Stephanie Weightman began trying to access daycare services for her daughter, Quinn, when she was just three months pregnant. With her maternity leave over and some holiday time used up, the young mother is running out of time to find qualified daycare. (Photo submitted)

Childcare crisis looms over B.C. Interior

Shuswap parents frustrated by lack of spaces while care providers struggle to find qualified staff

There is one certainty among many factors – childcare in the Shuswap is in crisis.

Only 42 licensed spaces exist for children under three, including Enderby.

And while the City of Salmon Arm has applied for a $25,000 grant to prepare a childcare needs assessment, it will not be of help to families who are desperate for quality daycare now.

Stephanie Weightman is a nurse whose maternity leave ends in February.

As soon as she reached the 12-week mark in her pregnancy, Weightman added her name to the waitlist at Shuswap Daycare.

“I thought I’d have tons of time, about a year-and-a-half, so it should be OK,” she says, noting she has friends who accessed daycare in that time frame. But things have changed. In 2016-17, 196 babies were born at Shuswap Lake General Hospital, with another 183 new arrivals in 2017-2018. The total does not include the number of babies born to Salmon Arm residents in out-of-town hospitals.

Related: Province says 83 groups have received boost from ‘inclusive child care’ fund

Weightman began reaching out to the Shuswap Daycare in mid-August 2017.

“They said you’re great, you’re proactive; they didn’t guarantee a spot, but they made it seem very positive and said just contact us when the baby is born,” which she did, at which time she received the same positive indication without promise. “At that time, I didn’t think much about it and called back every couple of months to make sure I was still on list.”

In April 2018, Weightman was told she might only be able to get Quinn into the daycare until spring rather than February 2019.

“In panic mode, I called every other licensed daycare in town,” she says. “Basically, I’ve been trying to find registered in-home care, stay-at-home moms, anybody I could find that could be trusted, even friends who are pregnant.”

With no family nearby and seemingly no other options, Weightman says she is considering flying her father-in-law in from Ontario “to buy some time.”

Related: B.C. daycare owner frustrated over lack of payments from provincial program

“I’ve already bought time using holidays and I will maybe be forced to take an unpaid leave of absence from Interior Health,” she says. “Lack of childcare isn’t covered under any program but we still have to pay our bills and mortgage.”

Care aide Jen Morley is also feeling desperate. She says she had no idea she had to get on a waitlist so far in advance.

When her daughter was two months old, Morley put her name on every single available daycare provider in Salmon Arm.

“They told me there was an 18-month waitlist; some places don’t take kids under two and if they do, they don’t have many spots,” she says, noting she has scoured the options and has no family available to help. “I have to work evenings, weekends, holidays, on the night shift. I’ll have to work the 11-to seven shift then come home to a baby all day.”

Shuswap Daycare manager Karen Bubola says daycare in Salmon Arm is in crisis and getting worse.

“We have lengthy waitlists – well over two years – and the only time spots that become available (for the infant to toddler age) is when they age out at 3, and we can only take 12 at any time,” she says, noting 15 wee ones share the 12 spaces on a part-time basis.

Related: Advocate says universal child care long overdue in B.C.

Bubola says two part-time spots will be opening up in September, but are claimed by families who already have children attending the daycare.

Kinder Play owner-operator Kelly Hart offers daycare and after-school care at her facility near Bastion Elementary School.

She has received a $250,000 provincial grant to provide 24 infant-to-three childcare spaces and is in the process of opening a new centre in Canoe. But she doesn’t have enough staff.

“I have the building and all the supplies,” she says pointing out each group of 12 children under the age of three requires one person with their Infant and Toddler Educator (ITE) rating, an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) and an ECE assistant. “You can’t register first and then get staff, so as soon as we have staff, we will get registered.”

Debbie Sprieszl of Shuswap Child Care Resource and Referral says there are only 42 licensed spots among three providers in Salmon Arm and one in Enderby. There is nothing in Sicamous or Sorrento.

“In the entire Interior, no one is offering after-hours or weekend care for any child, regardless of the age,” she says, noting many care aides are having to turn to social assistance for help, particularly single mothers. “We have one care aide who when she works nights, pays $50 and earns $70. And at that’s not the going rate; she’s not paying her caregiver enough.”

“Part of the answer is raising the level of respect for childcare providers; they’re as important as kindergarten teachers and they’re not paid nearly the same,” says June Stewart, executive director of the Shuswap Children’s Association of the need to attract more childcare workers. “They have less desirable and longer hours.”

She says the City of Salmon Arm has applied for a $25,000 grant from the Union of BC Municipalities to do a childcare needs assessment study.

Related: School district supports city application to fund childcare spaces

Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison says council made the grant application in order to be successful in getting provincial funding to create more daycare spaces.

“This is a big part of the (Salmon Arm) economic development plan,” he says, noting the city’s attempts to attract young families to the area. “We are being successful, but we need to have daycare spaces; this is an important piece of the puzzle to move the plan ahead.”

One bit of good news on the horizon is $500,000 in funding from the Ministry of Children and Families the Neskonlith Band is using to build a 48-space childcare facility on First Avenue SW near Scrappy’s Metal Recycling.

Cathy Balatti, the band’s director of childcare programs, says if construction progresses as expected, the facility should be open by September 2019, and will be open to families in the surrounding area as well as the Neskonlith community.

There will be 12 infant spaces, 12 spaces for children ages 18 to 36 months and 24 spaces for children ages three to five.

Anyone who is interested in registering a child. may email Balatti at childcaredirector@neskonlith.net.


@SalmonArm
barb.brouwer@saobserver.net

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