Parents frustrated as Vernon daycare announces closure | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon News

Parents frustrated as Vernon daycare announces closure

The Little Ark daycare is set to close next month.

Parents at a Vernon daycare are now scrambling to find childcare after the sudden announcement that Little Ark Childcare Centre is closing its doors next month.

The 27 Avenue daycare that caters to infants and toddlers up to three years old is being sold to new owners and on March 15, parents were given 30 days' notice about the closure.

Staff at the centre also seemed blindsided by the news the centre was closing.

With daycares in the North Okanagan in such high demand and with waitlists stretching for months if not years, many parents are now in desperate need of childcare.

"We're screwed," parent Alex Baron told "Everyone's livelihood is affected by it."

Baron has one child at Little Ark and another just about to start. She was hoping to go back to work in May.

"But obviously that might not happen if I can't find childcare," she said.

She said she's called at least half a dozen daycares but everywhere is full and has a lengthy waiting list.

Baron says she also feels "screwed over" by the abrupt closure.

"It's stressful," she adds.

Parent Dearbhla Lynch shares the sentiment.

"We didn't see it coming," Lynch told "We don't have a plan."

Lynch's two-year-old son has been going to Little Ark for over a year and she doesn't have family in the area to step in.

Luckily Lynch is currently on maternity leave otherwise she said she has no idea what she'd do.

The daycare closure highlights the dire need for more daycare spaces – and the staff to run them – in the North Okanagan.

Another parent at the centre also vented their frustration.

"I'm supposed to go back to work April 1... (now) I can't go back to work," she said.

Like the other parents spoke to she's unhappy at the lack of notice of the closure.

"We're all frustrated, everybody is so stressed about this," she said.

(Full disclosure: this reporter's child also goes to the daycare and is affected by the closure.)

Little Ark had run two daycares, one for infants and toddlers and another site for three to five-year-olds.

However, the three-to-five-year-olds centre closed at the end of February.

Little Ark owner Janine Thiessen blamed staffing challenges for the closure of the three-to-five-year-olds centre.

Parents received just over three weeks' notice the centre was permanently closing.

The closure meant that parent Lauren Vincent found herself without daycare.

Lauren said she was looking to band together with some other affected parents to hire a nanny. That wasn't necessary since she already had her three-and-a-half-year-old on a waiting list elsewhere and a spot opened up.

"We were very lucky," Vincent said.

Otherwise, Vincent said she'd have to drastically cut back on the hours she spends running her own business.

Little Ark owner, Thiessen, told she wasn't planning on selling the business but an opportunity popped up.

"This was a really difficult decision to make... I really loved being part of this community and I've loved working with the families that I've been a part of," she said. "It's a tough situation, it wasn't planned, it wasn't scheduled, the daycare wasn't even listed."

Thiessen has some very serious health issues and said the opportunity to sell will give her the opportunity to look after her own health.

Thiessen sold the business to Simranjeet Singh who owns the Cocomelon Learning Centre.

"I know the parents have panic," Singh told "The priority will be given to the currently enrolled families."

However, it isn't clear how Singh would accommodate his own waiting list for Cocomelon Learning Centre as well as the 20 parents affected by Little Ark's closure.

While Singh will re-open the daycare under his management he isn't sure of how long it will take to get the relevant licencing from the province along with other permits.

"I can't comment on the timeline, but yes the priority will be given to the parents (of Little Ark) for sure," he said.

Little Ark has been plagued with staffing issues recently, an issue Thiessen says has gotten worse since the government rolled out the $10-a-day day care program.

She said that while the industry has always had a high turnover there is not enough qualified staff to go around — even below the legally mandated staff-to-child ratios.

According to a March 10 Interior Health inspection report, the centre didn't have enough qualified staff for the number of children in care.

"A review of facility records indicates the facility is operating well below minimum standards and is not meeting the ratio of employees to children," the Interior Health report states.

The report says the recent inspection found staff files to be incomplete and no member of the staff working at the daycare had a valid first aid.

The inspection also found several safety hazards at the daycare from uncovered electrical outlets to the sharp glass of a broken window being accessible to children.

When asked about the staffing issue, Thiessen said in an email: "We are well aware of what the situation is and we have been working with licensing to make the changes required to get us through until April 15."

She then accused of trying to "slander her name and reputation" and threatened legal action before this article was published.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 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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