What do we stand for? Our Kids and Our Future as a Society

March 15, 2008

Angie asked me to be more clear about what we stand for. We stand for our children and we stand for making their chance at being all that they can be be our priority. We have asked the Government to take a time out and hold off piecemeal change. We have asked them to look at the complete picture that is our children – how they are doing and what kind of result we need and why.

We have said that we will only have trouble and even tragedy if we continue to try and accommodate the competing and irreconcilable interests of the people who earn their living in the sector. We are saying that if we put what our children and our society needs first – then we can fit the suppliers into that picture.

I am sure that I may be upsetting you as I make these statements – so please look at the current reality: please have a look at Teresa Wright’s excellent piece in the Guardian today and ask yourself – how would any person reconcile the competing needs of the stakeholders – the owners, the ECE’s and the Teachers?

  • A small inner group of daycare owners and kindergarten who are worried about new competition or worse – universal Kindergarten – that would threaten their living.
  • ECE’s who are worried that Teachers will take their jobs
  • Teachers who are worried about declining enrollment and see Kindergarten as an opportunity to protect their jobs

This is only human – the livelihoods and the place in society that all hold dear are threatened by any change.

For each of these parties to WIN – means a loss for the others. More daycares and kindergartens of a higher quality than the existing ones, threaten the establishment. So the needs for parents to find more quality and more choice in blocked.

This need to protect the current owners is behind the existence of the Board and behind the attempt to change the act to give the board discretion. It is not about qulaity but protection.

Because we have the system we have, we don’t have quality care available to all children and we don’t even talk about them. Because our system is not universal – very large numbers of children have no access to quality care of any kind – their interests are never given voice.

The people who have the voice are those that have a stake. Owners, ECE’s and Teachers circle each other like packs of wild animals staking out their territory.

Where in all of this bitter life and death contest are the interests of children?

If we stay at this level of debate – the interests cannot be reconciled and the certain losers will be our kids and hence all of us.

For there is another layer of context fro all of this. We will have very few young when we are old. PEI will have amongst the least. Currently about 70% of the young who emerge from high school have neither the skills or the wherewithal to cope in society. We face a terrible crisis. Unless we can shift this so that many more can cope, can work, can be relied on to act as fully fledged adults and citizens – we are doomed.

The only place that we have a hope in acting that might give us a chance is in the early years – before our kids get to school. This is the time of greatest leverage where lifetime trajectories are set.

So if we cannot do a much much better job here soon, it’s all over folks.

No one and no interest group can put their immediate needs ahead of this – this being all our future.

So when we say that we stand for all out kids – we also mean that we stand for having a future here on PEI.

Stepping back and looking at what the real potential is and looking at how many are applying best practices in other places is our only chance


Consultation and Trust

February 28, 2008

Surely the key to politics is to establish and to keep Trust – if people can trust you – you will get re-elected.

Actions by bureaucrats are threatening the Trust that Islanders have in their elected government.

The loss of trust had begun last fall when there was an attempt to pass changes to the act with no public consultation at all.  The current consultation was offered to Islanders in recognition that there was a trust issue.

I went to the new consultation meeting last night hoping to see that the officials would be working hard to re-establish trust. The bottom line is that they did not acknowledge that they had lost it and worked diligently to erode it further.

Here is what I experienced.

About 80 people turned up and the Holiday Inn Express. This meeting took place because of the protest at the original planned process for consultation. Many had felt betrayed by a process that offered only a week’s notice and a time for Charlottetown parents in the afternoon during working hours and the end of school. The large numbers attending might give you a sense of the feeling in the room.

How right we were to feel mistrustful was made clear early in the meeting last night when were told that the Island-wide consultation had met with 30 people! Only about 30 people had also gone on line and answered the questionnaire.

Many of us came to the meeting last night hoping that we could deal with the most important trust issue –  a difference in the core assumptions between the department and many parents about how quality is achieved.

In addition many of us had fears that control would be given to a body that had a conflict of interest.

We needed to have these points well exposed and dealt with last night to gain any trust back.

The difference in core assumptions is this:

The department has publicly stated that daycare quality was threatened because there were too many vacancies in the current system. Their stated public position was that they could ensure quality by limiting the number of new licenses.

Here is the key sheet used in the prior meetings:

This was the issue – is this a valid assumption? Many parents do not accept the logic of this. They believe that quality is found in choice.

Worse – We feared a conflict of interest. Here are the reasons for this fear.

When the act was attempted to be changed in the fall – the critical change was one word. Under the current act, if you as an operator meet the standards for being given a license you “Shall” be given a license.  The proposed change took out “Shall” and put in the word “May”.

What this means is that the people who have the authority to grant the license now have total discretion bounded by no limits. So you can meet the needs of the regulations and be refused. No reasons need to be given. The decision maker was being given a blank cheque.

