Growing city strains daycare services
Date Published | Aug. 21, 2007
BY WENDY BIRD
A shortage of infant daycare space has become a frustrating reality for many parents and childcare providers in the Greater Sudbury area.
Most recently, 10 childcare spaces for infants were opened up in a vacant classroom at Sudbury Secondary. The openings were filled with lightening speed, resulting in a lengthy waiting list of parents desperately seeking daycare for their babies who are 18 months of age or younger.
“There is a need across the whole city for infant programming,” said Carmen Ouellette, manager of children’s services with the city.
“The sector has grown a lot in the last couple of years. We have opened up about 1,400 spaces in the last two years, and there is still a demand for infant care. Parents will travel many miles to bring their child to a daycare that offers infant spaces.”
Ouellette is thrilled about a new program at Sudbury Secondary School that is managed by the Jubilee Heritage Centre, partially funded by the city, and licensed by the Ministry of Children and Youth. But the speed with which those spaces were snapped up is troubling to her.
“The opportunity came at Sudbury Secondary because the school board offered a bigger classroom, which allowed them to license that program,” she said. “It worked well in that instance, but there is still a need in New Sudbury and downtown. Even one daycare in Coniston has a wait list of more than 60 infants. We’re not addressing the problem that well right now.”
The problem is a combination of two critical factors: a lack of space and lack of childcare providers.
“As fast as people can graduate from college (childcare programs), we can get them jobs, but they often don’t stay,” Ouellette said.
Sadly, most early childhood educators aren’t paid that well. Current rates for people in these jobs are about $10 per hour, usually with no benefits or pension. Sometimes these workers will go back to school to become teachers or teachers’ aids because the rates of pay, benefits and vacation are superior.
“There is not a whole lot of money to be made in childcare. So providers have a hard time finding qualified staff, which is part of the problem,” Ouellette said.
Even if the childcare agencies in Greater Sudbury could find enough staff, they still have to solve the problem of a lack of space.
“More space in schools is needed, but schools don’t have space,” she added. “(School boards) don’t normally keep empty schools open. So it’s up to the Ministry of Education to offer additional programs, but they won’t open up certain classrooms unless they have a certain quota (of children registered.)”
Ouellette said the city is discussing with the daycare providers regarding their capability for growth within their existing centres.
“We are hoping to find alternative spaces for some of the programs and eventually grow. But it can’t happen overnight, and that’s the problem. By the time some of these spaces come available, it will be too late.”
Since 2005 the city has seen a growth in childcare spaces of 42 percent, and that demand continues to grow.
“That means the economy is really on the up, and that’s a good thing,” Ouellete said. “But childcare is scarce. There’s a lot of shift work, from nursing to mining to retail, and the daycare sector is not really prepared to handle that.”
The majority of workers in the childcare profession are made up of young mothers, a demographic of people who are already tapped by the demands of raising their young families in addition to handling full-time jobs caring for other children.
“So it is hard to say to a mom who has two kids and works in a daycare, ‘can you work till midnight?’ That doesn’t usually work,” Ouellete said.
The traditional centre-based daycare model does not offer child care around-the clock, something that is required by shift workers.
“So we are trying to convince agencies to open licensed homes so that at least someone could be open 24-hours-per-day,’ she added. “It’s not ideal, but that’s the reality of people’s daycare needs.”