As a parent raising children in the N.W.T., Melissa Syer says she’s enthusiastic about the federal and territorial government rolling out cheaper daycare in the N.W.T. faster than expected.

As someone involved in the operation of a daycare, it’s a different story.

“I’m skeptical, maybe even a little worried,” said Syer, the president of the Yellowknife Daycare Association.

The federal and territorial governments announced a shortened time frame last Thursday, meaning daycare costing an average of $10 a day should be available as of April 1 for regulated child care spaces in the territory. That’s part of a $51.1-million deal Ottawa announced in late 2021 to bring 300 new N.W.T. child care spaces online by 2026.

But the early years of the program have been rocky, with some child care providers arguing the territory’s rules for funding have made it hard for them to operate.

Providers have expressed concern over issues like wage caps, capacity limits and staffing since the rollout began.  

Syer said the Yellowknife Daycare Association has a lot of moving parts, and funding isn’t allocated for some of their services.

“There’s been lots of questions. To double down on this right now — I’d like to be optimistic, but I’m skeptical.”

She said backup teachers, and the association’s full-time cook, are not covered under the new model. 

Additionally, the association handles its mortgage and capital improvements itself.

Syer said the complexity of the funding often leads to a headache. 

“The administration of these programs and working through the paperwork that comes along with the funding is almost another full-time job for an executive director,” she said. 

Need for even more spaces

Fourteen communities in the N.W.T. do not have licensed early learning and child care programs, according to the territorial government.

Norman Wells is one of those communities, despite local efforts to get a program started.

Melanie Harding, a parent and a board member for the Łegóhlı̨ Early Learning Society, said the society has been working to try and open a 24-spot child care centre in Norman Wells. They did a survey that showed more than 30 families with kids under five years old, and at least 20 of those needed full-time care.

Harding said she was excited to hear the federal announcement last week, but felt left behind because of the lack of child care in Norman Wells.

“It doesn’t matter how much it costs, if parents don’t have anywhere to send their kids. So it felt like a really important announcement for a lot of places in the territory, but for Norman Wells, we’re still waiting to have a child care centre at all,” she said.

In the meantime, desperate parents are left with few choices, she said.

“I get Facebook messages nearly every week from families, from moms, saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to have to quit my job. I’m desperate. Do you know of anyone that can take care of my kid?'” she said.

Emphasis on ‘average’ cost

Patricia Davison, executive director of Children First Society in Inuvik, N.W.T., said she shares Syer’s concerns about Thursday’s announcement.

“We were quite surprised by the announcement. We didn’t know or see that coming,” she said. 

Davison said they’ve had to dip into their contingency fund to get them through the fiscal year, as their funding for 2024 and 2025 remains unclear. 

“Children First isn’t even near the $10-a-day cost. We have to charge a certain cost in order to be sustainable,” she said.

She said the messaging of Thursday’s announcement could be confusing for families. 

“My concern is parents are not going to hear the word ‘average,'” she said. “They’re going to hear, ‘Family fees are going to be $10 dollars a day as of April 1.'”

That’s on top of the capacity issues that have been felt for years in northern communities. Despite new spaces coming online under this program, more are needed, she said.

“We had 60 children on our waitlist here in Inuvik,” she said. “That’s another whole centre, another entire building.”

Davison says families at her centre are not at $10-dollars-a-day yet, and to her understanding, won’t be by April 1. 

Source link

By admin