Childcare Needs In The Peace

Derek Bedry, The Northerner

Childcare in the Peace Region is hard to find and expensive -problems that are compounded by a shortage of early childhood educators.

While the government announced an eight-year commitment to support early childhood development through the B.C. Early Years Strategy, many experts in the area worry that it doesn’t go far enough to relieve the burdens on local parents.

Part of this new plan is to put $32 million to support the creation of child-care spaces, $27 million to support the improvement of the overall quality of the services and $7 million to help strengthen the coordination of early childhood development programs over the span of the first three years.

“It definitely will help but again for an entire population, once you divide it by all families who need the support, there probably won’t be much left,” said Heidi Kux-Kardos, Dawson Creek coordinator for Success by 6.

“What we need is way bigger. It’s into the billions of dollars, I believe, to make universal childcare available.”

With a young population throughout the Peace Region, the need for childcare is growing as fast as local families.

“The guys working in the oil rigs and if they bring their wives, they’re mostly young people and that’s when you have babies – when you’re young,” said Kux-Kardos.

“We could use probably two to three more centers our size,” said Kim Beauchamp, manager of Wiggles and Giggles Groups Daycare in Fort St. John, which has 178 children on its waiting list.

“There’s only two licensed infant centers in Fort St. John,” explained Beauchamp.

While the waiting lists are long, the prices are also high -making child care unaffordable for some families.

“It’s more expensive then post secondary education,” said Katherin Charbonneau, chair of the Dawson Creek Early Childhood Educators of BC (ECEBC). “Per child it’s around $800 to $900 per month and if you have two children or more -single mothers, I don’t know how they do it.”

These high prices mean that for many families, the decision for one parent to stay home and give up on a career is not a choice, but a financial necessity.

“Unless you can cough up $600 to $700 a month per child you just can’t afford it,” said Kux-Kardos.

“The challenge is affordability. If you’re a mom who makes $10, $12 even $15 or $20 an hour it’s pretty hard to spend six or seven hundred dollars a month of that on child care. Especially if you have more than one child under five that isn’t going to school yet.”

For parents who do not have the option to stay home, the combination of long wait lists and high prices create a dilemma.

“I had four children and it was very, very, difficult to find childcare. Quite often, I had to resort to very undesirable childcare which still bothers me … I had no choice, I had to go to work,” noted Kux-Kardos.

Compounding the issue are the lack of early childhood educators (ECE) and assistants.

“We actually just had one of our staff leave,” said Ashley Foden, an ECE assistant at the Kiwanis Child Care Centre.

“She had given us her notice in the beginning of December and we still haven’t filled her position yet because we don’t have the ECE’s.” she said. “ECE’s and assistant ECE’s are in dire need right now.”

Beauchamp explained that in Fort St. John too, finding qualified people to do the job is also a problem.

“It’s really, really hard to hire the educated staff. They need to have their ECE or their ECE Assistant and they’re just not out there,” she said.

The qualifications required usually take a year of post-secondary training and the average wage is often less than $20 an hour….