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'Huge need' remains for childcare in the Central Okanagan

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March 04, 2021 - 3:20 PM

With the recent announcement of new childcare spaces across the province, the executive director of a Central Okanagan childcare nonprofit says it's a drop in the bucket.

On March 2, the province announced 448 new childcare spaces for the Central Okanagan including 37 in Kelowna and 81 in Lake Country as part of the Childcare B.C. New Spaces Fund to increase access to childcare in the province.

Melissa Hunt, executive director of Childhood Connections Okanagan Family and Childcare Society, said roughly 1,500 spaces are needed each year for the next 10 years to meet the demand for childcare in the area. About 1,100 spaces are needed in Kelowna, 130 in Lake Country, 306 in West Kelowna and 32 spaces in Peachland, she said.

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

“That’s estimated over the next 10 years, each year,” Hunt said, “But this coverage rate is 30% for children ages zero-five and 80% for children six-twelve. So it is accommodating that idea that there are other childcare options for families such as grandparents and nannies, but it is still a big number.”

As families continue to move from the Lower Mainland, “we have a huge need,” she said.

The demand is currently highest for infant-toddler aged childcare in the Central Okanagan, and for out-of-school care, Hunt said.

Infant-toddler aged care requires a higher ratio of educators so it’s difficult for operators to run those programs. They’re more expensive and it’s more challenging to find the qualified staff with the extra certification required to look after that age range, she said.

Hunt was happy to hear the news of the new childcare spaces, and more will be announced in the coming weeks for Kelowna and West Kelowna, she said. One space equals funding for one child.

The childcare spaces announced this week received funding between Feb. 10, 2020 to Sept. 11, 2020. A total of 241 spaces have been funded through Childcare B.C. in Kelowna since July 2018, according to the ministry.

A new facility at UBC Okanagan’s campus will add 37 new licensed child care spaces, including 12 spaces for infants and toddlers and 25 spaces for children aged three years to kindergarten, to the current facility, which is operated by the University Children's Learning Centre Society, bringing the new capacity to 94 spaces.

The new facility will be fully accessible for children with support needs and is expected to open in 2022.

George Elliott Secondary in Lake Country will also add 81 spaces to its new facility which will offer culturally sensitive services and programming in 10 different languages. Of the 81 spaces created, 12 spaces are reserved for infants and toddlers, 49 spaces are for children aged three years to kindergarten and 24 are for school-age children.

The facility is expected to be completed by spring 2022.

The new spaces won’t reduce the cost for families for childcare, but the province has implemented a program to offset the cost of childcare operations, as well as an Affordable Childcare Benefits program. Parents who have a combined income of $111,000 or less can apply for a monthly payment to assist with the cost of childcare, she said.

For more information on the province’s funding for childcare, visit the government's website.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 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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