Sherbrooke daycare for special needs children needs government funding to stay open, owner says

A group of parents in the Eastern Townships say it would be devastating if a daycare that caters to their special needs children were to shut its doors, but the owner says closing is inevitable unless it gets government subsidization. 

Joannie G. Parenteau was working as a private therapist for children with disabilities when she realized there was a need for a daycare catering to her clients, so she opened one.

“I decided to offer a service that was completely different from CPEs (early childhood centres),” she said.

‘With Joannie, she knows how the child works so there were things we didn’t have to say.’
– Parent Maxim Beauregard-Dionne

Mes P’tits Coup de Coeurs opened its doors a year ago, taking up all three floors of a fairly new semi-detached house in Sherbrooke’s south end.

The space is bright, clean and full of toys and gear tailored specifically for the children, including a custom-made change table as wide and long as an average crib. The average age of the children at the daycare is four, but they are usually still in diapers and too big to fit on a conventional changing table.

It also features a special gymnastics-type mat she had custom made in Montreal, which help the children practise climbing, sliding and help them exercise their legs.

All the special material and toys she has doesn’t come cheap. She also hires staff specially trained to teach children with disabilities.

Parenteau charges parents $65 a day. Since she opened, she’s been operating mostly at capacity — six children — but lately some parents have decided to pull their kids out because they can’t afford the cost.

Daycare is a difference maker

Parenteau is now down to four kids, and says she’s not able to cover her own costs.

One of those children is Samantha Marin’s two-year-old daughter Jordanne Marin-Gingras, who has been at the daycare for 10 months. Jordanne doesn’t speak, but within four days of starting at the daycare, she learned to say “help me” in sign language, the first time she had truly communicated with her daughter.

Marin says she suspects Jordanne is on the autism spectrum, but they are still waiting for an official diagnosis.

“To the government, to the society right now she’s like any other neuro-typical child and therefore should be able to attend a regular daycare,” she said.

Marin works as a translator from home and her partner works long days in construction, and they still have trouble putting food on the table some weeks, she said.

Maxim Beauregard-Dionne’s four-year-old daughter Adelaïde Beauregard-Locas has been going to the daycare since November. At that point, she couldn’t walk. By January, she was walking and now, she can run a little.

Joannie and Adelaide

Parenteau plays with four-year-old Adelaïde Beauregard-Locas, who has an unknown genetic disorder that causes a global development delay. (Alison Brunette/CBC)

She has an unknown genetic disorder that causes a global development delay, affecting her both physically and mentally.

He said he sent her to other daycares, but constantly had to explain how to deal with Adelaïde. That stopped when she started going to Mes P’tits Coup de Coeurs.

“It’s like when you’re in love. With your partner, there are some things you don’t have to explain to him or her, it’s the same thing with Joannie and special need kids,” he said.

Beauregard-Dionne says even though he does get extra money from the government because his daughter has an official diagnosis, the cost is a problem for his family as well.

Subsidization criteria hard to follow, daycare director says

In a written statement, the Family Ministry says CPEs have to reserve 15 per cent of their places for children with disabilities, and it does provide extra financing to daycares for those children.

The government says it favours the integration of special needs children, but the parents say they don’t feel that integration is always the best option for their children and the reserved spots that get the extra funding are only for children who have a diagnosis. 

Sherbrooke daycare

The space is bright, clean and full of toys and gear tailored specifically for the kids at Parenteau’s daycare. (Alison Brunette/CBC)

Parenteau says it would be impossible to adhere to the criteria the government sets out in order to be subsidized. For one thing, the government-approved education plans focus on things like learning colours, the alphabet and singing songs, she says.

She tailors an education plan for each child based on their specific needs, but she says often that entails learning to sit up by themselves, learning sign language and practising fine motor skills.

She’s asking for the government to start a pilot project that would allow her to stay open.

‘I’ve learned so much’

Both Marin and Beauregard-Dionne say having their children in Mes P’tits Coup de Coeurs is the only reason they’re able to work.

“I’ve learned so much from Joannie myself,” Marin said.

“The interventions that are put in place here at the daycare, I can apply them at home. But it’s thanks to Joannie and her service that I can do that, otherwise, I don’t know where I’m going.”

In a written statement to CBC News, the government says it’s open to working with Parenteau to find a solution within the established law.

But Parenteau said she had a telephone meeting with the deputy minister of families on Friday, and so far she doesn’t feel they’re anywhere near a solution.

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