-care advocates in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia have expressed concerns that ABC and its affiliates are purchasing Canadian day-care centres, building an administrative structure reminiscent of McDonald’s or Wal-Mart into an industry that is generally run by owner-operators.

So far, the rapidly expanding company, which owns a total of 2,238 centres in four countries and reported profits of $164 million in the last fiscal year, has been secretive and has required those who are selling their centres to sign non-disclosure contracts. But day-care advocates believe that about 30 Alberta centres, including nine in Edmonton, are in the process of being sold to ABC’s new Canadian arm, 123 Busy Beavers Learning Centres.

Last year, ABC acquired the Learning Care Group in the United States, which owns 1,100 day-care centres in 39 states.

Amy Popp, spokeswoman for the Learning Care Group, said she is not acquainted with the Canadian situation, but she said the corporate structure in the U.S. does not affect the quality of care children receive. …

The company has a centralized purchasing and educational department that develops curriculum according to national U.S. standards, as well as local managers who oversee four to eight centres. The education department also provides training to company child-care workers….

Susan Harney, who owns a day-care centre in Langley, B.C., talked to a representative of ABC after receiving a letter offering to purchase her facility. She has no intention of selling, but started the correspondence to get a better idea of ABC’s plans. She said she was told that the company wants to reach a “critical mass” in a community and then continue to purchase more centres.

Harney said corporate day care threatens the parents’ ability to advocate for their children because the local director loses the ability to make even the smallest decisions, such as the length of naptime.

“Any kind of arm’s-length operation is not going to be encouraging and that will be a loss for kids,” she said.

Bub Hub Community Forum, an Australian chatroom for parents of preschoolers, had mixed assessments of ABC, from one mom who “can’t speak highly enough of the level of care” to a woman who talked about cleaners being removed, reduced menu budget and a lack of modern equipment.