By Lorene Keitch

Pioneer Staff

Area daycare managers agree: staffing shortages are the cause of childcare concerns in the Columbia Valley.

Many local families have expressed frustration that there are not enough spots or hours available for their needs. However, for the local daycares, it is not simply a matter of opening up more spaces.

Unless you have educated teachers, you cant fill those spaces, said Carrie Rickards, general manager of Eva Joseph Cultural Centres Little Badgers daycare in Windermere. The focus needs to be on education for teachers.

Ms. Rickards has been able to find local Early Childhood Education employees (ECEs), but also brought in an employee from Saskatchewan to try and meet the needs of families.

Charlotte Streicek. owner of Dragonfly Discovery Centre in Radium, would love to open up a second room to double her capacity. She has the space and the desire to grow. The problem has been in finding a qualified ECE to fill the position. Ms. Streicek recently found a potential employee, but she requires an exemption, as the woman is not fully qualified yet.

The biggest challenge has been finding someone with Early Childhood education training, said Ms. Streicek.

Being in Radium, Ms. Streicek has not found the same long waiting lists for daycare as the Invermere centres. For her first few years of operation, she did not always fill her allowed spots. However, within the last three months Dragonfly has reached capacity.

Windermere Valley Childcare Society in Invermere is basically out of room, so even if they could hire more ECEs, they do not have the space to have more children, according to manager Pat Miller. She says the big need they see is for more infant spots. Over her 20 years at the centre, Ms. Miller says they have done their best to accommodate the needs of families. But she says in the last few years, it does seem to be getting tougher for families to find the childcare they need.

Sonshine Childrens Centre in Invermere adjusted its programming to fit the needs of families requesting daycare almost two years ago.

We looked at enrollments and waitlists and questioned how do we best serve our valley, explained manager Jenn Broadfoot. Even though we had families phoning us when they found out they were pregnant, their child was turning three before they ever got as spot; they were aging out of our waitlist.

So Sonshine restructured to open up more spots for younger children. Unfortunately, even though they are licensed for 20 children, they had to reduce enrollment numbers because of a lack of teachers.

Family Dynamix is conducting a survey right now to address childcare needs in the Columbia Valley. Ms. Broadfoot said she looks forward to the survey results.

We know theres a childcare crisis in the East Kootenays. Maybe it will give more specific information, she commented.

For some families, conventional daycare just does not fit the need. Lacey Hatt works shift work, which means a 9-5 style daycare does not work for her family. Ms. Hatt phoned The Pioneer from home one day, where she had to call in sick because her nanny was sick and she could not find a backup in time for her shift to start.

Ms. Hatt has had a nanny now for three years. The nanny has recently given her notice and Ms. Hatt is concerned about finding a replacement.

I dont know what Im going to do in September, she shared. The worst scenario is I have to leave my job.

Family Dynamix Association hopes to hear from people such as Ms. Hatt, daycare management and employees, business owners and anyone else affected by childcare needs. To fill out the survey, go to Family Dynamix requests the survey be completed by June 26th. Hard copies are also available at the Invermere and Radium libraries, Family Dynamix, daycare centres and several other locations. For more information, call Family Dynamix at 250-342-5566.