Squamish mother Shaneen Alana Smith says due to the high cost of local childcare there’s currently no financial benefit to her working outside the home.
“On top of all of our bills, plus mortgage… there’s no point in me even working – at least I can clean the house from here and I don’t work for someone for free,” she told The Chief. “It’s tough, $1,200 per month for full-time childcare in order to go to work full-time to make the same amount.”
It is a struggle many parents in Squamish can relate to. And for families where both parents do work, even finding a place where space is available for a child can be a struggle, especially for parents of children under three years old.
In fact, care is so lacking for children from one year to three years old in Squamish that it is in a state of crisis, according to Lisa McIntosh, Child Care Resource and Referral consultant with Sea to Sky Community Services.
“The rapid growth has put childcare in a tricky situation for families,” she said.
Finding an affordable venue in Squamish, especially one with an outdoor space as required by licensing, is one barrier to new centres opening up, McIntosh said.
Finding qualified staff who can afford to live in Squamish is also a challenge to new centres opening, she added.
To tackle the cost of care for families, McIntosh said she would personally like to see the model that operates in Quebec replicated in B.C. where care is subsidized.
“Just like the public school system – every child has access to the public school system – every child should have access to quality affordable care and that is not the case.”
Meanwhile, another reliable centre for care in Squamish is closing.
As of September, childcare provided by Sea to Sky Community Services will no longer be available at Garibaldi Highlands Elementary.
Currently, a preschool is run out of the space, as well as before and after school care.
With the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that reduces the number of children in each public school classroom the school needs the room the childcare takes up, according to Shehzad Somji, secretary-treasurer of the Sea to Sky school district.
“Garibaldi Highlands along with all our other schools in the district are needing more classrooms for students,” he said in an emailed statement to The Chief. “Although Sea to Sky Community Services provides a valuable service for the community, the space they lease is required to provide student learning. We will continue to work with our community partners to consider options for space.”
No replacement space for the programs run at Garibaldi Highlands has been found, according to McIntosh.
The ripple effects of a lack of quality affordable care in Squamish are many.
“I think a lot of people will be thinking twice about having a family unless they can afford one parent to stay at home since firstly, they probably wont be able to find childcare and secondly, it’s not affordable,” Squamish’s Katy Keeler told The Chief.
“Squamish has city prices for rent, housing and childcare but most jobs here don’t pay city wages.”
District of Squamish planner Sarah McJannet told The Chief that in the upcoming draft of the updated Official Community Plan childcare is addressed.
“The focus is really around how the district can, through direct action and influence, try and encourage and leverage creation and provision of childcare space through development and also different opportunities around co-locating childcare spaces within municipal facilities,” McJannet said.
The draft OCP will be put out for public consultation so parents and community members can comment, she said.
The District already collaborates with local groups and stakeholders, she added and there is an upcoming possibility to work with the United Way of the Lower Mainland with a community-based, multi-year funding proposal that will be brought before an upcoming council.
The District’s current interim community amenity contribution policy guide suggests developers allocate five per cent of their community amenity contributions to childcare, either by providing space within a development or by providing cash in lieu for a reserve fund that could be used for space creation in other facilities within the community.
McJannet said the City of New Westminster is doing some interesting things to increase childcare spots in that community that could be an inspiration to Squamish.
“They have developed a childcare reserve fund, they have childcare targets, they have a childcare calculator and protocol and they even have a childcare grant program that they use to offer capital improvement grants to assist childcare operators to expand or renovate facilities,” she said.