The blank cheque was going to be given to whom?  To a Board. Why such a board and who is on it? No other province has such a body. In other provinces, the authority to grant or not grant a license is given by a person who is directly accountable to the minister. If you have a problem, you have recourse to the minister.

Key people on this board are owners of existing centres and leaders of the staffing association. If the act had passed in the fall – this body that is strongly influenced by a group of operators and staff –  would have had complete discretion.

These are the issues that I had hoped would be addressed full on last night. We expected a fully transparent debate about the difference in assumptions and about the conflict of interest.

Instead of full disclosure and a debate, we were treated like 6 years olds!

There was a very opaque context setting presentation full of platitudes about partnership and the need for quality and the fears for safety of children. There was a slide that showed that all but 3 provinces had discretion given to licensing. The object of the presentation was to give us the sense that there was some thing wrong with the act and that there were big but unstated risks if we did not change it.

What these risks were and what was proposed to be changed was not described.

Then we were asked to talk only about the questions that they wanted us to talk about. We were given a few forms to fill out and told to discuss these in small groups. The entire process was designed to control the meeting and to not empower the people in the room. I felt as if I was back in kindergarten. It was a shameful and degrading experience. 80 people had been muzzled.

Worse, they had taken the key issue off the table. The heading that you see above was replaced with an anodyne question about what do you think is important in granting a license. Any direct reference to the spaces and control issues had been removed. Debate was replaced by Cumbya.

What is going on? It all feels very bad. Every step of the way so far has degraded trust.

  • First of all legislation that has huge impact on families and on our society is sneaked into the legislature.
  • When smoked out a consultation is promised. This process is bogus and involves only 30 people mainly bureaucrats.
  • A better process is then offered and it too is bogus and is designed to limit debate and offers no disclosure.

It gets worse.

My discussions with MLA’s tells me that they too are in the dark. Here we have a public process of consultation about a topic that has the potential to give PEI the chance to have the best human potential possible or the opposite. The future of our society depends on how well we do in helping kids from 0-6.  There is a major public fear about the process and the MLA’s have not been briefed.

How can you have public consultations, as we are having now, and leave out the MLA’s who are not then equipped to consult with the people directly?  I think our MLA’s are not being served.

I end with where I began with the issue of Trust.

Trust is hard to win and it is easy to lose. In truth the real reason to have any consultation is to develop trust.

Trust is the real product: for not all ideas will make it into the end product. But we can all accept what happens, if we feel that those that we trust to run the day to day operations of government have the interests of our community truly in their heart.

In this case – this is not so. By their actions they are judged.

Only a legitimate and authentic process can regain the trust that has been lost.

  • The core assumptions have to be put on the table.
  • The reality of quality has to be addressed.
  • Any conflict of interest has to be exposed and removed

The Guardian in its editorial yesterday questioned the effectiveness of all the many consultations that are under way right now.  The reputation of the government is on the line.

What will be the result if Islanders feel that the officials are taking us all for granted?


Press Release – Postpone the Change to the Act – Have a real Consultation

February 26, 2008

Here is the Press Release that we have issued today – we ask that the government hold on changing the legislation and that they offer Islanders an authentic consultation process.

The attached 1 page backgrounder will provide the reasons for this request

NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release
February 26, 2008

PARENTS FOR CHOICE & QUALITY ISSUE
RECOMMENDATION TO MINISTER CURRIE

CHARLOTTETOWN – Parents for Choice & Quality recommend to Minister D.W. Currie, Department of Social Services and Seniors that any changes to the Child Care Facilities Act/Regulations be put on hold until a more comprehensive review of the issues and their potential impact on this critically important matter can take place. This would include a more authentic community consultation process, in addition to a review of such issues as why PEI is the only province in the country with a Child Care Facilities Board; and why the provincial government is considering allowing this structure the latitude to refuse licensing applicants who qualify.

“Our group has grown quickly since it became clear that the Act may be changed in a way that would limit parental choice and possibly impact the quality of child care in PEI.” said April Ennis, Co-Chair of Parents for Choice & Quality.  “After hearing from countless parents, child care professionals and concerned citizens we feel confident in recommending that any changes to the Child Care Facilities Act/Regulations be put on hold until a properly designed community consultation process has been completed.  The current consultation process is not sufficient.  We welcome the opportunity to come to the table and work with the Government in a productive and collaborative manner.”

“We have heard from Minister Currie that he wishes to broaden the consultation process and we support that concept.” said Robert Paterson, a concerned citizen and well known Island blog writer.  “The entire Child Care Facilities Act and Regulations should be thoroughly examined and ample time must be allowed for this work to proceed; it is not something that can be rushed through if we are concerned about enhancing the quality of child care in PEI.”

Parents for Choice & Quality is making this recommendation based on concerns that they have identified related to the following areas; lack of proper community process to date, the potential for conflict of interest from certain members of the current Child Care Facilities Board, the great variance in levels of quality in current child care facilities across the Island, the lack of infant child care spaces currently available and the fact that limiting spaces really means limiting choice and quality. Further information can be found about these issues in the attached Backgrounder.

