Desperation grows for child care spots in Yellowknife
Good luck finding a childcare space in Yellowknife right now.
As the Northwest Territories rolls out its plan for making child care more affordable and accessible, parents in the city say they're having a harder time than ever finding spaces for their kids.
Indeed, some mothers say spots in the city are so scarce that when their maternity leave ends, they won't be able to return to work.
"I just spoke with my boss yesterday and I'm not going back to work, so that's a major hit, income-wise," said Colleen Wellborn, who's struggling to find a space for her youngest child.
Wellborn said that after the day home she was planning to use had its license suspended, she reached out to around 35 childcare providers in the city.
"I would say 20 of them said that they would not even consider putting you on a waitlist because their waitlist is two years long, and maybe five got back to me and said, 'I'll put you on the list, but it's pretty long,' and then probably 10 never responded at all," she said.
"We have no hope. We have zero hope."
300 new spaces won't fix shortage
Education, Culture and Employment Minister R.J. Simpson said the territory is up about 170 child care spaces since 2018-19, and that with federal help, it aims to open 300 new spaces by 2026.
But even if the government hit that target tomorrow, and opened all those new spaces in Yellowknife, the city would still be short spots.
The Yellowknife Day Care Association has more than 400 names on its waitlist, and only around 30 spots open up each year.
"The wait list has never been as long as it is," said Mandy Janse van Rensburg, the association's executive director.
The Yellowknife Women's Society, which runs two daycares, caps its waitlist at 100.
Karen Rawson, the organization's director of children and family programs, said she's had to turn away at least 50 families since she maxed out her waitlist in November — seven months earlier than usual.
"Parents are pretty frustrated right now," she said. "I know there are several, several families who will not be able to return to work because there are no options."
Childcare shortage a 'crisis,' says day home operator
Parents and providers offered several theories for what's behind the recent childcare crunch: a lack of daycare-appropriate buildings; parents opting for licensed child care because it's cheaper now; and day homes closing their doors.
Yvette Cooper runs Yvette's Day Home in Yellowknife, and is secretary of the NWT Early Childcare Association, which advocates for early childhood educators.
She called the dearth of spaces in Yellowknife is a "crisis," and a crisis that mainly affects women, who are most often the ones who give up their jobs to look after the children.
"I get phone calls every two or three days from people who are in tears wondering how they can manage their lives without child care," said Cooper.
In her view, the shortage is linked to the N.W.T.'s $51-million deal with Ottawa, signed in December 2021, to bring child care prices down to $10 a day by 2026, and to add 300 new spaces.
Under the deal, the Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) department subsidizes the cost of childcare spaces so licensed providers can charge families less. The deal also limits how much providers can increase their fees — between two and six per cent this year, depending on their total fee rates.
But Cooper said work the N.W.T.'s subsidy structure isn't keeping pace with inflation, and it's not workable for some day homes.
Wellborne hopes the day home she had lined up for her child will get its licence back, and believes that better government support for day homes, even allowing them to charge more, would help end the childcare shortage.
"You find even a dozen people to open day homes and you might solve this problem," she said.
Child care availability is a national issue
ECE spokesperson Briony Grabke said child care availability is a national issue.
Since the pandemic, she said, employers are competing for a shrinking pool of potential workers. At the same time, employment rates are at historically high levels across the country, "and particularly in the N.W.T., meaning more families may be seeking child care than in previous years."
Grabke said the N.W.T. government is working to recruit and keep early childhood educators by putting $4.6 million toward wages for daycare centre workers over the next two years.
She said the government is working to address the shortage of buildings suitable for child care through the Early Childhood Infrastructure Fund, which has a budget of $1 million per year.
New day homes on the horizon, says ECE
It's unclear how many day homes have closed since the territorial child care subsidy began.
Grabke said licensed programs open and close throughout the year for various reasons, and that day homes "tend to have more variability" than daycare centres. The government doesn't track unlicensed day homes.
Grabke did say, though, that there are 984 licensed spaces in Yellowknife right now, and that a few people are working on starting up licensed day homes, with plans to open soon.
Soon can't come fast enough for parents like Bethany Geraci.
Geraci's two-year-old son is on multiple child care waitlists, and for the time being, a friend is watching him while she works full-time.
Geraci also has a 10-year-old and an eight-year-old. She said finding childcare didn't used to be this hard, "whereas now, waitlists are just ridiculous."
"I know people have dropped out of the workforce because they cannot find care for their children," she said.
"There's not enough spaces."