In May 2023, KPSquared Innovative Child Care Centre officially opened the doors of Canada’s first 24-hour child care facility in downtown Fort McMurray.
KPSquared Inc. is locally owned by Kyla Penner & Katelyn Harbin who started out privately operating in Fort McMurray in 2014, providing childcare services at multiple locations. Since then, their vision expanded into the first non-profit 24-hour child care centre in Alberta, and the first in Canada to provide individual sleep rooms.
The unique 24-hour, seven-day-a-week availability provides shift working families flexibility and peace of mind.
“What we found is that the vast majority of our demographic are shift working parents. Children who are dropped off at four, five or six in the morning, their schedules look very different than the average eight to four or nine to five child care schedule, specifically when they are here until nine at night,” said Penner.
Parents who work night shifts are able to arrive at the centre where they and their children will be provided dinner so that parents can have a meal with their child before they depart for their shift. Parents are able to spend time with their children in the play space and can catch a bus outside the building to site.
For parents who require overnight child care, the centre offers a unique concept of 10 themed rooms.
“We really wanted to empower parents to feel like they had a choice and what their schedules looked like and how that was going to transition between child care and home. We built the overnight room concept knowing that we would double down as a nap time space so parents could [in our enrollment process] give us a breakdown of their day. We try to adhere to their schedule as much as possible to ensure we are seeing smooth transactions between child care and home, and not deregulating those schedules for families.”
With educators present at all times, children are given passports when they stay overnight to pick their themed room.
“It gives a sense of home and excitement for the child to come and pick the choice of their room and it creates a sense of ease for the parent, knowing that their children are coming into a home-like experience and environment,” said Penner.
Despite the success of opening its doors, Penner’s journey to open the centre was not all simple.
“Because the government has never governed these individual room concepts, it was just one more challenge we had to display.”
Children’s Services worked with KPSquared’s architect and consultant on a 3D model of what the overnight rooms would look like and how to adhere to the legislation with them using modern technology.
Penner recalls the first family they enrolled in overnight childcare – a single shift-working mother who had no child care and had to drop her kids four and a half hours away during her shift rotation and would pick them up on her days off to bring them back.
“We understand the effects and the first thing we do is mitigate parental stress from the family as much as possible and try to alleviate through a vision of love and connection that parents do not need to feel guilty or shameful for having their children in overnight care,” said Penner.
“Our training and our education look different outside traditional Early Learning and Child Care; these open concepts and the understanding of the polyvagal nervous system, building capacity in staff and what that does and how it transmits to the child within the nervous system, parental stress, that’s our gem.”
KPSquared’s individual sleep rooms became known very quickly and were at capacity in a couple of months. They explain that most of their families are siblings, and are working on adding another four spaces at night.
While in 2019, the Alberta government introduced legislation, titled Bill 39, allowing overnight child care, it was only in 2022 that RMWB Council unanimously approved the allowance of overnight childcare facilities in the region. Among concerns was that there were not enough early childhood educators to support the children.
“We just let the work speak for ourselves and part of my journey is releasing the need to have how others perceive me, impact my work, and of who I am. I knew the vision, I knew the support and the life-changing service that we were going to continue to develop, not just for families but the women I hire.”
“People always ask me how do you get people to stay. I come with an entrepreneurial spirit and I’m not just program-based. People want to work here. They want to work with me and Kate because they want to feel empowered in who they are,” said Penner.
“Nothing brings me more joy and my ego gets in the way of recruiting women from Site because she is looking for a different level of purpose and comes to join our team because of the flexibility we can offer, the desire to be part of a collective vision and to service and bring the culture.”
Currently, KPSquared employs 42 educators. They have partnered with Keyano College on an apprenticeship program to employ practicum students of the Early Learning and Child Care Program to have them well versed in the 24-hour child care model.
“The more women we can train under our philosophies and belief systems, the better our community will work, whether they choose this as their home after or not, giving women the platform to again take up space, create their own identities, live through purpose, empower them as individuals, the better the world will be.”
KPSquared offers curiosity-approach-based child care programming. This concept and research come out of Finland school models which allow for free-flowing child-led, nature-led spaces, Penner explained. As a result, KPSquared has also partnered with individuals who are doing equine therapy and forestry school.
Being situated in the heart of downtown has assisted with resources and partnerships for KPSquared such as a built relationship with recreational therapists at Rotary House and Willow Square. They also partner with Discovery Keys Music which offers group music lessons at all of their locations.
Children in extended hour care or overnight care are not forgotten – Discovery Keys Music brings in instruments for private music lessons with them.
Additionally, their partnership with Kid-Drop allows for the transportation of children back and forth to their extracurriculars.
KPSquared offers many more programs for child development. Their Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) program is a tapping program that helps regulate the nervous system. Using locally curated affirmation cards created by Love Powered Co., the children pull an affirmation card and a reflection for the day every morning. They will tap through the EFT program to help regulate the child’s nervous system and set the trajectory for the day.
Penner says their Inclusive Child Care Program (Enabled) has gained a lot of traction.
Enabled is an innovative childcare approach for children who need extra support due to intellectual disability, trauma, or challenging behaviour. Enabled leads with the belief that once a perceived deficit is supported, the individual is no longer disabled but rather, enabled.
This program provides customizable services and supports based on the values of inclusion, innovation, and love to individuals and families within the community in a way that enables acceptance, independence, and a holistic quality of life.
“Children with exceptionalities, a lot of them require one-on-one care. What we were finding in Fort McMurray is there’s not enough space for people with inclusive care to thrive,” said Penner. “When you come into a traditional child care space, they need to book for the whole month and then they need to make sure that they have space. Expanding in business is already difficult when it comes to space, especially in child care.”
KPSquared has hired nine one-on-one workers at this time and has worked with the flexibility of parents submitting their schedules which include non-school Friday and shift working schedules. They have one-on-one aides that are able to support those schedules. Additionally, they are in the midst of building a large sensory room in the back of the building to support the program.
“We want to continue to expand on that if by chance we get access to additional property. We would love to continue being utilized as a hub where we could integrate respite and one-on-one and then also offer a space where other respite workers or educators can get together with their children and have access to the equipment that is required for inclusive care,” said Penner.
Penner has been an advocate for extended and overnight child care in the region after struggling to find her own child care that could accommodate her previous shift working career in the oil sands. Her advocacy has come with many accomplishments.
“If you are looking for an exterior accomplishment, it is not very often someone can say that they have changed the legislation successfully and then also got to be a part of writing it. Externally, that would be the biggest accomplishment that I could feel. Even though when you look back, the legislation was probably the easiest piece of what we had to navigate.”
“For myself, it’s my resilience that is my biggest accomplishment,” said Penner. “Having a strong sense of self and staying true to who I am and having faith and trust that the process was going to come to fruition. Sometimes, especially women who already have so much to juggle on themselves when they are wives and mothers and also career workers and they are constantly forfeiting who they want to be or they are trying to create an identity outside of just being a mom and a wife. We have given them a space on a platform to do that while making an impact.”
Prior to opening their doors and since 2020, KPSqaured’s Innovative Child Care Centre’s waitlist grew to over 600 families who needed child care services including 75 children who required overnight care. They are a dedicated team of women, mothers, educators and entrepreneurs who continue to find solutions and fill the gaps in child care throughout Alberta.
“We are indeed their [families] tribe and their community and this is why we are here. So that they can also enjoy a quality life which bears massive ripple effects on how their child will develop and grow into adulthood.”