After-hours childcare needed, parent says

Working group to release findings on childcare at Queen’s in February

Graduate student Jennifer Stacey stands with her two children. Stacey says there’s a need for after-hours childcare at Queen’s.
Graduate student Jennifer Stacey stands with her two children. Stacey says there’s a need for after-hours childcare at Queen’s.

Last Friday AMS Vice-President (Operations) John Manning handed Ban Righ Centre Director Barb Schlafer an $8,422 cheque the AMS Board of Directors decided to give either the centre or Queen’s Day Care two and a half years ago.

In July 2005, four months after the AMS Board of Directors cancelled the AMS-run After-Hours Childcare service (AHC), the Board decided to give the $7,797 collected from its opt-outable student fee—which had already been approved for that year—to either the Ban Righ Centre or Queen’s Day Care.

The money was never given out and sat in an account until last week when AMS Controller Scott Bell discovered it after being questioned about it by the Journal.

The Journal learned of the missing money from a thesis written by Andréa Stanger, ConEd ’08, on the history and cancellation of the AHC.

AMS Assembly voted last Thursday to give the Ban Righ Centre the original fee plus accrued interest.

Schlafer said there was talk in 2005 that the money would come to the centre but it wasn’t officially promised.

“This is a very big and wonderful surprise and, of course, we’re delighted.”

The money will go towards the centre’s operating budget for this year, pending a decision by the centre’s Board this Thursday, Schlafer said.

The After-Hours Childcare service opened in 1995. It provided supervised childcare for students, faculty, staff and community members from 5:45 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. It operated out of the Queen’s Day Care building.

The AMS Board of Directors decided to close it in March of 2005.

Then-AMS Media and Services Director Andrew Graham said the service wasn’t financially viable and went against AMS mandates to serve the undergraduate population and give undergraduate students employment opportunities.

Along with undergraduate students, the service was used by graduate students, faculty and community members. About 33 per cent of its users were undergraduate students.

The service required a certified, full-time early childhood educator to be present.

Because Queen’s doesn’t offer an early childhood educator program, the service employed non-Queen’s staff and a handful of student volunteers.

The service’s financial statements show in its last operating year, 2004-05, the service lost $1,775.29, up from a $6,847.86 loss in 2003-04.

In 1996-97 and 1997-98 the service made approximately $1,000.

In 2004-05, the service received $1,095.81 in fees from the SGPS, $3,000 from the University and $10,602.35 from the $1 opt-outable AMS student fee.

AMS General Manager Claude Sherren said when stakeholders met to discuss the cancellation in 2005, nobody was prepared to take responsibility for it.

“Nobody disputes that need, but the question is how to address it,” he said.

The service was different from other AMS services that lose money every year, Sherren said.

“It was very difficult to get excited about providing the [AHC] service with nobody coming in the door to use it.”

After after-hours childcare closed, Gamila Abdalla from Ban Righ Centre, Queen’s Day Care Executive Director Eileen Beauregard, Patti Evaristo from the Human Resources department, Monica Stewart from the Vice-Principal (Academic)’s office and SGPS Executive Director Jennifer Stacey started a working group to discuss childcare issues within the University.

It’s led by Associate Dean of Student Affairs Roxy Denniston-Stewart.

“In different places or forums the issue of childcare kept coming up,” Denniston-Stewart said. “I thought it would be useful to have a sharing of knowledge.”

The group began meeting in March 2007 and will release a document in February with information on existing childcare resources and unmet needs at Queen’s and in the greater Kingston community.

“The idea is to create awareness on what the issues are and have the campus community comment,” she said. “More than anything else, it’s an information piece.”

She said the group created a hypothetical proposal for a new evening childcare service on campus, modelled after the AHC.

“We just did this scenario to see what could happen,” she said. “If we chose this, what would it look like?”

Denniston-Stewart said the group decided it would want the service to operate assuming a break-even budget, but that it needs to be understood théat childcare will always be a service, not a business.

She said the service would charge parents between $10 and $11 per hour—significantly higher than the $3 per hour fee AHC charged—but parents would be eligible for a subsidy from the city if the service were licensed. This price would make the service self-sufficient, without contributions from the SGPS, AMS or the University.

The group didn’t know who would run the service.

Queen’s Day Care Executive Director Eileen Beauregard said after-hours childcare was a good program but was precariously run.

“I think the biggest problem with the program comes with the transient nature of the AMS. … Records get lost or they’re not kept and almost every year they were starting over,” she said. “I’m surprised it lasted for as long as it did.”

Beauregard said the AMS’s only fault in cancelling the service was that it gave too little notice of the service’s cancellation, leaving parents with less time to plan childcare alternatives for the next school year.

“They told us in May [2005],” she said. “To us it seemed to happen overnight.”

She said the need for after-hours childcare still exists among student parents today.

“A lot of our parents used it and I think people would use it if they knew it existed,” she said.

Beauregard suggested a trial project could be run for a few years to assess the needs and resources available.

“It’s never going to be a big program, but it’ll be well used.”

Jennifer Stacey, who has two kids aged seven and 11, said she relied on the service as an undergraduate student.

“I was taking night courses and if it wasn’t for the program, I wouldn’t have been able to take mandatory courses at night for my program.”

She said she took her two children there at least two evenings a week and there were always other children there.

“It wasn’t packed when I was there but there were always five or six kids there,” she said.

Stacey said she would still use the service now if it was offered.

“Last term I could have used it because I was TA-ing on Monday nights,” she said. “I don’t know a whole lot of babysitters and I wouldn’t be able to impose on a friend every week.”

She said after-hours childcare, and childcare in general, is facing a huge crunch at the University.

“I don’t fault the AMS at all for not continuing with the program,” she said. “It should be the University, SGPS and the AMS all sharing responsibility for it.”

She said campus-wide initiatives are needed to address the issue.

“There’s, like, a three-year waiting list to get into Queen’s Day Care,” she said. “New faculty have nowhere to place their kids.

“That’s unacceptable.”

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