When Stefanie Han brings her son to preschool or daycare, she knows he is being looked after by trained and licensed childcare providers. He socializes with the other children, learning how to cut with scissors, hold a pen, and use his manners.

But due to a shift in demographics and chopped subsidies, the Valemount Children’s Activity Centre is facing an uncertain future.

The centre has seen a drop of roughly two dozen children from two years ago says activity centre board’s co-chair Lotte Rauter. She says this is partly due to changing demographics, full-day kindergarten and decreased subsidies to low-income parents.

In total, she says from 2011 to 2012 there was a drop of roughly $50,000 in subsidies and grants to the centre.

“We operated at a loss last year,” says Han, who is the other co-chair of the centre. “We have a bit of a buffer, but if we run at a loss again this year, we’ll be closing next Christmas.”

Unlike high schools and elementary schools, daycares and preschools receive money based on each child – there is no initial grant simply because the centre exists.

For small centres like Valemount, it means not enough children could mean not enough money to pay wages, rent and heating.

After June 2007, the Child Care Operating Funding Program for Licensed Child Care Providers, dropped for most age categories.

The low-income child care subsidy dropped as well, and fewer families were eligible. The cap is between $415 to $750/month for a child in full-time daycare depending on their age. In other words, the parent receives between $2.60 to $4.5/hour per child as a subsidy.

Rauter says it doesn’t make much sense for parents making just above minimum wage (ie. those who are eligible for the subsidy) to continue working based on those margins.

“With one child, ok, but after two, who do you work for?”

Full-day kindergarten has also contributed to the decrease in enrollment, Rauter says, since they would have had many of those kids back in the afternoon.

The government says full-day kindergarten is a form of subsidized childcare, which is offered at no cost to parents.

The government says the Valemount centre has received $6,145 from the Child Care Operating Funding (one grant they receive) so far this year, though that figure may grow as year-end expenses are tallied. The centre received $8,623 in 2011-2012 and $13,630 the year before.

In 2007, the federal government cancelled the 2005 Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, cutting roughly $118 million per year available for child care. The BC government says it has increased child care spending from its own coffers 40 per cent since 2000, up to $296 million.

The government says there are also more day care facilities eligible for funding than ever before, with roughly 5,000 licensed childcare facilities across the province splitting available funding.

David Grant brings his 21-month-old daughter Blake to daycare two days a week. He says without the daycare he would not be able to work. Blake’s mother works in Jasper, but their home is in
Valemount. He says he would like to see daycare better funded like it is in Quebec, where parents pay just $7 a day.

“For some reason we have money to start wars, but not to help raise our kids.”

He says he finds the centre to be affordable at its current rates – generally under $5 an hour.

Han says they don’t want to raise prices, because it’s a Catch-22 – the higher they raise the prices, the fewer kids will enroll. The fewer kids enrolled, the less money they receive in grants from the government.

She says they also don’t want to close the daycare on certain days.

“The daycare is never operating at capacity – yet the doors are open Monday to Friday 8am-5pm, regardless of the number of children we have. We can’t change the hours each day, because then the
parents won’t think we’re reliable.”

She says the parents who put their kids in daycare often rely on it because of their jobs. Han says not having reliable daycare means they will be forced to either quit working earlier in the day or find a cheaper form of childcare.

“As a parent, I would rather have my child in a licensed, insured place where they are CPR trained, early childhood educator trained, than putting them with a 12-year-old child.”

The activity centre is working on a petition to send to Valemount MLA Shirley Bond. They hope the government will pay heed and make sure the centre stays open.

The petition will be sent to Shirley Bond along with a letter of support from the village.

“We pay for the library, we pay for the arena. Why can’t we pay for the preschool?” Han asks, adding it’s unfortunate low-income families may not be able to afford to send their child to preschool and receive those benefits to prepare them for Kindergarten.

“We want people to sign it to show support so that our MLA knows this is a serious issue and it needs to be dealt with.”

“They say that every dollar spent on early-childhood education, you will save six dollars in the future (from avoided social costs),” Han says. “I think a lot of people don’t know what the preschool and daycare does for children.”