County working to expand emergency child care spaces for January

·3 min read

GUELPH/WELLINGTON – A local child care official said they are working to expand the number of emergency child care spaces available for frontline worker families.

The County of Wellington announced last week it will support parents of school-aged children with emergency child care for the week of Jan. 4, when in-person learning is cancelled.

The program comes at no cost for eligible families which are largely those who work in healthcare and other frontline jobs. A full list of eligible workers can be found here.

Luisa Artuso, director of the children’s early years division at the County of Wellington, said in a phone interview implementing emergency child care this time around was an easier process than in the spring.

Artuso said this took less than a week to develop because health guidelines were already in place and centres for children from birth to four years old are still operating.

“Our role in this is just to ensure that families are eligible to obtain the care,” Artuso said. “Whereas last time we needed to come up with the guidelines and the whole child care system was shut down.”

There are two licensed child care programs offering this emergency care. One at the YMCA of Three Rivers Child Care, 56 Youngman Dr. in Guelph and the other at the Community Resource Centre, 360A Belsyde Ave. E in Fergus.

Artuso said these programs can offer 15 spaces each at this point but as of Wednesday morning, 90 per cent of these spaces have been filled.

“Those two operators are looking to see if they can expand their programs, meaning they need more staff and another room to open up to provide additional childcare,” Artuso said. “They’re working quickly to see if they can maximize the number of spaces that they can offer.”

Staffing is a barrier to offering more spaces as some operators also have school-aged children and can not work full-time shifts.

“These workers for school-aged programs are typically workers that have split shifts, they work in before-school and they work in after-school programs,” Artuso said.

“They are also doing online learning with some of their children if they’re school-aged. So for some of them, because school is closed, they are not able to work full-time suddenly.”

The county is also offering home-based care and Artuso is seeing a 50/50 mixture of preference between the two types of care, which is in line with the spring.

However, Artuso said most who apply are willing to take what is available.

With confirmed active cases higher than the spring, Artuso said all programs are keeping this top of mind but there has been demonstrated success in controlling outbreaks.

“One of the main things is child care has demonstrated that their protocols and safety measures work,” Artuso said. “There have been very few positive cases in the child care sector. That is why the ministry has allowed child care to continue to operate.”

Although there is nothing indicating an extension of emergency child care beyond Jan. 8, Artuso said the province is constantly reviewing data and she knows it is a possibility.

She extended her thanks to early childhood educators for stepping-up in providing this child care.

“Without their dedication and their service to the communities, it would be very difficult for people to continue to work,” Artuso said.

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Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com