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Addressing chronic childcare challenges is a big job in the Okanagan

Childcare spaces are difficult to come by throughout the Okanagan.
September 22, 2021 - 8:30 AM

Many parents are faced with years-long waitlists for childcare centres in the Okanagan but most of them cannot wait that long.

Some families in the Okanagan have been told to expect to wait five years to get into some childcare facilities. But Melissa Hunt, executive director of the Kelowna Child Care Resource & Referral Program, has doubts about whether those long waitlists will actually take that much time.

As parents find childcare and forget to take their names off of other lists, or move to new communities, or change their employment situation – she said long waitlists may contain a lot of people who don’t still need the spot.

“If you hear there’s a two-year waitlist, that could be a bit of a misnomer,” she said. “Childcare is in crisis in Kelowna, though – there are definitely not enough spots for the demand.”

Parents who call Hunt’s resource centre are directed to the childcare centre that best suits their needs. While parents are usually faced with waitlists, she said there are some success stories of families immediately finding an open spot.

Hunt said children between the ages of one to three years old are the most difficult to find spots for, as well as after-school care for older kids.

“Then when you think you’re out of the trenches of childcare with kindergarten, you have to start looking for after-school care and then summer camps, which can be just as expensive.”

Parents should make sure the standards of care being offered in summer programs is of high quality, Hunt said.

READ MORE: Penticton receives $2.9M from province for childcare facility

At the resource centre, Hunt hears about latchkey children who return from school to an unsupervised home.

“That’s not ideal but we do hear about it for sure.”

She said the average age for a child in Kelowna to stop going to daycare and stay home is around 10.

“I think it’s because of affordability and availability of after school programs.”

For new or expecting parents who may be looking for childcare after maternity leave comes to an end, Hunt recommends connecting with the resource centre by the time the child is three months old. Beyond childcare, the centre also connects parents with other parents for story and rhyme time sessions.

“We’re quite confident that if they’re flexible that they will be able to find some childcare for their child,” she said. “Though it might not be full time at first.”

Some parents can be closed-minded about in-home programs, Hunt said, but the resource centre only connects families with options that meet their professional standards.

“It opens up some more doors for them.”

But in many situations, paying for childcare isn’t always the best option. Hunt, for example, didn’t qualify for the childcare subsidy because of her husband who worked in the oil rigs.

“The cost of childcare definitely prevented me from going back to work. It didn’t make sense financially.”

So instead, Hunt stayed at home to look after her child.

“For me to go back to work, without any support for childcare funding, I would have had to pay the whole price of childcare.”

READ MORE: New childcare spaces set to open in Kamloops, Okanagan

Even for those working in childcare – it often makes sense for one parent to stay home with her children.

Since it’s a female-dominated industry that offers low wages while requiring a college diploma, Hunt said many of those workers become parents and then realize they have the skillset to educate their young children, and too tight of a budget for childcare.

“You’re basically paying your wage for someone else to look after your child while you’re looking after someone else’s kids… it’s not always desirable to come back to work.”

The pay is not competitive enough, despite the chronic demand for the service, because not everybody appreciates the full value of it, she said, adding that childcare is often seen more as a babysitting job rather than child development.

“They’re the most formative years of life – 95% of brain development from 0 to 5.”

And between the low wages, the emotional workload, and the lack of respect for the sector – “It’s a hard field to stay in.”

Down in Penticton, the City has a Child Care Action Plan which focuses on accessibility, affordability, quality, and partnerships, but the plan is not in action just yet. To bring it to life, the City is forming the Penticton Child Care Action Plan Mobilization Group, and those members will steward the implementation recommendations of the childcare plan.

“One of the challenges in Penticton is centres having enough staff to fill all of their licensed child care spaces,” said Adam Goodwin, social development specialist with the City of Penticton. “So the mobilization group’s role would be to help identify possible solutions to this challenge, identify partners that the group can engage on this challenge, and then identify action plans to address it. By having multiple perspectives and people with various roles within the child care system, taking a collective impact approach to Penticton’s child care process will help address some of the challenges Penticton is seeing.”

READ MORE: Canadian employers content to avoid costs and headaches of providing childcare

Penticton’s childcare action plan was drafted by 500 members of the community. It identified that at least 722 net new child care spaces in Penticton over the next ten years, and was endorsed by council at the beginning of 2021.

For anybody interesting in joining the new group to implement the Plan’s recommendations, applications are open until Sept. 29. Visit this website for details.

“Our hope is to bring together a variety of perspectives to action the recommendations in the plan, including staff and professionals who work in the child care system, families with children in child care, and other organizations that support child care. Anyone interested in child care can apply to be a member,” Goodwin said in a press release.

For parents in Penticton in need of childcare, the Penticton Child Care Resource & Referral is the best place to look for openings.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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