P.E.I.'s plan to improve child care access years late, says auditor general

Developing a strategy to improve access to child care was part of a federal-provincial agreement signed in 2017. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
Developing a strategy to improve access to child care was part of a federal-provincial agreement signed in 2017. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

The P.E.I. government has still not taken any meaningful action on the provincial child care wait list, and that list appears to be growing, says auditor general Darren Noonan.

As part of an agreement signed with the federal government in 2017 the province was required to create a three-year action plan to improve access, including measuring performance. In the 2019 report, the auditor general urged government to move on creating that plan.

Revisiting that recommendation in this year's report, Noonan noted there are still no targets and still no plan.

"Those performance targets and indicators are key to driving your action plan. These should have been developed a long time ago," he said.

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

"That would probably be one reason why there hasn't been much change, is because there hasn't seemed to be much focus on that."

The most recent estimate is that the provincial wait list has 2,000 children waiting.

'My heart aches for them'

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

Melanie Cochrane, director of Tiny Tot Childcare Centre, is on the front lines.

Cochrane estimates she has 500 children waiting for one of the 80 spots at Tiny Tot, and she receives calls daily from parents looking for a spot.

"My heart aches for them," she said.

"I understand how stressful that must be. Parents have to work. When you can't find child care that puts a huge extra stress on families."

No longer just a job

The child care system on P.E.I. is going through a transition, said Jenn Nangreaves, executive director of the Early Childhood Development Association of Prince Edward Island.

The industry, like others on P.E.I., is facing a labour shortage, and that shortage has come just as fees for parents are coming down as part of the 2017 provincial-federal agreement, which is increasing demand.

"Which is wonderful, that more families are wanting to access childcare," said Nangreaves.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

"Every jurisdiction is seeing that, an increase of demand."

But she is hopeful of a turnaround. Wages are also going up as part of that agreement. In the coming years she expects that will make a difference, as more young people are attracted into the profession.

"It's becoming easier to go to high schools and talk about it, when it can be a career and not something you'll have to have a second job for," said Nangreaves.

Like Cochrane, Nangreaves receives calls regularly from parents looking for spaces. Also like Cochrane, she finds those conversations difficult.

"All you can say is you're working your hardest behind the scenes and hope that it gets better," she said.

"Things don't typically change overnight. It's a journey and we're dedicated to it."