Quebec blocks asylum seekers from public daycare network, alarming advocates

Asylum seekers are no longer eligible to put their children in subsidized daycare in Quebec, making it difficult for single parents to get off welfare and into the workforce while waiting for their refugee claim to be heard.

'One of the best ways to integrate is to ... have a job and no longer be dependent on the state': Paul Clarke

Quebec's Family Ministry issued a new directive in April, informing CPEs they were no longer to accept children of asylum seekers who are still awaiting a refugee hearing. (Mike Dotta/Shutterstock)

Asylum seekers are no longer eligible to put their children in subsidized daycare in Quebec, making it difficult for single parents to get off welfare and into the workforce while waiting for their refugee claim to be heard, advocates say.

The Quebec government sent out a notice to early childhood education centres (CPEs) this spring, instructing them not to take in children whose parents are awaiting a refugee hearing.

That has left single-parent asylum seekers with few options other than staying home to care for their young children. The wait for a refugee hearing can be 18 months or longer, while asylum seekers can often get a work permit within a month or two of arriving in Canada.

"The parents are actually very disappointed," said Gina Gasparini, vice-president of the Association québécoise des centres de la petite enfance, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"Some of them find themselves in really desperate situations because they have work permits, and they are eager to work."

Since 2015, some CPEs had been accepting the children of asylum seekers with a work permit, acting on a directive from Quebec's Ministry of Families.

However, that order was based on a misinterpretation of provincial regulations, said Karl Fillion, a spokesperson for the ministry, in an email. 

The children of asylum seekers admitted before April will be allowed to stay in the system despite the revised rules, he said.

Private daycare available, ministry says

Fillion noted that subsidized spots are available to asylum seekers, if and when their claim is accepted, and he said asylum seekers are welcome to enrol their children in private daycare while awaiting their hearing.

The going rate for a spot in a private daycare, however, is often $40 or more, rendering the service unaffordable for many asylum seekers, Gasparini said.

She said the new policy runs contrary to the broader mission of Quebec's subsidized daycare program.

"We can't forget that these children should have the equal opportunity of other children to access educational services," she said.

Things are easier for asylum seekers whose children are old enough to go to school.

French-language preschool, elementary and high school is free for children between the ages of five and 18, but in order to enrol, claimants need to present their Refugee Protection Claimant document issued by the federal Immigration Ministry.

Paul Clarke, executive director of Action Réfugiés Montréal, said refugee claimants are confused about eligibility for daycare.

He said the sooner asylum seekers can start working, the better.

"One of the best ways to integrate is to, obviously, have a job and no longer be dependent on the state," said Clarke.

"It's a positive thing to have children in a learning environment and learning French."

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