New challenges for child care in city: Full-day kindergarten adds a wrench for child-care planning

Theresa McManus, The New Westminster Record

Christine Peters has a couple of child-care options for her two children – but only because she took action more than two years ago.

The Royal City resident’s two daughters are already in daycare, but those arrangements could change come September when her oldest daughter starts kindergarten. Her children currently attend Kids Day Care Centre at the Victoria Hill site; it transports school-aged students to Richard McBride and Herbert Spencer elementary schools  but not to F.W. Howay, which is her home’s catchment area.

“I got on the waiting list for the Howay after-school care at least two years ago,” she said. “It took me 15 months to get into Kids Day Care. You have to be so prepared. What about families just moving into New Westminster?”

Peters considers herself be one of the lucky ones because her early planning has given her some options for child care. If her daughter gets into the early French immersion program at Herbert Spencer, both of her kids will be able to continue attending their current  daycare; if her eldest daughter doesn’t get into the early French  immersion program, she’ll attend F.W. Howay and go to the  out-of-school program offered at that school, having made it to the  top of the waiting list….

The city’s child-care action team, a subcommittee of the New Westminster early childhood development committee, notes that the introduction of full-day kindergarten will further challenge the availability of before- and after-school care for children in New  Westminster.

“We have had a large number of spaces that have opened up in the last two years,” said John Stark, the city’s senior social planner.  “The difficulty is with infant-toddler and school-aged care.” …

Before- and after-school care facilities have to be located within a reasonable proximity to elementary schools.

“We have had some increases,” Stark said about before- and after-school care. “It is nowhere near keeping pace with the increase arising with full-day kindergarten.”

Stark, a member of the child-care action team, noted that a lot of parents who would have had their children in daycare programs for three- to five-year-olds may now need before- and after-school care because of full-day kindergarten.

“This will be an issue,” he said. “The first step to moving forward is to acknowledge the need, to work together. It may require senior government funding.” …

“It is stressful not knowing where you are going to be. I’m lucky because I phoned two to three years ago to get on waiting lists. I feel for families who haven’t been so prepared,” she said. “I am a good news story. That is because I was phoning around and getting on lists early.”

Mike Graham, director of programs for the Westminster Children’s  After School Society, is well acquainted with the challenges of  out-of-school programs. The society runs eight school-aged programs in New Westminster, including three facilities that are currently  offering a kindercare program.

Westminster Children’s After School Society will continue to serve the children already in its care, but it’s unable to expand to accommodate more children. It also can’t guarantee before- and after-school spaces for children who have been in its facilities that operate kindercare only programs, although those children will go into a priority placement because they’ve already been attending  the centre.

“We are full in all of our centres,” he said. “We have waiting lists in all our centres. Our lowest is one year and our longest is three years.” …

For staff who have been working in the centre’s kindercare programs, they’ve been working eight-hour shifts. With kindercare programs “going to be a dinosaur” with the introduction of full-day kindergarten, Graham said staff in those programs will now have to work split shifts from 7 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m.

“It will be challenging,” he said about the split shifts. “I may lose a couple staff by the end of the summer.”

When done properly, Graham said school-aged care provides age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate programs for children.

“We are not babysitters. It’s not babysitting. That is the stereotypical view that society has of this,” he said. “We are not a daycare. That is the wrong term – we are a school-aged program.”

Graham said middle-childhood educators have a vital role to play in providing experiences and opportunities to the kids in their care.  Because the centres are open during the summer, winter and spring  breaks and on professional days, he said they often spend more time  with children than parents and teachers.

“The average child will spend 1,600 hours per year here,” he said.  “We have the ability to make a difference in a child’s life.” …

Graham said many of the before- and after-school programs share space with school programs. If the society had more space in which to operate, it would be able to accommodate more children.

Stark said New Westminster’s schools are operating at capacity, but planning for new schools is considering the potential for before- and after-school programming….

The City of New Westminster conducted a child-care needs assessment in 2008. One of its findings was a shortage of licensed before- and after-school care for kids aged six to 12.