Public child care and early childhood education 

Historically, Alberta had a significant municipally-operated child care sector. In the 1980s, cities and towns—including Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Red Deer—had a number of municipal child care centres, but these were all closed in the 1990s. Today, Alberta is one of a few provinces to have publicly-delivered child care. Three municipalities—Jasper, Beaumont and Drayton Valley—now offer public child care. (Drayton Valley’s centre opened in 2008.)

However, with the exception of these three, regulated child care in Alberta is private for-profit and non-profit.

Another form of early childhood education offered in Alberta may be publicly delivered. Part-day kindergarten in Alberta is defined as the year before Grade 1. Early Childhood Services (ECS), for children from 2.5 years through kindergarten may be delivered publicly by public schools, or privately, by private schools and non-profit child care centres that receive public funding. Eligibility for ECS programs is determined by age and special need. There are numerous four-year-olds in ECS services (eligibility is available from age 2.5 years if the child has a mild or moderate disability).

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Who provides child care?

For-profit child care now forms a slim majority of child care provision in Alberta, with 51.3% of centre-based spaces in 2008 and 41 of the 84 family child care agencies. The for-profit sector has long been substantial in Alberta: in 1992, 64.6% of child care centre-based spaces were delivered by this sector.

During the 1990s, the number of for-profit spaces was stagnant and even began to decline, while non-profit programs expanded. However, this trend may be changing; between 2006 and 2008, the for-profit sector grew by 3,212 spaces compared to only 209 in the non-profit sector (that is, 94% of growth was for-profit).

Figures from 2006 by program type show that for-profit operators are more likely to provide more lucrative full-day centre-based child care (65% of full-day centre spaces are for-profit), while providing 27% of nursery school and 44% of school-age spaces.

Public funding 

Alberta’s public funding for regulated child care not only virtually stood still for many years but declined several times during the province’s “boom years”, dropping significantly in 1997/1998 and again in 2003/2004. The province’s child care budget in 2008 was less than double the 1992 budget. Alberta’s per capita funding (per child 0-12 years) is the lowest in Canada at $195 (the Canada-wide average was $663 in 2008). Spending per regulated space is at the lower end at $1,429 (the Canada-wide average was $3,560 in 2008).

The bulk of public funding for child care comes through fee subsidies which are available in both non-profit and for-profit child care centres. Recurring funding is available to both sectors and capital funding is also available to both sectors. Alberta is one of four provinces to provide capital funds to for-profit centres. (The others are New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

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Provincial policy 

  • Total provincial budget allocation for regulated child care (2007/2008): $105,732,973.
  • Fee subsidies are paid directly to service providers on behalf of eligible parents. Subsidized children may be enrolled in either non-profit or for-profit regulated child care centres or family day homes.
  • Both non-profit and for-profit centres are eligible for all recurring and one-time funding, including: the Pre-Accreditation Funding Program, Quality Recognition/Improvement Funding Grants, special needs funding, Staff Attraction Incentive Allowance, Staff Support Funding Grants, and professional development funding.  

Of historical note 

1966
The Preventive Social Services Act was first introduced; decision-making authority was delegated to municipalities. Only public and non-profit centres could receive funding for enrolling low-income families.

1978
The Social Care Facilities Licensing Act provided the first legislated child care regulation in the province. Fee subsidies became available, to be used in for-profit and non-profit centres.

1980
The provincial government took over the municipal share of funding subsidies and administration of care services for children up to six years. Substantial operating grants to non-profit and for-profit child care centres were introduced. The for-profit sector grew substantially during the 1980s.

There was still a significant municipal role in child care in Alberta in the 1980s, with publicly-operated centres in at least four of the large municipalities. By 1990, however, these had been closed.

1990
Alberta’s first requirements for early childhood education training were introduced, to be phased in, with the for-profit sector opposing the change.

The provincial government announced that operating grants would be phased out within the year. However, this did not happen.

1994
A provincial budget plan announced that provincial child care funding would be reduced by 20% over three years.

1995
A review of subsidy eligibility led to 20% of parents losing subsidies. The commercial sector was particularly hard hit by this move, with a 13% reduction in commercial spaces.

1998
Operating grants were reduced in 1998 and eliminated entirely in 1999.

2003/04
The Accreditation Funding program was introduced and made available to both non-profits and for-profits.

2004
Medicine Hat became the first municipality to offer full-day kindergarten (recommended by the Alberta Commission on Learning in 2003).

2005
Alberta opposed the establishment of a national child care plan. After significant public pressure, the province agreed to sign an agreement with the federal government that would nearly double the provincial budget for child care.

2007/08
Alberta introduced the Space Creation Innovation fund, providing $1,500 ($2,000 in Fort McMurray) to for-profit and non-profit child care programs, school boards, municipalities, and industry or community groups for each space created.

2008
Drayton Valley’s municipal child care centre opened, joining Jasper and Beaumont, both of which had operated public child care centres for some years.

Relevant quality research

A study of Calgary child care centres (Friesen, 1995) found that: 

  • For-profit centres were more likely to offer poor quality child care (53.1%) than non-profit centres (15.4%).
  • Non-profit centres were more likely to offer good quality care (61.5%) than for-profit centres (15.6%).  

