By Lorene Keitch
The running joke in town is that when you are pregnant, you phone all the daycares and only then do you phone your mother.
Daycare shortages are a problem for many families in the community, whether it is not enough hours at a familys preferred daycare, not enough spaces for all a familys children or waiting lists longer than families can afford to wait.
Jodi Wilt is a single mother of two. When she first moved back to Invermere with two young daughters, she had trouble accessing daycare for both her children. Then once her oldest reached school age this year, she had to transfer her to another daycare that provides after-school care. Now, Ms. Wilt has to leave work early each day so that she has time to pick up both children from separate daycares before closing.
Basically, I wasnt able to have a full-time job until now because of it, explained Ms. Wilt. For three years I havent been able to work full-time because of childcare.
Ms. Wilt said while everybody knows about the need for childcare, there are simply not enough Early Childhood Educators to run another facility.
Angela Miller faced similar problems. It took almost two years to find daycare for her youngest.
I hired a part-time in-home nanny for a bit to get us through, she said.
Hiring a nanny only worked because she was able to share the nanny with another family to make it more cost-effective and she and her husband adjusted work schedules too. After the nanny left, they found a patchwork of help from friends and family.
She remarked it is a very stressful times for mommas with new little ones.
Ms. Miller was finally able to get a space at Sonshine Childrens Centre after 15 months on a waitlist. The only reason a spot opened up was because Sunshine decided to split their infant and toddler rooms to open up more childcare spots.
For Allegra Newill, the pressure to find childcare for shift workers pushed her out of the valley. Ms. Newill has been a paramedic for the past 17 years. With the structure of the paramedic pay system, Ms. Newill simply could not afford a babysitter while she was on call, especially a sitter that may have to stay overnight with her children.
Its hard to find a sitter that could stay overnight with my kids; its hard to find a sitter when I dont get off on time, shared Ms. Newill.
She now works in Vancouver, commuting back and forth for work.
I cant afford to work local now that I have young children, Ms. Newill reported.
When The Pioneer raised the subject on Facebook about daycare needs, local moms responded.
The biggest problem we face here is that there just aren’t enough qualified childcare providers, especially in the under 3 age groups. Those workers require the highest levels of certification and are allowed to look after the least amount of children, wrote Janice Dellaire.
Mani Cox responded as well, saying when pregnant with her twins, she put them on a waiting list when she was only eight weeks procreant. Her babies were 27 months old before she was able to get a spot for them two days a week.
Knowing these challenges exist, Family Dynamix is undertaking a survey to address childcare concerns in the Columbia Valley. Michele Neider, director of program management, says one area of need Family Dynamix has seen is a need for daycare that falls outside of the usual daycare hours offered by the areas licensed providers. Given that this is a tourism-based economy, many parents work evenings and weekends to help provide services for visitors.
So what do you do when you have to work at night, what do you do with shift work you may not have families to rely upon, questioned Ms. Neider.
While the daycares in the valley provide excellent services, Ms. Neider said Family Dynamix wonders if it is enough for the needs of the community.
The needs and demands study is to discover what exactly families are needing, what are they missing, said Ms. Neider.
Pat Cope, executive director at Family Dynamic, said the issue of daycare is not a new problem.
Were a community that our economy relies heavily on tourism and recreation. Families are looking for weekend hours, evening hours, so looking for traditional as well as nontraditional hours, explained Ms. Cope.
She said the problem is not only one for families; it is one for employers as well. Without proper daycare, staff availability is cut down significantly. Another aspect to consider in daycare shortages is summed up in Invermeres Official Community Plan (OCP). Recruitment and retention of families is one of the OCP priorities. Without affordable housing and childcare access, families have a harder time staying in the valley, Ms. Cope suggested.
The board is very focused, said Ms. Cope. We want to have conversations, and see where we can develop solutions for addressing concerns going forward.
With the survey results in hand, the board of Family Dynamix hopes to move forward on conversations with service providers regarding capacity and other ideas to help provide for the daycare needs in the Columbia Valley.
Its about building capacity in community, said Ms. Cope. Overall in the valley, about meeting the capacity needs of each community. What might fit for the community of Canal Flats or Fairmont might not necessarily for Radium or Edgewater or Invermere.
For more about the survey, see related story in this week’s Pioneer.