‘A tough spot’: Parents hit by coronavirus downturn struggle to pay for daycare, but don’t want to lose spaces

By | March 31, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to leave businesses in financial uncertainty, some Manitoba daycares are asking parents to share their financial burden — even though many of the child-care centres are currently closed. 

The Manitoba Child Care Association says while many centres are offering credit or reimbursement on dues already paid, others are also asking parents to donate their fees, if they can.

But MCCA president Tracy Cosser warns some daycares have such high costs that even if they’re not open, they may need parents’ fees for their business to survive the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Every centre has different overhead,” says Cosser, who also operates three non-profit daycares.

“Whether you have your own building, or you operate out of a strip mall or a school, our expenses can be very different,” she said.

“The bottom line is we have to be here post-pandemic.”

Manitoba Childcare Association president Tracy Cosser worries not all daycare businesses will make it through the pandemic. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Garderie les Tournesols, a St. Vital daycare which is staying open for now, is asking all parents to pay their bills in full — even if their kids aren’t attending — or risk losing their child’s spot.

“Some daycares can afford to not make parents pay,” the child-care centre wrote in French in a letter to parents last week. “Unfortunately, we are not among them.”

That’s tough news for Lynne Gagnon. The mother of two says she waited three years for a spot at Garderie les Tournesols. 

“It’s frustrating … to have to pay for a service that’s not being rendered,” said the mother of two. “But it’s also frustrating to have to pay for a service while we’re in a financial crisis, as well.” 

Like many Manitobans, Lynne Gagnon and her husband are both out of work because of the pandemic. She’s now taking care of her kids at home, since most child-care centres are closed. 

Lynne Gagnon says she loves her family’s daycare, but can’t afford to pay fees now that she and her husband are out of work. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Gagnon isn’t sure she’ll be able to pay daycare fees, after the family’s bills come due on the first of the month. But she says not paying would also put her in a difficult position.

“Although I can’t afford to pay for services while they’re suspended, I definitely can’t afford not to have a daycare spot once I’m able to work. It’s like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Hope daycares ‘will do the right thing’: minister

The province asked daycares to close as of March 20. But it also encouraged some to keep going, to serve families of essential workers. 

Families Minister Heather Stefanson has said all daycares will continue to get their usual provincial grants, regardless of whether they’ve suspended operations.

“We are also working with centres individually if they are willing to remain open, but are struggling financially to maintain operations during the emergency,” wrote the ministry, in a statement to CBC.

Stefanson’s office says it also sent out a letter to daycares, asking them to go easy on parents.

“For centres that continue to charge parent fees to hold a spot, we also strongly encourage them not to charge those fees to parents,” wrote Stefanson.

“Given that all centres will be receiving their full operating grant to cover expenses, I hope that they will do the right thing when it comes to parent fees.”

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Parent Kafui Kounhunde, who has a child at Garderie les Tournesols who is not currently attending, wrote to the daycare, asking them to give her a break.

“They haven’t been very communicative,” she said.

The young mother has a two-year old boy and is pregnant with another child. She says her husband’s work has dried up because of the pandemic, and paying fees this month would stretch them thin.

Kafui Kounhunde says she’s sent several emails to Garderie les Tournesols, asking the daycare to reconsider charging parents while their children aren’t attending. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Both Kounhunde and Gagnon referred to Stefanson’s plea not to charge fees in emails to Garderie les Tournesols, but the daycare wouldn’t budge.

“The government letters we received never demanded that the daycares reimburse the parents,” replied Tournesols president Brian Simister, in French. “They strongly suggested and asked but they never used the word ‘must.'” 

He went on to write that the goal is to make sure the daycare is open “after this nightmare is over.”

Kounhunde was disappointed by his answer.

“It’s not like things are like normal and I’m choosing not to pay regardless,” she said. “It’s because of a situation we are all impacted by.”    

Both Kounhunde and Gagnon say they’re happy overall with the daycare and its teachers. But they wish the administration would understand how stressful its policy is for parents.

“I feel like we’re in a tough spot,” Gagnon said with a heavy sigh. 

“The government is telling us they’re supporting the daycare. But the daycare is telling us that’s just not enough. And that’s why it’s falling on parents.”

Gagnon is hoping some financial relief will come from Ottawa, but worries how her family will make out, should this pandemic last for months.    

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