Desperate for daycare: parents implore province to help as daycares close

The search for affordable daycare spaces has become even more desperate for parents, as several childcare centres across Greater Victoria have closed amid pressure from rising costs and staffing shortages.

It has parents and childcare providers asking the provincial government to move faster on its promise to create 22,000 new childcare spaces and train 2,300 new early childhood educators over the next three years.

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Leap Forward Childcare in Langford, which is licensed for up to 28 children, is closing at the end of the month. The owner, Amber Lamanes, said in an email to parents that the manager running day-to-day operations of the centre is moving away from Victoria due to the “high cost of living.”

Lamanes, who also runs Leap Forward Dance School at the same location, told parents she can’t take on management of the daycare centre.

One Langford father, whose 13-month-old child was at Leap Forward, said the sudden closing has left him and his wife frantically calling dozens of daycares with little success.

“Nowhere has any places left, and the ones that are left are far, far more expensive or are unsuitable. It’s forcing us to look at less-than-ideal options for daycare for our son,” said the father, who did not want to be named to avoid repercussions from potential daycares.

Happy Campers Child Care, which operates 16 locations across the West Shore, shut down the Otter Point infant-toddler program at the end of July because owner Lucy-Ann Smith was unable to find replacements for two early childhood educators on maternity leave.

Smith was able to find spaces for some of the 12 children affected, but acknowledges that some parents were left scrambling.

“They’re struggling to find care in Sooke,” she said.

The Rogers Elementary Out of School Care Society has axed its three-to-five-year-old childcare program, which served 18 children.

The non-profit society is facing a huge rent hike after the Greater Victoria School District announced it was changing its fee structure, said Amber McMillan, the society’s executive director.

To save money, the society shifted those 18 spaces to the before — and after — school care program, which is less expensive to run and hugely in demand, McMillan said.

“The biggest need is infant toddler care and before — and after — school care. Those are the spaces that are in short supply,” she said.

Meagan Brame, an Esquimalt councillor who runs Saxe Point Day Care, said she estimates about 100 childcare spaces have been eliminated in Greater Victoria since May.

“It’s too expensive to run [childcare centres] and keep it affordable,” Brame said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Children and Family Development said it does not collect data on the number of childcare facilities closing or the reasons, but noted that “independent operators who use commercial spaces are subject to market forces and closures of childcare facilities happen on a regular basis.”

The government said facilities at risk of closing due to circumstances outside their control, such as a rent increase or eviction, can apply for up to $25,000 in funding through the Childcare B.C. Maintenance Fund.

The provincial government has promised to create 22,000 new licensed childcare spaces through $237 million in funding over three years. The ministry said it is receiving applications from providers interested in creating new licensed childcare spaces and will be announcing the first successful projects in the coming months.

However, Brame wonders how new day- cares will find staff.

Wages of between $17 and $22 an hour aren’t enough incentive for people to become early childhood educators, she said. As a result, new childcare centres are resorting to poaching staff from their competitors, Brame added.

The root problem, she said, is employee burnout, low wages and lack of respect.

“Why would I go into a job where my student debt is $15,000 to $30,000, to make between $18 and $20 an hour and get a lot of people who look at you like you’re a babysitter versus a professional working with the next generation and our most vulnerable population?”

The B.C. government has promised to spend $136 million over the next three years to expand education and training in the hopes it will create 2,300 new early childhood educators in B.C. The government has also rolled out an incentive for licensed childcare providers to lower fees, allowing them to apply for up to $350-a-month per child care space.

However, some parents reported that after they received the benefit, childcare providers raised their fees, offsetting the amount of savings passed on to parents.

Brame said in her experience, any cost increases typically cover staff wage increases, rent increases and higher costs tied to inflation. The ministry said all care providers that applied for the incentive had to explain the justification for any fee increases.

As of Aug. 2, 2,382 licensed childcare providers have been approved for the Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative, which represents 49,478 childcare spaces, the ministry said. About 88 per cent of eligible licensed childcare providers applied to opt in to the fee-reduction initiative.

The provincial government has also expanded the number of parents eligible for a childcare subsidy. Starting this September, parents who have children under three years of age and make less than $111,000 will be eligible for a new childcare benefit of up to $1,250 per child, with the highest amount available to families with an annual household income of less than $45,000.

Some daycare operators, including Brame, McMillan and Smith, said while the new funding initiative is a welcome relief for parents, navigating the bureaucratic system has greatly increased the administrative workload.

Happy Campers stopped offering part-time spaces as a result, Smith said, because she couldn’t justify the amount of paper work required per child.

Brame describes a perfect storm that has made conditions difficult for both childcare providers and parents: That includes a baby boom in Greater Victoria, a crop of early childhood educators who are retiring, staffing shortages and the new government incentives “which, though great, are adding to the stress level and making people think ‘this is way more work than I want.’ ”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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