60 after-school spaces to disappear in Stratford, raising questions about universal program

The government is moving quickly to find new spaces for affected families, says Natalie Jameson. (Province of P.E.I. - image credit)
The government is moving quickly to find new spaces for affected families, says Natalie Jameson. (Province of P.E.I. - image credit)

As a Stratford company moves out of providing spaces for before- and after-school care, opposition MLAs want to know what P.E.I.'s education and early years minister is going to do about it.

In the legislature Tuesday, the MLAs' questions focused specifically on plans by Milestones to close 60 spaces for before- and after-school care, with the company instead moving into offering child care for pre-schoolers.

Education and Early Years Minister Natalie Jameson said she heard the news Friday, and acted immediately, and over the weekend contacted the minister of finance and minister of workforce, advanced learning and population.

"There has been a provider that has come forward with a request for modification to increase their space of capacity by 30 spaces in Stratford," she said. "Then there's another centre that has indicated that they would be able to take another 20.

"Let's keep in mind that this happened on Friday afternoon, OK? We're here Tuesday."

Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly said the closure highlighted the need for the government to move on its commitment to create a universal after-school program for Kindergarten to Grade 6. Jameson said a consultant was working on recommendations, and that report was expected in a couple of months.

"I'm glad the minister mentioned that you've engaged a consultant because that was in the budget last year," said McNeilly. "The consultant should have been engaged, ready, and we should have a plan by now — because right now we've got 60 kids who are out."

Interim Green leader Karla Bernard followed up on McNeilly's questions, saying the government's focus on creating early years spaces is causing problems for retaining equally necessary before- and after-school spaces.

P.E.I.'s plan for after-school care should already be done, says Gord McNeilly. (Province of P.E.I.)

"This all happened because of the government's desperate need for more infant spaces and its focus on child care for those under the age of five years," Bernard said. "One government policy is causing severe harm to another.

"Surely, the minister knew situations like this could and would likely arise."

Jameson responded that on child-care issues the government is "looking at this holistically," saying she understands the importance of early years care, as well as before- and after-school care.

She said all three types of spaces are "growing," and that the province will be there for the families who currently have spaces at Milestones.

The government should have foreseen this, says Karla Bernard. (Province of P.E.I.)

Waiting for universal program

The government's commitment to a universal after-school program dates back to immediately after the provincial election last spring.

Jameson's mandate letter from the premier, upon her re-appointment as minister of education and early years, includes "to pilot a universal after-school program for grades K to 6 and develop an action plan to expand the program to all areas of the province."

Government planning has not yet progressed to the stage where it can clearly define what "universal" means.

There are currently about 2,200 registered after-school spaces in the province, and an unknown number of unregistered spaces. But the government is not currently tracking how many parents are looking for spaces but can't find one.

There are about 12,000 children aged five to 11 living on P.E.I.