Parents for Choice & Quality are a group consisting of mothers, fathers, grandparents, child care centres, industry professionals and concerned citizens of PEI that has grown quickly because the current consultation process was designed in reality to limit informed input.  The group is working to ensure that parents get the choice and quality that they deserve for their children.  A website has been established by the group at http://www.choiceandquality.com as well a Facebook group called PEI Child Care Facilities Act and Regulations; which now has in excess of 150 members.

BACKGROUNDER
For Immediate Release
February 26, 2008
Quality & Choice– The stated assumption of the ELOPEI (Early Learning Operators of PEI) and the Department of Social Services is that limiting the number of spaces will create quality. There are 3,000 children on PEI under the age of 24 months. There are 72 licensed child care spaces available for these children. Are 72 spaces sufficient to meet the needs of all of the mothers/fathers who have to go back to work after maternity and parental leave? There are centres that have spaces and there are centres with waiting lists – what does this say about quality? What does this say about the risks of limiting the spaces to the existing centres? How does limiting the number of centres help employees?

Quality and Conflict of Interest– Daycare and Kindergarten on PEI are owned and operated privately (both private and non-profit). We have to remember that. When has limiting competition given the public or employees better quality? Why should the interest of private operators stand ahead of parents and children and the society of Prince Edward Island? Why should child care operators have access to a Board that licenses their competitors? Is this not a conflict of interest? No other province has such a Board that sits between the regulations and the public. What then is the true aim of this Board?

Quality & Risk–We are at risk of not getting the quality that we need if we act too early, before we know what is best.  The opportunity now is to look authentically at what we have and then what we really need and then change the Act.

Quality and Authentic Consultation– To define quality and to get the best system, we need a consultation process that can define true quality. The process of consultation offered to the people of Prince Edward Island so far cannot be justified in a democratic
society. There was already an attempt in the Fall to pass changes to the Act.  These changes would have limited child care spaces.  This occurred with no public input. The changes to the Act were delayed so that a better consultation process could be set up. This has not happened. Very limited time and no context have been offered to the key stakeholders or the general public. Even the recent time extension given does not
compare with other Acts under review; such as the Child Protection act which has a process of months. As important as the time extension is, without the proper context or risk analysis being made available it is virtually impossible for key stakeholders or the general public to provide informed input.

Parents for Choice & Quality are a group consisting of mothers, fathers, grandparents, child care centres, industry professionals and concerned citizens of PEI that has grown quickly because the current consultation process was designed in reality to limit informed
input.  The group is working to ensure that parents get the choice and quality that they deserve for their children.

A website has been established by the group at http://www.choiceandquality.com as well a Facebook group called PEI Child Care Facilities Act and Regulations; which now has in excess of 150 members.

Press Release in PDF form Download here


The “Board” has to go!

February 18, 2008

What would it be like if a inner group of your neighbors had discretion about how the building code was applied if you wanted to add a room to your house? Weird right? Today if you meet code – you can proceed. If you plan to meet code, you will be fine. If your neigbours had control – the process might never end. What if you had annoyed one of them? Could you predict anything unless of course you were on the inside of such a group? Would the regulations mean anything?

Well that is what it is like on PEI to get your self licensed or to get a day care licensed. On PEI we have such an inner group!

The regulations don’t matter as much as getting the support of an inner group who have a vested interest in the status quo.

There is no good reason to have such a group. No other province has one and it should go as part of the changes to the act.

A major part of many people’s concern about the proposed changes to the act is that if the new wording “May” is used in stead of “Shall” that there will be discretion to deny licenses to people who HAVE MET ALL THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE ACT. Officials have been clear. They intend to use this word change to limit the number of new places.

But it gets worse. For the decision makers who will have this discretion are not A bureaucrat working with the delegated authority of the minister but a “Board”. PEI is the only province to have this layer between the people and the minister.

It is this board that will get the discretion and it is this board that already uses its discretion say in staffing. So if you are a specialist in early childhood care but come from another province or another country, your credentials are scrutinized by this body already with full discretion. This discretion in staffing and in who gets paid the government subsidy is already being used.

Where do the members come from?

The board is appointed by the minister. It has one parent – the rest are officials or leading members of the operating community. Of course recommendations as to who sits are made by the key officials to the minister. In effect the existing “in group” run this board.

No other province has such a body. In all others the minister is accountable and the issue at all times is judicial – DO YOU HAVE THE QUALIFICATIONS & DOES YOUR PLACE MEET THE REGULATIONS.

This provides a level playing field.  The core of such a system is the law. You meet the requirements of the law or you don’t. What is the point of having any regulations if meeting them is not the real test. The real test on PEI is whether the inner group like you or not.

The PEI system is confusing, open to abuse and creates a conflict of interest. The board has to go