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Good luck finding childcare in Yellowknife right now.
As the Northwest Territories implements its plan to make childcare more affordable and accessible, parents in the city say they are having a harder time than ever finding spaces for their children.
Indeed, some mothers say that there are so few places in the city that they cannot go back to work when their maternity leave ends.
“I just talked to my boss yesterday and I’m not going back to work, so that’s really nice, and it’s income wise,” said Colleen Wellborn, who is struggling to find a place for her young child.
Wellborn said that after the license of the home he planned to operate was suspended, he contacted about 35 child care providers in the city.
“I’d say 20 of them said they wouldn’t even consider putting you on the waiting list because their waiting list is two years, and maybe five came back to me and said, ‘I’ll put you on the list, but it’s good. long,’ and maybe 10 never responded,” she said.
“We have no hope. We have no hope.”
300 new posts will not fix the shortage
Education, Culture and Employment Minister RJ Simpson said the area is at a premium about 170 childcare places from 2018-19, and that with government assistance, it aims to open 300 new posts by 2026.
But even if the government were to meet that target tomorrow, and open up all those new jobs in Yellowknife, the city would still be short.
The Yellowknife Day Care Association has more than 400 names on its waiting list, and only about 30 spots open each year.
“The waiting list has never been as long as it is,” said Mandy Janse van Rensburg, the association’s executive director.
The Yellowknife Women’s Society, which runs two daycare centers, is closing its waiting list to 100.
Karen Rawson, the agency’s director of children and family programs, said she has had to turn away at least 50 families since she released her waiting list in November – seven months earlier than usual.
“Parents are really frustrated right now,” she said. “I know that there are many, many families who will not be able to return to work because there are no other options.
Childcare shortage ‘catastrophic,’ says daycare worker
Parents and providers have offered several views on what is causing the recent childcare crisis: a lack of suitable childcare facilities; parents prefer licensed child care because it’s cheaper now; and the day houses close their doors.
Yvette Cooper runs Yvette’s Day Home in Yellowknife, and is secretary of the NWT Early Childcare Association, which represents early childhood educators.
She called the shortage of vacancies in Yellowknife “catastrophic,” and a problem that particularly affects women, who are leaving their jobs to care for children.
“I get calls every two or three days from people in tears wondering how they can manage their lives without taking care of their children,” said Cooper.
In his view, the shortage is related to NWT’s $51-million deal with Ottawasigned in December 2021, to reduce child care prices to $10 a day by 2026, and add 300 new spaces.
Under the agreement, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) subsidizes the cost of childcare facilities so that licensed providers can charge families less. The agreement also limits how much providers can increase their payments – between two and six percent this year, depending on the total amount.
But Cooper said the NWT’s employment funding framework is not inflation-adjusted, and does not apply to day-to-day housing.
Wellborne hopes the day she planned for her child will be re-licensed, and believes better government support for day care centers, and allowing them to charge more, could help end the childcare shortage.
“You get even a dozen people who will open their homes for the day and you can solve this problem,” he said.
Child care availability is a national issue
ECE spokeswoman Briony Grabke said childcare availability is a national issue.
Since the pandemic, he said, employers are competing with a shrinking pool of potential workers. At the same time, employment rates are at historically high levels across the country, “especially in the NWT, which means more families may be seeking childcare than in previous years.”
Grabke said the NWT government is working to recruit and retain early childhood teachers by putting $4.6 million into child care workers’ salaries over the next two years.
He said the government is looking to solve the problem of the lack of buildings suitable for taking care of children using the Early Childhood Infrastructure Fund, which has an allocation of up to 1 million per year.
Homes of a new day are on the horizon, says ECE
It is not clear how many days the homes have been closed since the childcare subsidy started.
Grabke said licensed programs open and close throughout the year for a variety of reasons, and on that day homes “tend to have a lot more variety” than child care centers. The government does not go after unlicensed daycare centers.
However, Grabke said there are currently 984 licensed sites in Yellowknife, and that several people are working to start licensed daycare centers, with plans to open soon.
Soon you can’t come fast enough for parents like Bethany Geraci.
Geraci’s two-year-old son is on a waiting list for multiple children, and for now, a friend is watching him while he works full-time.
Geraci also has a 10-year-old and an eight-year-old. She said finding childcare has never been this difficult, “and now, the waiting list is just ridiculous.”
“I know that people have stopped working because they can’t get care for their children,” she said.
“There aren’t enough spaces.”