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JAMES: Daycare regulations limit parent options

At four o'clock on a recent February afternoon, Vancouver Coastal Health inspectors arrived at the North Vancouver home of Jerri Morris to serve notice that her unlicensed Happy Hearts daycare must close immediately.

At four o'clock on a recent February afternoon, Vancouver Coastal Health inspectors arrived at the North Vancouver home of Jerri Morris to serve notice that her unlicensed Happy Hearts daycare must close immediately. Ignoring the notice could result in a fine of $10,000 per day.

The abrupt Monday closure meant alternative care had to be found for the 10-12 children "Auntie Jerri" and her staff tended while their parents worked. Affected are about 100 family and friends who are pitching in to help, some from as far away as Vancouver Island.

Most of us, including Jerri and her husband Kerry, understand the need for licensing: child and playground safety, infection control, emergency evacuation procedures - all come into play.

So given the seriousness of the situation, why would daycares and the families who use them ignore the rules? Is it because one-sizefits-all regulations fail when the realities of people's lives intervene? The Standards of Practice for Family Child Care operate under Section 4(1) of the Community Care and Assisted Living Act which says that where a licensee provides the care, a familyhome facility may have no more than seven children for an eight-hour day.

That number is broken down as to the number of four-, three-and two-year olds enrolled.

Although that seems straightforward, not only does an affordable rate structure make it difficult for an operator to survive financially but parent Calvin Dallimore believes the rules "guarantee a shortage of (daycare) spaces."

The Dallimores know that because none of the 27 licensed daycares they called could take their one-yearold.

Other parents say the age restrictions work against families who need to enroll siblings in the same facility and that inflexible rules fail to accommodate the schedules of parents who don't work a nine-to-five job.

Nurses work rotating 12-hour shifts; teachers have after-hours coaching, school concerts and other events to fit into their day.

Federal guidelines suggest families should not spend more than 30 per cent of their before-tax income on shelter.

Not only were those guidelines breached more than a decade ago, the recently released 2013 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey rated Canada's major markets as "seriously unaffordable" and Vancouver came second only to Hong Kong as the least affordable market in the 10 countries surveyed.

Although provincial poverty statistics may be brighter for our North Shore communities, many families work two or more jobs just to put a roof over their heads; hence the need for loving, personalized and affordable daycare.

The VCH Facility Listing Report shows 296 licensed daycares of all types across the North Shore - family, group, in-home, multi-age and preschool.

In total, those facilities cater to a maximum of 5,643 children.

The largest category shows that 55 Group Child Care facilities can enroll a maximum of 1,696 school-age children who, presumably, need only before-and after-school care.

The Family Childcare and In-home Multi-age categories also show 55 facilities available but they are limited to a combined maximum enrolment of 408 - for an average of just over seven kids per facility.

Do the licensed facilities satisfy the demand? Do the regulations guarantee facilities that provide affordable, happy surroundings for the children in their care? Anecdotal evidence provided by parents affected by the North Vancouver closure suggests enrolment at licensed daycares is maxed out. Are there really only seven West Vancouver kids needing family-based childcare in the one facility listed by VCH ? As for the quality of licensed facilities, the experience of parents Sarah and Jamie Wingfield suggests there is room for improvement.

"When our daughter was 15 months old," the mother explained, "a job I hadn't been looking for fell into my lap. I called VCH and Googled and found four daycares close to home."

"The first was. .. dark and depressing," she said. "On a sunny day, the children were standing on chairs looking out the window. I left that one crying. Another was located in the basement of a church and was way overcrowded; the third (was) new, with no track record.. ." Another parent, Clare van Maarseveen, wrote: "The few (licensed daycares) that did have space wanted to charge me almost as much for my part-time alternating days as for full-time."

In all, I received 17 emails; most of them expressed frustration with overbearing rules.

By bringing these voices out of the shadows, I hope parents and caregivers will be invited to work with VCH and all levels of governance to develop common-sense regulations that will accommodate the stressful realities of today's working parents - and their children.