Unlicensed day homes in Calgary must meet new safety requirements in the new year

Starting Jan. 1, unlicensed day home operators in Calgary must adhere to new minimum safety standards that include a business licence, police background checks and first-aid training. 

The city doesn’t know how many homes will fall under the requirements of its new bylaw, but according to Statistics Canada, more than half of Alberta’s day homes in 2021 were unlicensed and home-based.

Calgary child care advocates Jen Woolfsmith and Shelby Stewart welcome the changes.

“It’s the least regulated form of child care that we have, so for us, this is taking those first initial steps to establish some regulations with having a background check and a first-aid check — that’s just such a huge step ahead,” said Stewart.

The two women, united by tragedy, co-founded a grassroots advocacy group called Mackenzy’s Legacy, named after Woolfsmith’s daughter.

Mackenzy Woolfsmith died from injuries she received while in the care of an unlicensed day home provider in 2012. Stewart’s toddler son was assaulted in an unlicensed day home three years ago.

Stewart says the new rules give parents a place to start when searching for a day home.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek speaks with Jen Woolfsmith, centre, and Shelby Stewart, right, after the two advocates for safer child care in Alberta spoke at a public hearing in July. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

“Do you have a city licence? Can you show us that licence? And if not, then I hope we will hold those providers accountable,” said Stewart.

Far from perfect

A fatality inquiry into Mackenzy’s death produced a number of recommendations in 2019, including a call for legislative changes to the way child care is governed in Alberta.

Those have yet to be adopted by the provincial government. But that hasn’t stopped Woolfsmith and Stewart from forging ahead and pushing for other changes such as the new city bylaw. They would like to see other municipalities adopt it, too.

“I would never wish losing a child on anyone else, ever,” said Woolfsmith. “We lived through that and that is the only, only motivation behind this … to make sure it never happens again.”

The head of a support network for licensed and unlicensed day home providers in Alberta says she’s had mixed reaction to the new bylaw.

“We’ve definitely gotten some flak for supporting this because, you know, it is an extra cost and an extra burden for providers to be doing this,” said Danielle Bourdin of Embolden Private Dayhome Community, based near Edmonton.

“(But) this is just an easy way for providers to say, ‘Yep, I’m legit, I am willing to follow these recommendations and I have nothing to hide.'”

The bylaw also sets out a maximum number of children that can be in care in alignment with provincial licensing guidelines.

‘Cash cow’

But one private day home operator told CBC News she doesn’t think the new rules are strong enough because they don’t ensure city officials will automatically check in to ensure the rules are being followed.

“Like, how would you guys know if I have 300 kids or two kids? It just doesn’t make any sense, it’s just a cash cow for the city,” said Carla Poppard, who has been running a private, unregulated day home for more than 25 years.

A new licence for child care providers will cost $172 plus the cost of police checks, which are $65 for the first adult and $55 for each additional adult and/or employee in the home. 

Mackenzy Woolfsmith died from injuries she received while in the care of an unlicensed day home provider in 2012. (Submitted by Woolfsmith family)

But the city is waiving the licensing fee and the cost of the background checks for any providers who apply for the 2023 licence before mid-March.

Complaint driven

City officials say the system will be mostly complaint driven

They say bylaw officers will follow up on complaints related to the specific guidelines, such as the number of children in care, whereas they say other issues will be handled by provincial departments such as Alberta Health Services and Children’s Services.

“We certainly encourage parents to go into the day homes, walk around, take a look at the facilities that they have, show up at intermittent times, irregular times to see what’s going on in the day home,” said Celina Waight, a business strategist with the City of Calgary.

The city also plans to create an online registry of licensed day homes so families have a resource when looking for a provider.

Woolfsmith and Shelby say that’s key, because the bylaw is about educating parents as much as regulating the industry.

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