A 100 Mile daycare centre is finding it difficult to attract and keep Early Childhood Educators (ECE) because it can’t compete with big-city wages.
Brittany McCausland, who has been running Our Place Pre-School & Child Care Center for the last eight years, recently had to close half her centre due to staffing shortages. With 15 children enrolled in her preschool program, 10 in her afterschool program, and a long waiting list, McCausland said she works a lot of long hours with her own child in tow to make up the difference.
“You have a lot of people moving up from the Coast and our wages can’t compete with what’s going on down there, just because we are a smaller community,” McCausland said, adding she has lost ECEs to Williams Lake. “When you work with kids, you expect a decent wage but unfortunately with it being capped off I can’t offer what other centres can offer.”
The South Cariboo has around 11 daycare and afterschool care businesses, looking after children and pre-teens. During the early days of the pandemic, daycares across Canada were critically needed to look after children of frontline workers. Many local daycares, however, have seen a decrease in clients as parents either keep their children home due to concern for their health or because they can no longer pay for it.
In B.C., parents benefit from the Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative (CCFRI), which aims to enhance childcare affordability by giving licensed care providers the chance to opt into the program. If they do, the government will help pay for childcare stabilizing and reducing the costs for parents.
But McCausland said while the South Cariboo has more than a few childcare options, most of them are self-employed meaning that only a few, like herself, actually are looking to employ ECEs.
Charlene Pennock, of Play and Learn Childcare Centre, acknowledged the past year has been difficult due to COVID-19 as well as competition from all the other licensed childcare businesses in town.
“I’m not full for the first time in a long time. For the last four years, I’ve never really had spots available and for the first time in a long time, I do,” said Pennock, a one-woman show.
She attributes this to the pandemic keeping parents working from home, the closure of the mills and the fact much of 100 Mile House’s demographic lean towards older pensioners these days. “If I had to hire staff, forget it. Finding staff is terrible as well, running casual labour is difficult,” Pennock said, adding she takes few days off due to being unable to find anyone willing to fill in.
However, the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre’s Early Care and Learning Centre has been lucky in finding and retaining staff.
Executive director Chris Pettman for CFEC said the childcare centre has been very busy even throughout the pandemic. As a multi-age facility, he said they have 12 children in their infant/toddler program, which is always full, as well as a three-to-five program and the afterschool program.
“Initially of course with COVID-19, like everyone else it was difficult to gauge what was happening and what’s going to happen. We experienced a huge drop off right away last March,” Pettman said. “But as society learned more about the virus and how it operates we fully moved towards opening childcare as an essential service.”
As far as day-to-day childcare goes, he said protocols weren’t seriously changed and parents have been great at keeping sick children home this year. When it comes to ECEs he said while they have a strong core staff, they’re always looking for qualified people who could cover should one of their staff members become sick.
Pettman said they employ seven ECEs at the daycare centre as well as one ECE assistant, who can care for children with an ECE present.
The NDP government has invested a lot of time and money into childcare and ECEs, Pettman said, including with the CCFRI. Part of joining the program was locking in the fee structure for each business, however, he said there is always an option to change it if you submit a proposal to the government.
“Right now if you’re a parent or caregiver and had a child in childcare, full time 22 days a month, the maximum you’ll pay out of your pocket is $220 and the rest would be subsidized by the government,” Pettman said. “Whereas previously it could easily be a $1,000 or $1,200 a month out of your pocket.”
Pettman said that while it’s difficult to raise your rates currently he thinks the CCFRI has been a good thing for both childcare workers and parents.