How far will N.W.T. govt's child care dollars stretch? Not far enough, say these operators
Hundreds of new child-care spaces for N.W.T. children are still on the way, but some operators say they're worried current dollars won't stretch far enough to ease the pressures on parents and providers.
The N.W.T. is up about 170 spaces since 2018-19, said Education, Culture and Employment Minister R.J. Simpson on Thursday. With federal help, the government is injecting millions of dollars into the child care system in the hope of making child care more affordable, and has a target of opening 300 new child care spaces by 2025-26.
Simpson joined Patricia Davison, the chair of the N.W.T. Early Childhood Association, and Yvette Cooper, who owns Yvette's Day Home in Yellowknife, on CBC North's The Trailbreaker Thursday morning to discuss the issues facing parents and providers. They also heard from several parents who have struggled to find child care.
Staff shortages must be dealt with, say operators
Those extra spaces the territory hopes to open might act as a pressure valve for the hundreds of parents on wait lists, but they won't be possible without more workers, said Davison.
The government has committed $4.6 million for increasing wages, but Davison said she isn't sure that's enough to attract more staff to an industry that has lower pay and fewer benefits than other jobs and, generally speaking, no retirement plan.
"The budget that we have, it's not going to go very far. That's my concern," she said.
"We're talking about a lot of support that needs to happen and a budget that might not quite meet that."
Simpson pointed to other funding as well, including $1 million per year for infrastructure, which he said has contributed to about 50 new spaces.
"There is work happening, but I know it's not happening quick enough. If you want to go to work today, it's not happening quick enough for you," he said.
"But we are trying. We are working on it."
Flexibility for day homes
Cooper said day homes like the one she runs are under even more pressure — they're single operators and don't have staff. That means co-ordinating with parents any time operators have to go to a doctor's appointment or take time off.
Cooper said the experience for day home operators so far with the territory has been "super negative."
"So providers keep leaving the field, honestly. And day homes are the canary in the coal mine, right? They are the ones that are going to close first," she said.
She said the N.W.T. should adopt a system like Manitoba's, in which two day homes can work together and hire someone to effectively act as a substitute teacher.
Simpson said the N.W.T.'s child care system isn't as "mature" as other areas, but it's something he takes seriously.
"We have a lot to figure out," he said.
"We do want to land somewhere where the system will be sustainable, and if there are more investments needed in the future, then the government needs to make those investments."