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Financing for child care programs in flux

New research shows that every dollar invested in early childhood education comes back six-fold, according to Ann Silberman, executive director of the Bowen Island Children's Centre. She thinks that everyone should have access to preschool programs.

New research shows that every dollar invested in early childhood education comes back six-fold, according to Ann Silberman, executive director of the Bowen Island Children's Centre. She thinks that everyone should have access to preschool programs. A sizable donation by Ross Allan of Allan Financial will open the doors for families who might otherwise not have the chance to send their children to preschool or daycare. And a party with the theme 'release your inner wild child' is not only a chance to have a good time but will also replenish the funds in the Gail Taylor bursary.

"Some parents simply can't afford to pay the preschool fees," Silberman said, "Ross Allan had three children in preschool and he wanted to give something back. When he approached me, I said that I would like the money to go to the Gail Taylor bursary fund. And although his donation is known, the subsidy is anonymous it has to be." Silberman says that the percentage of families who receive bursaries varies from year to year. "There are two scenarios," she explained. "When we hear of parents who cannot afford preschool, we sometimes approach them."

"And occasionally parents sign up and something happens in their lives so they can no longer afford to pay their bills. Then we jump in for the sake of the child and pay the rest of the year's fees," Silberman said.

"We will accept everyone at the Children's Centre even if it means losing money," Silberman said. "We believe that preschool should be for everyone. Every child should have the benefit of a head start." She welcomes calls from parents who would like to explore the possibility of receiving a subsidy and adds that the centre is wheelchair accessible and gladly accepts children with different challenges.

"Ross [Allan] is an amazing dad," Silberman said. "He used to come to the preschool when we had duty parents who acted as teacher's assistants. When he was there, I would make myself a cup of tea and sit down. The kids loved him and he practically ran the class."

Patti-Jo Wiese is a Bowen parent who advises Allan Financial on communication and new media issues. She said, "When Ross [Allan] made the donation, we talked about the importance of those early years, the importance of preschool life and the connections you make, both for the children and the parents. Many of the people you get to know at circle time end up in your own circle during the next 20 years."

"Ross [Allan]'s donation is important because the landscape of financing our children's facilities is changing," Wiese said. "There is the perception that the budget is fixed but often [the facilities] are struggling and there is a need for corporate sponsorship and community giving."

Silberman agrees. The Children's Centre receives a certain amount of funding per child but Silberman stresses that the real cost of childcare and early childhood programs is not covered by that amount and parents' fees alone. The difference has to be made up with grants and fundraising efforts. And the grants have become harder to secure, according to Silberman.

In September 2011, Silberman learned that the Emergency Repair to Child Care Services grant had been canceled with one day's notice. "This grant covers a certain amount of emergency repairs andreplacement expenses. Our after school club is held at BICS and we pay a monthly fee [to the West Vancouver School District] in rent. Depending on BICS enrolment, we have to move rooms and make changes." Silberman added that the grant has also covered the cost of toys and playground equipment that the Children's Centre is required to have. "Several years ago, we received $5000 per program per year, that number has gone down to $2000 per facility and now ithas beencanceled." Silberman was able to secure the funds for last year and hopes it will be reinstated.

Gaming grants have also seen a drastic cut. "Preschools and daycares are considered community education groups and now get 50 per cent of their historical funding," Silberman said. She explained that the Children's Centre has received gaming grants for about 20 years and that a grant that had been $27,000 in recent yearswas reduced to $10,375 this year. After waiting for months, premier Christie Clark restored the funding and the Childen's Centre had a shortfall of $6000 instead of the anticipated $16,000.

A cut to the subsidy threshold for after school care for elementary children also effects what families can afford. Silberman explained that, in the past, the Ministry of Children and Family Development provided a subsidy for families within a certain income bracket to cover a percentage of after school care cost. But since the amount has been lowered, some people do not qualify any longer. "If you want to encourage people to go back to school or back to work, you have to help them look after their children," Silberman said.

"We have to come up with other ideas for raising money," Silberman said. "We are fortunate that we have a fabulous board that is very creative and organizes a number of fundraisers. But they require a huge volunteer effort." And on a small island, funding sources are limited, especially for young families. Silberman said, "How much can you fundraise and charge? This is supposed to be a time in their lives where young families are building equity and also a time where giving their children a good start in life is really important - we need to help them do that."

Wiese said that this is also a field where Allan Financial can help. "There is the perception that Ross [Allan]'s company only serves affluent clients," Wiese said. "But the fact is that he works with many young families, especially in the areas of risk and debt management, life and mortgage insurance, income replacement and investment opportunities."

Wiese said that part of Allan's donation will go toward organizing a fundraiser where "young parents can have a night off and cut loose." The Wild Child party was inspired by the book Where the wild things are. It will be held at the youth centre and features Adam Woodall and band. "Joining Adam [Woodall] will be several guest performers," Wiese said. "Opening the concert will be Fawnfare, that's Lauren Spear and Emily Allan who have also gone to the preschool. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that those preschool graduates grow up and do amazing things." There are 100 tickets available at $20 at Phoenix and the Children's Centre.

With the idea of helping young parents enjoy a licensed adult event, students of Island Pacific School (IPC) are offering a free babysitting service on a first come, first serve basis.

In addition to releasing the inner wild child, people are invited to show off photos on that theme.

Wiese said, "We are holding a contest where we are inviting parents to post pictures of themselves or their kids to Allan Financial's Facebook page. The theme is Wild Child and one entry will win a boat cruise for six." The intent of the campaign is to create community online with family-friendly content, Wiese says. She knows that many of Allan's clients live on Bowen Island.

Wiese said that the donation to the Children's Centre isn't Allan Financial's first significant gift. The company has supported the gymnastics club, IPS students' sailing trips and a shared giving campaign at the Christmas Craft Fair, to name a few. "[Allan's] children have gone though the different schools and programs on Bowen and experienced all those opportunities for their growth," Wiese said. "The family knows how important the Children's Centre is to the community."

Wiese hopes Allan's example will inspire others to pitch in. "We are moving toward a model of increased corporate giving and corporate social responsibility," she said. "I see that many young families choose to work with companies that are giving back. And it takes only two clicks to see how connected [companies] are."

Silberman said that the Children's Centre has been fortunate. "From the building that now houses the youth centre, the family place, the preschool and the daycare to the volunteers that come and read stories with the children, there are many examples of giving back to the community in a way that helps future generations get off to a good start," she said.