Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Provincial registry left mom in lurch

Found daycare space for daughter on Kijiji

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AMBER Anderson had placed her daughter's name on the waiting list of 45 city daycare centres through the province's online registry, but as her maternity leave was coming to an end last year she still hadn't found a spot.

"That's when I was getting panicked," said the Island Lakes teacher, who had promised her school division she would return to work in April.

Anderson put the word out to parent groups and employed social media in a desperate bid to find child care. Finally, she found a spot for daughter Jocelyn, now two, by responding to an ad on Kijiji.

Anderson said Tuesday her experience leads her to question the value of the online registry. While the province claims it's helped more than 4,000 kids get placed in daycare, she said she knows of no parents who have used it successfully.

"As a new parent at the time when it came out, it seemed like this would be one-stop shopping," Anderson said. "And you were going to have plenty of options and I was going to have time to select carefully where I wanted my daughter to go. That is not what happened."

Anderson, who will give birth to a second child in the next two weeks, said she will keep Jocelyn in daycare while she's on maternity leave just to protect the spot.

The Selinger government announced the online registry in June 2011. The service cost $1.6 million to launch, and $150,000 was budgeted for annual operating costs.

Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, said the problem is not so much with the online service, as it is the huge shortage of child-care spaces.

While the government has added thousands of new spaces in recent years, it's not been nearly enough to meet demand.

"It's hard for parents," she said.

Complicating matters is that when the online registry was created, it was logistically impossible to input all existing waiting lists kept on paper by individual daycare centres. Out of fairness to parents, many centres kept whittling away at the paper list first before accepting clients who had registered online. Some of these centres had 400 to 500 names on a waiting list.

As of the end of December, there were 9,759 children registered on the government site. Of those 5,884 needed a spot within three months. "Most of those kids are not going to get into the system," Wege said.

Progressive Conservative Family Services critic Leanne Rowat said it appears implementation of the online registry has created more confusion for parents than answers to their needs. "I feel extremely sorry for the families who have been led down a garden path," she said.

Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard said the government is on track this year to complete a commitment to fund 6,500 new child-care spaces within five years. It promised during the last provincial election to fund 2,000 more.

The online registry is working, having placed more than 4,000 kids, she said. Some 88 per cent of city daycares are using it, she added.

"It's like with any tool. It's not going to be perfect. It's not going to work for all families. And we can always do better," Howard said.

The minister said her department could perhaps be clearer on the website that it cannot guarantee when parents sign up they're "going to find a spot immediately or as soon as you would like."

Anderson said what she and other parents have found is it is far easier for child-care centres -- particularly smaller ones -- to bypass the registry in filling spots. They will accept new kids through word-of-mouth or through social media because they lack the personnel, especially during the day, to call parents on a waiting list.

Ironically, Anderson said, the woman operating the home-based licensed daycare who placed the ad on Kijiji was one of the operators she had selected through the provincial online registry.

"We were on her list from the provincial registry. I was third on her list and she had actually called the first two people and they had already found someone (a day care).

"But she found it was just easier to place an ad on Kijiji or use social media and have people contact her because she's just one person."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2013 B1

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