After searching for a year and a half for childcare to no avail, Sarah Fennell was thrilled when she found a spot for her son at a licence-not-required daycare in Saanich.
Fennell didn’t hesitate to pay a $1,100 non-refundable deposit to daycare operator Jaylene Hawkins, to secure a spot several months in advance. Her son had been on the waitlists of more than 50 different daycare facilities across Greater Victoria.
“I saw this advertisement from Jaylene in June saying she had space available,” Fennell told Black Press Media in an interview on Nov. 10. “I contacted her, and she said that we couldn’t do a tour of her place because she had just given birth. And she said that if I wanted to hold the space that I needed to pay a deposit, and that there were a lot of people interested.”
At first, nothing about the agreed-upon arrangement appeared off, said Fennell. But she began growing suspicious in October when she was contacted by other parents claiming that their children were all scheduled for the same two spots at the daycare.
In B.C., a licence-not-required daycare allows for a caregiver to care for up to two children or one sibling group, in addition to those related to them by blood or marriage.
While Fennell had initial concerns about the overbooking, it was when she learned of Hawkins’ criminal record, which included fraud-related charges, as well as Hawkins’ husband’s criminal past, that she ultimately decided to cancel her spot and confront Hawkins.
Fennel said Hawkins refused to refund her $1,100 deposit.
“They know the contract,” Hawkins told Black Press Media. “They know that the deposit is non-refundable, it’s not written in small letters, and they were willing to pay for the spots.”
Hawkins said that she’s been forthcoming and that she’s run her daycare for five years without any complaints until Oct. 18.
“If they drop out for any reason, that’s not on me,” she said. “They were willing to join and if they found something else out after they signed up, that’s still not on me. If they wanted to ask me about my criminal past, I’m an open book. I would be happy to explain.”
Hawkins added parents have often cancelled their reserved spot at her daycare once managing to get their child accepted at a licensed facility, which is why she’s collected multiple deposits despite only being able to legally care for two children beyond her own.
Gillian Fehr, chief executive officer of Gillybird Nature Schools, is aware of the allegations and said they highlight a much larger issue surrounding the state of childcare, not just in Greater Victoria, but across the whole province.
“She’s capitalized on the fact that people are desperate for care and knows that people will keep sending her money for a spot when she knows it doesn’t exist,” she told Black Press Media.
Fehr said she’s never heard of anything like this before, adding that an increasingly desperate daycare situation is paving the way for potential scammers to take advantage of.
While doing a bit of background research on potential daycare providers may seem like a no-brainer to many, Fehr said it’s not always obvious to young parents.
“The fact is – these are people who probably have a child for the first time. They don’t know to do those things. And it’s never been brought to their attention to do those things because they’ve never heard a story about someone who was scammed or taken advantage of by a childcare provider.”
Island Health, the organization responsible for licensing, said it’s investigated the daycare and has confirmed that Hawkins is an unlicenced childcare provider.
“Upon receiving a complaint, Island Health investigated and confirmed this person was operating in contravention of the Community Care and Assisted Living Act,” Island Health said in a statement. “The operator is to immediately cease providing, or holding themselves out, as providing care to more than two children not related to them by blood or marriage.”
The Community Care and Assisted Living Act defines a community care facility as a person providing care to three or more people who are not related by blood or marriage to the person providing care.
Island Health said it will continue to monitor the situation, but parents remain without answers.
The Saanich Police Department is also looking into the matter and said its investigation is open and active.
“I falsely assumed that someone who takes care of children for a living is a good person,” Fennell said.
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