An analysis of the You Bet I Care! data set (Doherty, Friendly and Forer, 2002) found:

  • Statistically significant lower scores in Alberta’s for-profit sector in the Caregiver Interaction Scale’s sensi-tivity ratings;
  • The for-profit sector had lower scores in the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, Revised Edition (ECERS-R). The ECERS-R score was 5.57 in the non-profit sample; 4.61 in the for-profit sample.
  • (In the ECERS-R, a score of 3=minimum, 5=good, and 7=excellent.)  

Who’s who in the for-profit sector 

Alberta’s for-profit sector is made up of individual owner-operated centres, small local chains (such as Kidsland), family child care (day home) agencies, larger provincial and national chains (Little Einsteins, Kids & Company), as well as one internationally-linked chain, 123 Busy Beavers, based in Alberta. The latter was initially connected to Australia’s ABC Learning Centres. Following ABC’s collapse, 123 continues to operate in Alberta under a management team that includes ex-ABC executives. 

Larger chains (six or more locations)1 

123 Busy Beavers Learning Centres
CEO: Graeme Wilkie
Eleven locations (eight in Calgary, one in Edmonton, one in Leduc, and one in Sherwood Park)
Website: http://www.123busybeavers.com
Note: 123 Busy Beavers was part of the Brisbane, Australia-based ABC Learning Centres conglomerate’s plans for expansion into Canada. However, the collapse of the ABC empire coincided with this expansion and the 11 Alberta centres are the sole ABC-linked Canadian operations. CEO Graeme Wilkie was one of the initial director/shareholders of Busy Beavers Investments Pty Ltd. (with Paul Graham and Don Jones). 123’s website says that they are actively seeking future site developments.

Kids & Company Ltd.
Owners: Victoria Sopik and Jennifer Nashmi (Ranked 30 in the Top Canadian Women Entrepreneurs of 2008)
Five Alberta locations (Calgary) and a planned centre in Edmonton; 24 locations nationally
Age range: 3 months – 12 years
2008 revenue: $13,748,614 (as report¬ed in Canadian Business Magazine’s 2008 W100 list)
Website: www.kidsandcompany.ca
Note: Kids & Company specializes in employer-supported child care. The company uses its child care centres as a base for its membership contracts with employers. Through these employers, Kids & Co. offers emergency drop-in child care (with regular parent fee) in its centres and a guaranteed space (regular parent fees) for employees through contracts with the more than 250 employers who pay a membership fee. In some cities, elder care is also offered through a partnership with First Health Care. In some locales at least, Kids & Company child care centres do not include subsidized children.

In 2006, Kids & Company hired the services of Ottawa-based lobby firm Hill and Knowlton to “communicate with the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office), PCO (Privy Council Office), Finance Canada, HRSDC (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada), and federal MPs.” Founder Victoria Sopik was also appointed to a federal ministerial child care advisory committee.

The company was named by Profit magazine as “second on the 2005 PROFIT HOT 50” which also quoted Ms. Sopik as saying that her goal is to “operate 50 centres generating annual revenue of $50 million by 2011” (April 2006).

Little Einsteins Daycares
Ten child care centres in Edmonton under different names (Diamond Daycare, Friendly Frog, St. Dominic, Tender Heart, Mount Royal OSC, Sunshine Factory, Sherwood OSC, Millcreek Daycare, Kids Korner, Little Einsteins)
Website: http://www.edmontondaycares.ca

Montessori Children’s Centres
Seven locations (Calgary), plus a head office
Website: http://www.montessoricentres.ca

Smaller chains (five or fewer locations) 

Building Blocks Playschool Centers
Director: Andrea Coulombe
Three locations (Medicine Hat)

Kidsland Daycare Centres
Four locations (Calgary), plus a head office
Website: http://www.kidsland-daycares.com

Learning Through Play
Three locations (Edmonton)

Rainbow Daycare Ltd.
Owner: Connie Hippe
Three locations (Edmonton)

Tiny Treasures Daycare Centre Ltd.
Three locations (Red Deer) 

Other organizations of interest 

Educare Development LLC/Canadian Child Care Education Property Fund (CCCEPF) or Canadian Educational Property Group (CEPG)

Educare/CCCEPF is a property development company, based in Texas, which has expressed interest in developing child care properties and sale/lease back of child care centres in Alberta. Educare/CCCEPF is represented by Leslie Wulf, who was instrumental in 123 Busy Beavers’ move into Canada through his company Adroit Investments Inc. The group was incorporated in Alberta in May 2008. A 2009 Freedom of Information Request by Public Interest Alberta revealed that Educare/CCCEPF had approached the Alberta government with a proposal to develop 80 child care centres with 160 spaces each as part of Alberta’s proposed space expansion. Website: http://www.cepg.ca/home.html.

References 

Friesen, B. (1995). A sociological examination of the child care auspice debate. Occasional Paper #6. Toronto, Ontario: Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

Doherty, G., Friendly, M. and Forer, B. (2002).Child care by default or design? An exploration of differences between non-profit and for-profit Canadian child care centres using the You Bet I Care! data sets. Toronto, Ontario: Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

Endnotes 

The content of this section was compiled using the best information that is publicly available. Using these sources, every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate and comprehensive. Ownership of two centres was not included as a “chain”.