Little Badgers Early Learning Program (LBELP) plans to re-open with a tiered system for essential workers and other families, starting on July 2.

Eva Joseph Cultural Centre Society’s (EJCCS) LBELP and Nature School’s manager Carrie Rickards has been busily implementing safety measures to support families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had 45 students before the pandemic and we’re opening with 12,” Rickards said. “Right now, our infant / toddler program is not reopening until probably August or September, depending on demand.”

On June 17, there were only two children enrolled for the after-school program at LBELP that caters to children in Kindergarten up to age 12 and 10 families enrolled in the program for children between the ages of three-to-five years old.

“We’re struggling with our out of school program because we only have a couple of kids coming back to the program and we’re also short teachers too,” said Rickards. “We have a teacher who just gave notice and plans to take a couple kids from home to help take care of her son too. It’s going to be interesting to see how everything works out… It’s just demand. A lot of people aren’t ready to bring their kids back, or they’re not working yet, so that’s why.”

Enrollment numbers at Little Badgers Early Learning Programs and Nature School located at the Akisqnuk First Nation have decreased by 74 per cent since the March 18 COVID-19 closure took place.

“We have to accommodate frontline workers first, and people that really, really need the care get priority,” she said. “They get Number 1 priority and actually get to bump out regular families who are not Tier 1. The goal is to get frontline workers with children back to work.”

In light of the State of Emergency recently declared in B.C., the provincial government has offered Child Care Operating Funding for child care providers to help assist with day-to-day costs of running a licensed facility, enhance Early Childhood Educator wages and reduce fees for parents during the pandemic.

As a result, LBELP has incorporated criteria to be successful from the program, which includes a three-tier system that determines the need for child care based on your employment status.

The first tier of the program is the highest priority of need, and is reserved for essential service workers from industries such as: social services, health services, law enforcement, first responders and approved access through a Young Parent Program or a Delegated Aboriginal Agency.

Second tier eligibility prioritizes families where both parents have resumed responsibilities at work and require child care to continue their professions.

The third tier is reserved for families who do not qualify for Tier 1 or Tier 2.

“What the province has done is come out with what’s called Temporary Emergency Funding Guidelines,” explained Rickards. “They want child care centres to reopen, so people can get working again. I think it goes until the end of August.”

In addition, the LBELP has been offered financial aid to cover the costs of implementing new safety measures to keep children safe.

“The problem with enrollments is that people aren’t comfortable coming back yet, and some people haven’t gone back to work yet either, so they aren’t in need of child care until they get recalled,” said Rickards. “Just before everything shut down, we had some families emailing us, saying they’d keep their children home. As the province started shutting down, the three child care centres started talking about going through this and what makes sense. We all decided, and we all have boards of directors that we’re accountable to, to shut down. For the safety of our families, and for the safety of our teachers, we determined it was the best thing to do.”

Expected changes at LBELP

Upon reopening the LBELP, families will be faced with some visible changes at arrivals.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get reopened and get things back into place,” said Rickards, adding the child care centre will be incorporating safety policies and protocols to mitigate risks of COVID-19.

“Our goal is to be back at full capacity by September when school hopefully goes back in.”

Moving forward, parents will be required to sign a waiver to screen for cold or flu-like symptoms. Those who exhibit coughs or runny noses will be required to self-isolate for 14-days or to receive a negative COVID-19 test.

In addition, Rickards expects the staff will likely be implementing some social distancing markers on the floor to help teach children where to stand when they’re lining up outside to play.

“We decided that it would be easier with a smaller group than a larger group to implement the safety procedures now,” she said. “We’re going to be encouraging and show kids by example how to physically distance. Our main goal is to be outside as much as possible.”

Prior to reopening, all full-time staff will be required to complete training to adhere to the Work B.C. safety requirements and updated licensing rules.

Part-time early childhood educators have not yet been recalled to work at LBELP until the demand for enrollments begins to increase.

However, Rickards plans to hire a cleaner to assist teachers with cleaning three-times during classes and a fourth time after classes daily.

“Things will be a little bit different,” she concluded. “There will be staggered pick-up and drop-off times with a limit of one parent doing drop-off and pick-up to limit the number of people coming and going from the building. It hasn’t been decided yet, but I think what we’ll probably do is meet parents at the gate, greet the children, take all their stuff, and parents will sign the waiver.”