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Day care closing

Government childcare priorities elsewhere

Dave Sullivan
Northern News Services

Hay River (Dec 10/01) - Hay River's only day care will soon close, leaving working parents wondering where to send 17 kids and prompting calls for government support.

With two spots open - enough to put the centre in the red - "this is the first time in seven years I've had none on the waiting list," says Polly's Place owner Pauline Morrison.

Her and other fledgling Northern day cares are turning to municipalities for financial help. But in Hay River, Mayor Duncan MacNeil believes in a free enterprise approach.

"Do I want our children to be in safe conditions? Yes. Who is the best decider of what's safe. In my view it should be the parents, not the government."

He rejects Morrison's belief that no day care will keep working families from moving to town.

"I've gone to places like the power corporation, NTCL, and the health board. Those are three organizations that need to recruit from outside the territory. Today I spoke to the CEO of the health board. I asked him if there have been any concerns raised ...and right now there don't appear to be any concerns," MacNeil said.

The GNWT's regional early childhood superintendent Sidney O'Sullivan says there won't likely be new day care funding.

The department provides Polly's Place with $18,000-a- year, but Morrison says the non-profit day care is still a financial drain.

Hay River North MLA Paul Delorey says "there seems to be real confusion about who is supposed to get funding, where it all comes from and what programs are available." He's telling disappointed parents who call that the territorial government should provide more help to Polly's Place.

In Hay River government support for child care goes into a program called Growing Together. Executive Director Brenda Hall points out the program is nothing like a day care. It requires no licence because parents stay in the facility with their children. Growing Together gets about $165,000 a year, mostly from the federal government, in addition to free rent from the local health board.

Delorey says comparing both types of programs is "sensitive" because Growing Together is more geared for single, low-income parents.

The region' day care inspector Anne Kaeser has high praise for Polly's Place, calling it "very good and very well liked by the community. The kids are happy and the place is clean. There are always programs happening and the staff are always pleasant."

Morrison says the territorial government should structure day care like most provinces, which subsidize staff wages.

Education Minister Jake Ootes said his department is examining funding and operational issues surrounding day care.

He said some policies are being re-examined, like one in which funding is withheld from day cares when children are absent due to illness.

-- with files from Derek Neary