University with a baby

When the AMS cut after-hours child care in 2005, they left student parents with even fewer support services

Eileen Beauregard, executive director of the Queen’s Day Care Centre, said child care is one of the biggest financial burdens for student parents. Rates at the University centre start at $36.50 a day.
Eileen Beauregard, executive director of the Queen’s Day Care Centre, said child care is one of the biggest financial burdens for student parents. Rates at the University centre start at $36.50 a day.
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If you think you’ve got a busy schedule, you haven’t met Morgan Kennedy.

While the university doesn’t have specific information on how many students are raising children,
Kennedy, 21, is one undergraduate student caring for a baby while she works towards a degree.

“I am a full-time student, and I’ll graduate with a BA in sociology this spring,” said Kennedy, who
hopes to work in corrections after she finishes school. Kennedy’s story is a unique one.

After finishing her first year in 2004, she took a year off and met her husband, Chris, a fulltime student at St. Lawrence College, when they both worked at Kelsey’s restaurant.

“We got married in October of 2005, and I went back to school that same year,” she said. Soon afterwards, Kennedy found out she was pregnant. She said the pregnancy didn’t worry her at all.
“With pregnancy, we figured if it happened it happened, no big deal,” she said. “Juggling school
and a baby wasn’t something we worried about, we just knew we’d make it work.”

Kennedy gave birth to her son Xander on Aug. 27, 2006. She started her third year as a full-time student only weeks later.

Kennedy said that for the most part she’s been able to balance school with life at home.

“Having a newborn at home doesn’t give me a lot of time to seek extra help with my studies, but
I comprehend the material well,” she said. “School is going fine.” Kennedy said she and Chris plan classes and work to make sure one parent is always home with Xander.

“It means we don’t see each other as much as we’d like, but it’s important to us that Xander has someone at home with him,” she said.

As if a full academic schedule and a baby aren’t enough, Kennedy and her husband both still work at
Kelsey’s to make ends meet. She said they’ve been able to support their family without any assistance.

“We have financial support available from our families if we need it, but so far it hasn’t been an
issue,” she said. “We’ve been lucky not to have to rely on that.” Eileen Beauregard, executive
director of the Queen’s Day Care Centre, said that financial assistance for students seeking childcare can be hard to come by.

“Students can get a provincial subsidy if they are a landed immigrant or Canadian citizen,” she said. “This subsidy can cover anything from 100 per cent of the fees to a sliding scale.”

Beauregard said recent changes to the program make it easier for student parents to subsidize
childcare services. “Regulations changed in January so that it is all based on your income tax, so OSAP money and savings are no longer considered,” she said.

Beauregard acknowledged that the system is far from perfect. “Some people may seem to make a lot of money, but they have a lot of expenses,” she said. “The system isn’t foolproof.”

students can also apply for childcare subsidies on their OSAP forms, but after that, Beauregard said they’re “mostly on their own.” “Child care is one of the most important resources for student parents, and one of the hardest to find and hardest to pay for,” she said.

Beauregard said the Queen’s Day Care Centre has one of the highest daily rates in Kingston, with one day of care for a toddler costing $43.50. According to the Queen’s Human resources Child Care
Guide, other rates in Kingston start at $20 a day.

Beauregard said the high cost at the university’s day care is necessary to pay for enough staff.

“Our fees are very high because we run a large infant room,” she said. “We have 10 spaces in
there, and three full-time and one part-time person for those 10 children.”

Although the university day care has a mandate to accept student parents first, and over 80 per cent of current clients are parents, Beauregard said many students are still without child care.

“We have a tremendous waiting list, over two full binders,” she said. “We certainly could expand, but financially, it isn’t a possibility right now.” The centre is currently funded by client fees and a grant from the university. Beauregard said they wouldn’t ask for a bigger grant until they knew exactly what
they needed. “If we were to seek more from hem, we would need a very good business plan,” she said. For parents with night classes, busy weekends or sick kids, finding child care can be nearly impossible. In July 2005, the AMS cancelled their after-hours child care service.

It was funded primarily by the AMS, but the society of Graduate and Professional students (SGPS) contributed five per cent of the cost to run the service.

Claude Sherren, AMS general manager, said the service shut down because of dwindling demand.
“By the time this service was closed, the demand for the service particularly from undergrads had
all but disappeared,” he said. “Finally with so little demand and no viable solutions the board and the executive recommended to assembly that the service be ended.”

Although Kennedy said she’s lucky enough to have family members who care for Xander when she needs a night off, Andrew Stevens, SGPS president, said other students on campus don’t have this luxury. “We think Queen’s could really use after-hours care as a necessary service to many people,” he said. “I know that a lot of graduate students did use after-hours care.”

On Sept. 9, 2005, the Journal reported an AMS study of after-hours care 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 after-hours care centre charged $3 per hour for students, and a dollar more an hour for each additional child from the same family.

When the AMS cancelled the after-hours child care service, the sGPs was unwilling to contribute more money to the program. This year, however, Stevens made afterhours care a priority. “When I took on the job, one of the top priorities for me was putting child care on the table as an issue that needed to be dealt with and an area with serious room for improvement,” he said.

The sGPs has created an online survey through their website, www.sgps.ca, to get feedback from the Queen’s community about raising kids as a student. “We’re looking for everybody to be filling it out, from undergraduates to faculty,” he said. “Once we have a better idea of the number of people involved and their needs, we can make decisions about what should be happening to respond to students.”

Stevens added that he hoped the university would respond to the survey findings with additional financial support for expanding student child care services.

“Our focus right now is on afterhours care, but there are needs to address regarding space and access
to daycare in general,” he said. Although affordable child care is a big problem for student parents, a social life is another challenge that some campus groups want to improve.

Marija Linjacki, the aMs community outreach co-ordinator, compiled a survey earlier in the year to find out what student parents needed from the Queen’s community.

She said child care was a major issue, but integrating student parents into campus life needs attention too. “As far as I am aware, there are not many services presently offered at Queen’s that cater to student parents, with respect to social outlets,” she said. “My goal is to develop programs that provide greater opportunities for social engagement and expanding peer support networks to create a greater sense of community for student parents at Queen’s.”

Linjacki’s first initiative is a weekly lunch social for parents, starting in February.

Jennifer Stacey, the executive director at sGPs and mother of two, said she had a hard time finding others to connect with as a student parent.

“My friends would go on vacation during reading Week, and I’d be at home with a child who had chicken pox,” she said. “It is an entirely different university experience, and having people to relate to can be so helpful.” Stacey, 35, said she found support at the Ban righ Centre.

“There were a lot of women there in my situation, who could share stories and advice,” she said.
“It was really the only place where I found other students with kids to relate to.”

Stacey said she hoped to see more events for student parents in the future. “Events specifically devoted to families, and acknowledging them on campus, would be great. Things like frosh week for families, so that parents can involve their kids on the experience, and give them a sense of what it is that mom and dad do.”

As for Kennedy, she’d like to meet other student parents, but she didn’t feel like she was missing out on being a typical university student.

“I really don’t feel like I’m missing out on part of the university experience, because I’m really not
interested in bar hopping and those things,” she said. “I’ve made other choices that I’m happy with.”

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