There is a critical shortage of early childhood educators and facilities for infants and toddlers in the Comox Valley, according to those who work in the field.
Charlene Gray, the senior manager of the Comox Valley Children’s Day Care Society (CVCDCS), says childcare is a growing concern for many new Comox Valley parents. As many young families migrate to the Valley from the Lower Mainland, she said the need for childcare facilities and workers grows.
“Young families bring young children and some of them tell us of their struggle to find childcare in Vancouver,” said Gray. “This is a good thing for sure, but we just aren’t able to keep up with the demand for childcare spaces.”
Last March, with the help of a major capital grant from the provincial government, the CVCDCS added 12 infant/toddler spots to its Tigger Too program.
Despite only advertising through word-of-mouth, Gray said the program already has a waiting list of 80 families.
The problems in the Valley are consistent with the issue provincially.
“Many parents [in B.C.] put their child on a waitlist as soon as they find out they are expecting, even though this is no guarantee of a space,” said Gray.
In the Comox Valley, new parents looking to put their young ones into childcare programs can often face long waitlists.
“We have a lot of parents who are looking for childcare when they’re trying to go back to work after maternity leave,” said Sue Warren, a childcare consultant with Pacific Care. “Some of them are not able to go back to work unless they find family members [to help look after their child.”
While there are several licensed childcare facilities in the Comox Valley, only a handful offer care to children below the age of three.
Willow Day Care manager Claire Innes said there is currently a six-month minimum wait for infants and toddlers to get into her facility.
“We get calls weekly, if not more,” she said.
Lighthouse Early Learning Centre supervisor Kim Reid also mentioned a waitlist. Like Gray, Reid believes childcare is “in a crisis” in B.C.
“There’s definitely a shortage of trained early childhood educators,” she said.
Apples and Pears Group Daycare manager Nicole Toness said her facility has a maximum of eight spots for infants/toddlers and that there are currently no vacancies.
“Infant/toddler is huge and everyone seems to need baby care,” she said. “We usually do first-come-first-served because it’s so hard to find spots. People will find another spot quickly.”
A multi-faceted issue:
Gray said the issue of childcare for young children is multi-faceted both locally and provincially. One of the issues is that infant/toddler programs are expensive to operate.
“A licensed group program must have one educator for every four children, with a maximum of 12 children at any one time. Often infant/toddler programs operate alongside childcare and preschool programs in order to make ends meet,” she said.
According to Gray, childcare is currently the second highest expense for families after mortgage or rent. For families with multiple children in childcare programs, it can even be the highest expense.
For infant/toddler care in the Comox Valley, fees can vary from $900 to $1,000 per month.
Gray said another reason for the shortage of early childhood educators in the Valley is the low wages associated with the field.
“Early childhood educators must earn fair wages if we are ever going to attract and retain a quality workforce,” she said. “There is no point in building new spaces if there is no staff to work there.
“We need to support those who want to go to school to become early childhood educators — a qualified workforce supports quality care,” she continued.
Gray was recently named to the Provincial Child Care Council — the highest advisory council in B.C. for that field — to advise the government on how to implement universal childcare in B.C.