Daycare Series Part 2: Up to 78% of kids remain in unlicensed child care facilities

Jen Woolfsmith’s daughter 21-month-old Mackenzy passed away after suffering injuries in a dayhome; now she’s on a mission to reform unlicensed care to have more oversight and support.

By Krista Sylvester | August 11, 2021 |7:00 am

Mackenzy Woolfsmith was just 21-months-old when she passed away from injuries suffered at a dayhome in 2012. Her mother, Jen, created 'Mackenzy’s Legacy' in her honour.

Photo: Submitted by Jen Woolfsmith

Affordable childcare has been a heated topic in the news lately, but what is getting glossed over is the fact that affordable childcare also needs to be safe, a sentiment that Mackenzy’s Legacy co-founder Jen Woolfsmith is vocal about. 

In 2012, Woolfsmith’s 22-month-old daughter Mackenzy passed away after suffering devastating injuries at her dayhome, then becoming an organ donor. Caitlin Jarosz pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to five and a half years in jail.

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Since Mackenzy’s death, Woolfsmith has worked as an advocate for organ donation awareness, and she and her husband Dan were active participants in Mackenzy’s fatality inquiry in 2018.  

Woolfsmith has since started ‘Mackenzy’s Legacy’ with co-founder and police officer, Shelby Stewart, to ensure that safe high-quality child care is available for all kids in the province — regardless of the setting. 

What Woolfsmith thinks about the province’s current child care situation 

Woolfsmith points out that currently, about 22% of the province’s children are in licensed facility-based care. The majority (but not all) of the other 78% are being cared for in unlicensed facilities and homes. 

The problem isn’t with unlicensed care in itself, in fact, Woolfsmith supports it and recognizes the need for it. She wants to see more oversight, regulations and support for those using or operating those unlicensed facilities, which are necessary options for families. 

“The majority of our kids remain in unlicensed care. I don’t think I’ve seen anything at the federal or the provincial level that would suggest that what they’re working on would address any of the safety issues,” she says, referring to Justice Joshua B. Hawkes’ report to the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General – Public Fatality Inquiry. 

“All the things we know from our loss and so many other losses, instances of abuse and instances of neglect, that can happen in unlicensed care… we’re leaving them completely at risk. There are zero protective factors.”

Woolfsmith says there should be a framework to help the good providers giving good care, and keep out the bad ones. She says the recommendations from her daughter’s fatality inquiry would go a long way to addressing some of these concerns. 

In 2018, Hawkes recommended 10 moves to improve child care in Alberta and to mitigate the risk of injury or death, many of which are still outstanding today. 

Some highlights include: 

– Emphasize risk reduction and increasing protection in all care facilities instead of placing focus solely on regulating the size of unlicensed daycares.

– Improve how serious incidents, and the providers involved, are tracked and documented.

– The power to immediately close daycares that are determined to be unsafe and to restrict or prohibit specific individuals from providing child care services.

“I absolutely applaud anything that brings us closer to safer, more affordable childcare, whether it’s at the Calgary, Alberta, or federal level. I think we don’t talk enough about this,” she adds. 

Why do some councillors want to take matters into their own hands?

Ward 3 councillor Jyoti Gondek has put a motion to council, alongside Ward 7’s Druh Farrell and Ward 9’s Gian-Carlo Carra, designed to “increase accessibility to and safety of affordable child care in Calgary.” 

The matter goes to council in September, and Gondek hopes council will vote to direct administration to investigate ways for the city to help ensure access to affordable child care, whether it’s through direct flow-through of federal funds or by creating a database of municipally licensed facilities. 

“My responsibility as a city councillor is to use all the powers within my jurisdiction to offer opportunities for affordable childcare. Obviously, I can’t do the programming itself, but I can do whatever is within our power to make sure that more childcare spaces are available,” she says. 

“That applies to not only parents who are seeking child care, but the operators as well. I want to make sure they’re given full access to training opportunities, that they are able to be listed on a registry that indicates they are operating in a safe manner.”

Gondek says so far, the provincial government hasn’t mandated any of that. 

“I’m interested in exploring whether the city through a business licensing process could offer that type of safety feature to operators and parents to increase peace of mind that the kids are safe.”

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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