Too many kids
Day-home operator frustrated by government rules

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 31/97) - For nine years, Wendy Sperling has operated a day home for children in Yellowknife.

But her town home at 63 Gold City Estates recently received an order from the fire marshal's office to reduce the number of children in her home or be forced to close.

It's an order Sperling hasn't taken lightly.

"You're only allowed eight children, regardless of what you got for supervision. It makes no difference if you're in a two-bedroom apartment or a 3,000-square-foot home," said Sperling.

The problem began when Sperling applied for two licences from the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

She wanted a regular day-home licence and an after-school program licence to accommodate extra children.

Most of the children in her day home have been with her for years and she doesn't want to let them go, she said. If they want to visit Sperling after school, they can't, because it exceeds her household limit of eight.

Since receiving a letter from the fire marshal on Oct. 3, she's complied with the order. With some difficulty she and her parents found new day homes.

"We did a survey of all the day homes that the department provided us. We phoned every one of those day homes and nobody had a space. I contacted the after-school program they had one space, I think," said Sperling.

Sperling said she has continued pressing the government to grant her an exemption to allow more children into her home, but the government has closed the door.

She even met with Education Minister Charles Dent, MLA Seamus Henry and Yellowknife Fire Chief Mick Beauchamp, but made no progress.

Twenty-one letters of reference have been sent to the Department of Education as well as a petition with 84 signatures, many from parents in the day home who support Sperling's request for both licences.

"The department has said to me, 'We don't doubt your capabilities,' but the paper says ... there's no give there," she said.

The minister has the power to grant an exemption, Sperling said, but he won't look at it, saying there's a fire hazard in having more than eight children in her home.

"They're supposed to be there to look after kids, to make sure the kids are being taken care of. He could give an exemption to it and he just won't. He's afraid he'll open the door to other people.

"Well, you find somebody else who can say they've had some else's children since they were six months old and they're now 12," said Sperling, in tears.

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment said it is bound by the legislation when it comes to dealing with day-home and day-care operators.

"We want to make quality care and safety a priority," said Mark Cleveland, deputy minister of education.

Cleveland recalled Sperling's application for a day-home licence for eight children.

He said his department would be unable to make some sort of exemption from legislation if she were to ask.

Fire marshal Don Gillis said he asked Sperling to reduce the numbers to fall into line with fire code regulations or open up a legal day-care to accommodate all the children.

Sperling, however, said she doesn't want a day-care facility. It's too expensive.

"We're concerned about the welfare of the children," Gillis said, adding that she could appeal his order to the Supreme Court of the NWT.