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Alberta shut down 21 day homes in two years due to 'imminent threats' to children: provincial data

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Child safety advocates are urging the province to take a more proactive approach to protecting children at unregulated day homes in Alberta and want to see province-wide rules in place, similar to regulations enacted recently by the City of Calgary.

As of the start of this year, home-based child care operators in Calgary need to apply for a business license and are required to have first aid and CPR training, along with a police background check, to do so.

"I think we have an opportunity (at a provincial level) and we've seen Calgary take those steps," said Shelby Stewart, the co-founder of the safety advocacy group Mackenzy's Legacy. The group was established in memory of Mackenzy Woolfsmith, a 22-month-old girl who died from injuries she sustained at an unlicensed day home in 2012.

"What we have been told from the province previously is that we're not going to create any more red tape. And when it comes to child safety, I don't think it is red tape — I think it needs to be a priority," Stewart said.

According to provincial data collected since February 2021, obtained by Mackenzy's Legacy through a Freedom of Information request, Alberta day home operators have been issued a total of 91 stop orders, which are written orders to "cease offering or providing child care."

Twenty-one of those issued were due to an 'imminent threat,' described in the province's Early Learning and Child Care Act as a "threat to the health, safety or welfare of the children to whom the person is offering or providing child care." The rest of the orders were due to operators exceeding capacity.

"It makes me feel sick inside," said Stewart. She says the province's current complaint-based system is not the right approach.

"It devastates me to see that amount of stop orders. I think it's excellent that the province put this tool in place but, again, we are reacting when we've deemed that children are in imminent harm," she said.

Shelby Stewart is co-founder of a safety group that was formed in the wake of the death of Mackenzy Woolfsmith, a Calgary toddler who died from injuries she sustained in a day home.

Alberta's children's service minister said Tuesday that the stop orders show that the system is working and the provincial government encourages parental choice when it comes to child care.

"I have been in close contact with the City of Calgary and with Mayor Gondek and I am working together closely with her department and officials to monitor the progress of that initial pilot program," Mickey Amery said when asked if the province will enact province-wide day home rules.

"We're looking at how it works out," the minister added.

Calgary councillors will discuss sending a letter to the province to advocate for Alberta-wide rules for unregulated day homes at a meeting in February.

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