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Staff-strapped B.C. town scores childcare workers with free tuition, housing

District of Tofino takes unique approach to address childcare resource crunch
The District of Tofino is celebrating the successful hiring of three new staffers for its Community Children’s Centre. (file photo)

A Vancouver Island community that decided to tackle its childcare crunch with money is poised to see a real return its investment.

A rapid reduction in staffing forced the District of Tofino’s Community Children’s Centre to slash its hours in the summer of 2021, leading to afternoon closures and fewer available spots.

With efforts to attract new employees falling flat, the district took the unusual approach of offering to pay for a successful applicant’s $5,185 tuition at North Island College’s 10-month, Early Childhood Care and Education Certificate program as well as any housing costs associated with living in Port Alberni during the duration of that education.

The district recently announced that three applicants have been hired through the program and the Community Children’s Centre is expected to “gradually reopen” with plans to return to full-time hours this year.

In an email to the Westerly News, the district’s communications coordinator Sarah Gray confirmed that Tofino spent $8,700 of taxpayer funds on the education program, which covered one early childhood educator and two early childhood educator assistants.

Tofino Mayor Dan Law told the Westerly News that he believes the $8,700 cost was a bargain in terms of filling a vital need in the community.

“For the amount of money that this takes, it’s a very good deal to be honest,” he said. “This is fairly inexpensive for what we get.”

He suggested the district was “taking a page out of the private sector’s book” when it offered to pay for training, adding the need was well recognized at the district office and the cause of significant public outcry.

“It’s really staff and council recognizing the vital need for daycare and early childhood education and that the Children’s Community Centre really was filling an essential role in the community,” he said. “There’s still going to be challenges ahead, but I know that staff and council are committed to meeting those challenges and getting the daycare back to full-time hours and meeting the community needs more and more.”

He added Tofino’s current lack of housing adds to the difficulty of hiring staff throughout the community as well as the district office.

“It’s still difficult to get housing in Tofino so, despite the training and the full time work, there’s still the difficulty of having a successful candidate secure housing. That is going to be the next challenge the district faces, how to address the essential service worker housing shortage,” he said.

“This is across the province, but especially in towns like Ucluelet and Tofino where housing prices have gone incredibly high in an incredibly short period of time and really are outpacing any average worker’s ability to pay. My feeling is that we’re going to see more and more districts like ours that are going to have to address housing in order to ensure that essential services like daycares and schools and hospitals are adequately staffed.”

The provincial government funding includes $25 million for early childhood education bursaries and $11.6 million for recruitment and incentive programs.

“For too long, investments in early childhood education weren’t a priority in B.C. and it’s led to a significant shortage of ECEs,” said Early Childhood Educators of BC executive director Emily Gawlick through the announcement. “We welcome these supports and professional development opportunities by both levels of government to help build the strong ECE professional workforce needed to effectively provide families with quality, inclusive and culturally safe child care in B.C. We look forward to continued work with government on ensuring ECEs have the supports they need to succeed.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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