After-hours childcare canned

Without AMS-subsidized child care during evenings and weekends, many Queen’s parents will have to investigate other options, including the Queen’s Day Care Centre, pictured above at its 35th anniversary celebration.
Without AMS-subsidized child care during evenings and weekends, many Queen’s parents will have to investigate other options, including the Queen’s Day Care Centre, pictured above at its 35th anniversary celebration.
Journal File Photo

Students needing evening and weekend childcare will be without any form of service or funding on campus this fall, after the AMS Board of Directors cancelled the AMS After-Hours Childcare (AHC) service during the Board’s July 23 to 24 meeting.

Last March, former Media and Student Services Director Andrew Graham and former Vice-President (Operations) Kelly Steele decided to cancel the service and re-allocate the funds to a grant-based system. Steele told the Journal in March she had “solid statistics” to back the decision, although neither she nor Graham consulted AMS Council or AMS Assembly before making their decision.

Once the current AMS government officially took over in May, an ad hoc committee was formed and met every two weeks to discuss how the AMS would administer the grant. Bhat said the committee, comprised of AMS council members, SGPS members, Ban Righ Centre members, the Queen’s Staff Association, the Queen’s Faculty Association and the Queen’s Daycare, found problems such as who would get what portion of the grant and how the grant would be taxed.

“It was decided early on that the grants-based system wouldn’t work,” said AMS Student Services Director Ashik Bhat. “It wasn’t what the students wanted at all.”

After it was determined the grants-based system wasn’t going to work effectively, Bhat said the AMS decided to cancel the AHC service and funding completely. Bhat said he looked into other ways to keep the service running—such as hiring out to other daycares—but found no other effective way to run the AHC.

The Board of Directors voted unanimously to cancel the service, but Bhat said the decision wasn’t made lightly.

“We’re sad to see it go,” he said of the only after-hours campus childcare service offered in the country.

The decision to close the AHC came because the service was no longer serving the AMS mandate, Bhat said.

“We’re not employing our students, we’re not serving our students—so why continue?” Bhat said. “When we drift away from our mandate, it becomes a problem.”

One of the reasons why the AMS couldn’t employ students to work at the AHC was because it is provincial law that a worker at a daycare must have at least a certificate in early childhood education, a program only offered at St. Lawrence College in Kingston.

An AMS study of the AHC found no more than 17 to 20 families used the service, which provided care by appointment from 5:45 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

The AHC charged $3 per hour for students, and a dollar more an hour for each additional child from the same family.

Of the families who used the service, 33 per cent were AMS members, 22 per cent were SGPS members, 26 per cent were community members, 17 percent were University staff and two per cent were alumni.

“The undergraduate usage was very minimal,” Bhat said. “We were subsidizing faculty, graduate students and community members.”

SGPS VP (Operations) Karim Rahim was unavailable for comment.

The AMS contributed 34 per cent of the cost to run the service, the SGPS contributed three per cent, people who paid the $1 opt-outable fee contributed 14 per cent and people who used the service contributed to 43 per cent. The cost of running the AHC has resulted in an AMS loss of approximately $60,000 since 1999.

When Kingston daycares charge from $25.50 to $49.50 per day, Bhat said charging $3 per hour is not sustainable when so few people use the service.

He said the AMS is still willing to contribute financially to some sort of after-hours childcare, but it is against covering the operational structure.

“It would’ve been nice to continue the service because [families other than AMS members] are still students,” he said. “But we have to look after the undergraduate student population. There were so few people using it, we continued with it as long as we could.”

Ban Righ Centre Director Barbara Schlafer said she didn’t have a problem with the decision the AMS made because it was the right decision based on its constituents.

“It’s primarily a funding issue,” Schlafer said. “The desire and need is there.”

The Ban Righ Centre subsidizes two of the three dollars it costs per hour to have a child looked after at the AHC.

“I am really concerned because many of the students we subsidize have night classes and need extra child care,” Schlafer said.

Schlafer said she couldn’t say how many people from the Ban Righ Centre used the AHC.

The Ban Righ Centre will host a meeting on Sept. 20 with all stakeholders to examine at their options. “But we’re resigned at least for this term,” Schlafer said.

Since the decision to cancel the fee in July came after the 2005-2006 fee approval, Bhat said the AMS will most likely donate the $1 opt-outable fee to the Ban Righ Centre.

AMS VP (Operations) Jenn Hirano was unavailable for comment.

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