B.C. Childcare Minister Katrina Chen met with daycare providers in Squamish, a town where a lack of childcare space is a common refrain.
“The purpose of this trip and the meeting is to learn from local providers and operators...about the needs and challenges they’re facing,” Chen told The Chief on June 11.
While there were no concrete agreements or initiatives that came from the meeting — this was for consultation purposes only — it was a well-received move by at least some of the providers.
“We’re very welcoming to this — we think it’s wonderful,” said Michelle Graye, co-owner of Squamish Montessori School, which takes care of about 84 children. At this point, clients are showing interest in booking as far as 2021.
Providers who spoke to The Chief lauded the province’s efforts at promoting affordable childcare.
Nevertheless, the providers said they’re hoping the province can also extend help to the people operating daycares, as well as their workers.
“It’s the one you really have to be careful with,” said Lindsay Graye, the other co-owner of Squamish Montessori, referring to staffing challenges.
A dramatic example provided by the two co-owners illustrates the challenge of keeping good childcare workers in Squamish.
Their lead teacher actually had to move in with them because she was in danger of being priced out of town, they said.
“We said, ‘You’re moving into our basement, and we will put you up for what’s a good amount,’” Lindsay recalled.
Payscale.com reports that an early childhood educator in Squamish with one year of experience can make anywhere between $21,000 to $41,000 per year. The site also says that the average hourly pay for these educators in the Vancouver area is $17.46.
The Grayes are concerned this kind of money isn’t enough to retain workers, especially in an increasingly expensive town like Squamish.
The two owners said that the solution can be difficult to find. Merely raising the minimum wage for early childhood educators could actually reduce the amount of daycare spots, they said.
Some operators wouldn’t be able to afford it, and would simply close up shop, taking away childcare slots, they added.
One thing they did agree upon, however, was that reducing the cost of training for early childhood educators would help.
An early childhood educator degree can be pricey.
For example, it costs roughly $12,000 — up to $17,000 if factoring in extra credits — Douglas College’s early childhood education diploma, the school’s website shows.
Staffing challenges were a sentiment echoed by the director of early child development services of Sea to Sky Community Services, a major local childcare provider.
“The childcare sector has been underpaid and overworked for many years,” said Suzie Soman. “We need to increase our staff’s wages. We need to increase our staff’s education.
“For years, young people — for whatever reason — have been turning away from the ECE field. I think it’s because of low wages and lack of recognition for what they do.”
That being said, Soman, who was been working with Sea to Sky Community Services for 17 years, added the NDP-Green government has made bigger strides in childcare than previous provincial administrations.
“I have never seen as much support as we’ve had in the last four months,” Soman said.
For her part, Chen told The Chief that the government is still studying how early childhood educators should be paid.
“We are looking into fair compensation,” she said.
Chen added it’s hoped the study, which is expected to be due sometime in the summer, will shed some light on how the province will move forward on this issue.
“It is a broken system, and we’re trying to pull things together,” she said.
Chen also said the NDP-Green administration is set on alleviating the costs of education for these workers.
“We have set aside $136 million to look for recruitment and retention strategies and support for the sector,” she said.
“When it comes to cost of training, we have a bursary training program that’s funded through Early Childhood Education B.C.”
She said more money will be given to this program, and it’s expected more people will be eligible for assistance.
Another big question that has been top of mind since the provincial election is when the promised $10-a-day daycare will be rolling out.
“It’s a 10-year-plan,” Chen said.
“You will see thousands of families getting around $10 a day in the coming months and years.”
This, however, depends on each family’s income, she said.
Chen’s visit was part of a provincial tour, and comes weeks after the province announced it would take measures to make childcare more affordable.
Fee reductions that went into effect in April allowed some families to save up to $350 a month, according to the province.
This coming September, the province is expected to announce another initiative that would help reduce child care costs for lower-income families by up to $1,250 per month.
It’s expected to affect about 86,000 B.C. families a year by 2020-21, the province said.
Chen was also present for a groundbreaking ceremony for Garibaldi Highlands Elementary. The province announced in December that it would be providing funding to add 44 childcare spaces to the school.
A total of $366,849 went to the Sea to Sky Community Services Society, which allowed it to start constructing a childcare facility starting June 11.
Prior to the December announcement, it was reported the Garibaldi Highlands childcare space would be shut down because of the restored teachers agreement that would change classroom sizes. School space was needed for class, the Sea to Sky School District said at the time.
Once constructed, it’s expected the new facility would allow both childcare and classes to coexist on school grounds.
The province said that over the next three years it will be putting in $1 billion in hopes of laying the foundation for universal child care in B.C.
According to the District’s draft Official Community Plan, in June 2016 the total supply of child care spaces in Squamish was 779.
Those numbers work out to one in five spaces for children under 15, and slightly more than one in four spaces for kids under 10.
***Please note this story has been updated to correct the stated cost of Douglas College's early childhood education diploma.