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‘Helpless’: Ukrainian newcomers unable to access Quebec’s subsidized daycare

"It just breaks my heart,” says Ukrainian newcomer Oleksandra Zhovtiuk, a single mother of three recently arrived in Montreal, after finding out her kids aren't eligible for Quebec's subsidized daycare because of status. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

By Alyssia Rubertucci

Ukrainian newcomer Oleksandra Zhovtiuk arrived in Montreal around seven weeks ago, after evacuating Kherson, south of Ukraine, next to Crimea.

The single mother of three under eight was drawn to settling in Quebec because of the affordable daycare network, subsidized at eight dollars a day. But after finding available places for two of her kids and signing a contract, she was then told she wasn’t eligible because she came here under a federal emergency immigration program and isn’t considered a refugee.

“I just feel very helpless. I have no idea what to do because we just we really, really need the daycare,” Zhovtiuk said. “I speak to other women who struggle with this a lot, and they have no idea what to do because they really want to work. And they’re just like, ‘you just made such a long trip here and you found a place to stay. You just tried to settle your life here and you just not able to do this because of the situation.’ It just hurt me.”


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“The Government of Quebec has decided to apply the same rules for Ukrainians as for refugee claimants. Both have access to work permits, so they’re able to work technically, but they don’t have access to subsidized daycare, which poses a big problem for families,” says Erika Massoud, of the Consultation Table of Organizations serving Refugees and Immigrants (TRCI).

While Oleksandra works full time, her kids, seven-year-old Milana, four-year-old Aliia and two-year-old, Yan, are being looked after by their grandmother.

“My kids cannot be like other kids here to integrate, to learn language, to speak with other kids and the daycares and school, it just breaks my heart,” said Zhovtiuk. “I want my mom to learn French. I want her to integrate, too. She needs to start a new life, too. She’s 51. She’s ready to work. But right now she cannot work because she has to stay with the kids.”


Oleksandra Zhovtiuk with her children: seven-year-old Milana, four-year-old Aliia and two-year-old, Yan. (Photo: Oleksandra Zhovtiuk / handout)


In 2018, Quebec barred asylum seekers and refugee claimants from accessing subsidized daycare.

“Our committee has been advocating for the change of this agreement, and we’ve actually taken the government to court,” said Massoud. “So in June of this year, there was a positive decision. The judge ruled in favor of our cause, saying the government did not have the right to just reinterpret the law without clarifying that in the law itself. And so the government appealed the decision, and we’re still battling this issue.”


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In a statement, Quebec’s Family Ministry, says: 

“We are very sensitive to the situation that Ukrainians are currently experiencing. However, for all parents residing in Quebec, the same criteria apply to determine eligibility for the reduced contribution, including Ukrainian nationals. […] The federal government has granted work permits with precise indications allowing the identification of Ukrainian nationals received within the framework of [the federal program]. These people have access to daycare services offered by unsubsidized daycare centres, to services offered by stop-over daycare centers and to the tax credit for childcare expenses.”

But for Zhovtiuk, it isn’t that easy.

“How can I afford to put my kids in private daycare?” she asked. “It starts from $40 a day. Okay, I can put only one kids to daycare, but $40 a day for one kid when you you’re actually a refugee. I know we’re not considered refugees here because we have working visas, but we still are.”

Zhovtiuk is now hoping Quebec reviews its decision and makes the change.

“It’s very hard for us to start a new life without getting to daycare,” she said. “The only thing I’m asking, not for the benefits or any help, is just for us to have to be able to put our kids into daycare, because it’s a huge struggle for all of the moms that come here without any support, with no husbands to live here and to manage their life here with the kids.”

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