The City of North Vancouver has taken a positive step towards finding solutions for an ever-growing demand for after-school care for elementary school-aged children.
Council unanimously supported a motion put forward at its May 10 meeting by councillors Tina Hu and Angela Girard that staff start a co-ordinated after-school program initiative with key partners to find ways to create more childcare options for working parents.
Girard highlighted that the city’s Childcare Action Plan 2021-2031 noted a real deficiency in the availability of after-school care within the city.
“Currently there are only nine spaces per 100 school-aged children,” she said. “This lack of availability puts significant pressure and anxiety on parents who need to work.”
Girard mentioned the lack of after-school care also had trickle-down effects for the business community, quoting North Shore Chamber of Commerce CEO Patrick Stafford-Smith, who has shown support for increased after-school care.
With the provincial government recently passing legislation that recognizes that school boards can directly operate before- and after-school care programming on school board property, Girard said there was real potential to expand upon existing after-school programming through a collaborative and joint effort with School District 44. She also noted the potential to work with other community organizations including the North Vancouver City Library, North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission and other partner agencies, including the North Shore Neighbourhood House, which plays "a very key and important role as a leader in childcare.”
“We believe by building a city-wide network of school and community providers and collaborating efforts to further expand upon existing after-school programming, we can reach some of our Childcare Action Plan goals of closing these gaps in after-school care deficiencies," Girard said.
Considering plans for post-COVID recovery, Coun. Hu said it was important to look at ways to help mothers stay in the workforce or return to the workforce – highlighting the greatest need for after-school care was for school-aged children from six to 12.
She used the cities of Burnaby and Richmond as examples of municipalities that have shown a commitment to childcare and worked together with their communities to make partnerships and provide more options for families.
“Burnaby has been supporting a broad range of recreation activities and programs through partnerships with Burnaby School District, and other community partners,” Hu explained. “Richmond is utilizing community centres to provide out-of-school care.”
Hu also made mention of initiatives in other provinces and countries that the city could learn from, such as Boston After School Care and Beyond, which has partnered with hundreds of nonprofits, city agencies, and local institutions to build a network with the capacity to provide quality after-school and summer learning. And, the Toronto Middle Childhood Matters Coalition, a group of 20 social service, child welfare, education, recreation and health organizations who work with parents to promote high quality, affordable, accessible and culturally appropriate out-of-school time programs.
She also noted that the North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission, the library, and North Shore Neighbourhood House were providing after-school care “but with a long waitlist, both in terms of numbers of children on the waitlist, and the length of waiting time.”
“The goal is the same, to support families and kids who need after-school programs," Hu said. "We can't do this alone. We need all the partners to work together to achieve this goal.”
Mayor Linda Buchanan said the initiative will set the city on a path to supporting a network that will deliver a quality of after school programming opportunities that will be equitable, adequate and accessible for all children.
“What this looks like, we don't know yet, but I know for younger children, that might be on school sites, and for older intermediate school aged children, it might be that they may need licensed care, but they also might be accessing some programming that we have whether it's in schools or within the local community – it’s private and public sector coming together.
“This is about investing in our children's growth and development. It's about keeping them safe, and it's about supporting families. And I believe as a community, this is our collective responsibility to do.”
Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News