For many families, professional child care is an essential service. The recent E. coli outbreak at several Calgary daycares has raised questions about Alberta’s operational requirements and oversight of childcare providers. 

According to Statistics Canada, in 2021, there were 2595 licensed childcare businesses in Alberta and 1878 unlicensed childcare providers. With so many different programs and providers to choose between, there are a variety of factors to consider before leaving your child in the hands of a caregiver:

  • Whether the childcare provider is licensed, monitored and inspected by the government
  • What policies and practices the provider has in place to safeguard children in their care and support their development
  • The setting in which your child is cared for. Some families prefer the warmth of a home-based environment, whereas others may prioritize the educational elements or play spaces offered by a larger facility
  • The ratio of children to adults and whether the adults are related to any children being cared for
  • The training and background of the adults caring for the children
  • The range and structure of program activities and available resources
  • The range and mix of ages of the children being cared for

These factors also have further implications for what operational standards the program will be held to and what recourse you will have if it falls short of these standards.

Finding Child Care 

Access to child care in Alberta is not guaranteed. Families are solely responsible for finding childcare spaces for their children. The government has developed a Child Care Lookup tool to assist parents in researching provincially licensed child care providers. This tool provides basic information such as location, capacity, age groups accommodated, and recent inspection results, complaints or incidents of regulatory non-compliance.

Types of Child Care

Childcare providers may be provincially or municipally licensed or unlicensed. Parents need to understand what this means for the operational requirements and level of oversight for the childcare program.

Provincial Licensing

The provincial government licenses, monitors and inspects some but not all childcare providers. This area of regulation is the responsibility of the Ministry of Children and Family Services under the Early Learning and Child Care Act (the “Act”) and accompanying Early Learning and Child Care Regulation (the “Regulation”). 

In February 2021, the licensing regime under the Act was revised and simplified to establish two categories of licensing, one for facility-based programs and another for home-based child care, known as “family day homes.” The Act and Regulation set out these childcare providers’ operational requirements and standards. 

Facility-based Licenses

A facility-based license is required for anyone providing care for more than six children, not including their own. This category includes daycares, out-of-school care and preschool programs. Facility-based license holders are monitored and inspected by the Ministry to ensure compliance with the Act and Regulation.

The holder of a facility-based license must post it, along with any conditions imposed on the license, onsite in a visible and prominent location. If the Ministry cancels a facility-based license due to non-compliance with the requirements of the Act, it will post a notice of cancellation at the facility.

Family Day Homes

Family day homes offer child care in their own homes for a maximum of six children, not including the provider’s children. Licensed family day home agencies oversee family day homes. Families pay fees to these agencies, which are responsible for monitoring the care programs to ensure they meet health, safety and program quality standards.

The Alberta government has developed a standards manual for Family Day Homes. This manual sets out standards for all aspects of the childcare facility and program, including staffing, criminal records checks, hours of operation, equipment and play spaces, transportation, food, health and safety.

Unlicensed Child Care Providers

A common misconception is that an unlicensed childcare provider is in some way illegal or operating “below the radar.” Private day homes, nannies, and informal child care arrangements between friends and neighbours may operate without a license. An unlicensed provider can care for six children at a time, not including their own. These providers are not affiliated with, or overseen by, a family day home agency. 

The government has developed a checklist of recommended practices for unlicensed childcare providers touching on many of the operational areas covered by the Act. It is important to understand, however, that unlicensed programs are not monitored to ensure that they meet the requirements and standards set out in the Act. 

A complaint may be made against an unlicensed childcare provider if there is reason to believe:

  • They are providing child care to more than six children at a time, not including their own or,
  • There is an imminent threat to the health, safety or welfare of the children being cared for.

These complaints are investigated by the Ministry of Children and Family Services, which is empowered under the Act to issue and enforce a stop order against the unlicensed childcare provider. If such an order is issued, the parents of children enrolled in the program are notified.

Municipal Licensing

In Calgary, childcare providers who do not hold a provincial license are now required to obtain a municipal private home-based childcare license. To be eligible, the childcare provider must undergo a police background check and be certified in first aid and CPR.

Identified Areas of Concern in Alberta Child Care Regulation

Significant changes to a regulatory framework generally mean two things: 

  1. Problems have been identified with the existing regime and;
  2. It will take some time to understand the effects of and identify any problems with the new rules.

With this in mind, parents should consider new types of childcare programs or areas where issues have been identified.

Outdoor Play Spaces

Access to safe, well-supervised, well-equipped outdoor play spaces is important for children’s physical development and well-being. In response to the recent regulatory changes in Alberta, the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Alberta (AECEA) reported that the outdoor play space requirements in Alberta fall below the standards of other jurisdictions.

Overnight Care

Under the revised Act, overnight care is no longer prohibited. The AECEA identified specific considerations and concerns that accompany the development of overnight care programs, including the potential need for new or additional staffing and administrative support, lower ratios of adults to children, and rules or guidelines for how many hours within 24 hours a child may be under care. The AECEA further noted that while non-standard hours of care have been offered in a few other jurisdictions, most of these programs have yet to be sustained.

Shift to a Risk-Based Licensing Approach

The Alberta government stated that one of the aims of the 2021 regulatory changes was to implement a “risk-based” approach to monitoring license-holders: Facilities with low infraction rates will be inspected less frequently.  

The AECEA has contrasted this with one of the recommendations in the Woolfsmith Inquiry, calling for developing a “risk-focused” approach. This public inquiry was conducted after the tragic death of a child in an unlicensed daycare. A risk-focused approach entailed proactively identifying risk factors rather than simply placing size restrictions on unlicensed daycares, as continues to be the case in Alberta. 

Liability Waivers

Liability waivers are a fixture in most contracts, including those for childcare programs and services. The waivers protect childcare providers from liability, sometimes even when negligence is involved. Reviewing contractual provisions and waivers closely and seeking legal advice to understand how they may affect your legal rights is critically important.

If you have concerns over your legal rights or your child has experienced harm or illness. At the same time, at daycare or in another childcare program, it is important to obtain legal advice to determine what recourse is available to you. At Cuming & Gillespie LLP, our experienced lawyers will work closely with you throughout a statutory complaints process or personal injury litigation if necessary. To speak with a member of our team and learn more about how we can assist you, contact us online or call our office at 403-571-0555.