The City of Cranbrook received a report looking at childcare services within the city and identifying recommendations to tackle a shortage of spaces and a shortage of educators. Black Press File Photo

Cranbrook grappling with shortage in childcare spaces, educators

It’s no secret Cranbrook is in crisis when it comes to the availability of childcare services and spaces within the city.

Just ask anyone who is expecting, or anyone with young children.

However, that point was underscored with the delivery of a consultant’s report during a council meeting on Monday evening at city hall.

The report, authored by Diane McKean of Creative Childcare Consulting, concluded that Cranbrook has a shortage of childcare spaces as well as a shortage of early childhood educators.

“You’ve got an incredibly committed team of educators within the city,” said McKean. “They’re a bit concerned, a lot of them are within two to five years of retirement. They’re going, ‘what are we going to do, we don’t have the spaces now, we don’t have mentorship programs, we’re not giving the education we feel needs to happen so what are we going to do?’”

According to McKean, 1,595 children in Cranbrook are currently without available spaces. Some parental feedback included being on years-long wait lists.

There are 288 spaces for children under four years of age, out of a pool of 975, leaving 687 without care options. The situation is more dire for children between 5-9 years of age, with 125 licensed spaces for 1,105 children, leaving 908 without care options.

Those gaps are forcing parents to consider unlicensed childcare options, which aren’t monitored and don’t qualify for government subsidy funding, McKean said.

McKean identified 19 licensed child care facilities, 73 childhood educators, and four licensed family or multi-home child care programs.

She also highlighted the economic impacts of women who are unable to re-enter the workforce without childcare availability.

“If you’re a woman and you are looking at going back into your profession of choice and you’re coming off a maternity leave, you’re faced with that hard decision of unlicensed care — unless you have amazing grandparents who want to give up their retirement — or giving up your profession of choice.

“Giving up your profession of choice is not a good option for the City of Cranbrook. Now we’re looking at economic development, and how that impacts economic development.”

Providing childcare services translates both social and economic impacts for children, families , working parents, and the community at large she said.

McKean made two recommendations to work towards immediate steps to address the childcare services crisis.

• Create a small community working group to review city bylaws, review childcare regulations, develop a list of community support organizations and create a guide on how to open a licensed childcare facility.

• The City of Cranbrook take the lead to create a joint funding pool with other communities or local partners to apply for grant funding through UBCM or the Columbia Basin Trust to hire a project coordinator who can organize volunteer groups to keep recommendations on target.

The intent is to help create one vision and one voice to tackle development of childcare infrastructure to immediately create new spaces, while also working as a group to advocate for key issues that need to be brought before higher levels of government.

That eventually led to an exchange between Mayor Lee Pratt and McKean, as the former argued that the report should have identified an individual or organization to take the lead on pursuing and overseeing the report recommendations.

Pratt also said there should have been an educational component, as people might not realize the extent of government subsidies and funding streams that can currently be accessed.

McKean said every organization consulted is willing to do whatever needs to happen, and emphasized her recommendation about using grant funding to hire a project coordinator who could oversee an action plan for tackling Cranbrook-specific childcare issues.

While McKean characterized the report as a Cranbrook-specific look at childcare services, a few councillors balked at providing municipal funding towards solutions, arguing that the provincial and federal levels of government are responsible for funding childcare infrastructure and development.

“Yes, we do have an ongoing crisis for childcare,” said Councillor Ron Popoff, “having said we have have a crisis with childcare and having said the city commissioned this report, I really want to be clear with the public and media that by no means is it a legal mandate for local governments to deal with childcare and provide the spaces, the training, the education, everything that’s in the report other than some enabling pieces maybe towards bylaws and other facilitation leadership goals.”

However, Popoff also noted the city is about to head into strategic planning sessions and will look at how the city can incorporate the report’s recommendations.

Councillor Mike Peabody, who led the charge on securing grant funding for the report, inquired about the licensing process for a childcare facility.

McKean said potential operators have to navigate municipal bylaws and provincial regulations, particularly for those who might be running a daycare business out of their home in a residential area.

Councillor Wayne Price lamented how the situation got to where it is, noting the funding and regulatory challenges from higher levels of government, while also noting that low wages for early childhood educators is also an issue.

“They’re not getting the workers, they’re not getting the people in there, so it’s not just one or the other,” Price said. “I look at it as this is so far beyond local government fixing the problem.”

Like Popoff, Price noted there needs to be more advocacy to higher levels of government to provide solutions.

“I don’t think city council is in a position to really solve that,” Price said. “We can be part of a process to move things down to UBCM and that level and take it to the provincial level, but I really don’t see us fixing the problem locally.”

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