Pandemic job rebound tougher for women in Thames Centre, where child care limited

·3 min read

Politicians in Middlesex County are fretting about a lack of child-care spaces in Thames Centre, warning it could delay women and families from rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dorchester does not have any full-day licensed child-care spots,” Middlesex County Coun. Kelly Elliott said of the Thames Centre community.

“The problem is, especially as we talk about the success of women and families coming out of the pandemic, if there is nowhere in our community to secure full-day, licensed child care, families are being held back.”

Elliott, who is also deputy mayor of Thames Centre, said until a private daycare opened in Thorndale last month, that Thames Centre community had virtually no child-care options for preschoolers.

“That means families, if they’re working . . . they’re having to travel elsewhere to get their kids to daycare before they can get to work,” she said.

Women have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s unemployment fallout, squeezed both by demands at home — especially during lockdowns when kids are kept home from school — and restrictions placed on service sectors of the economy that tend to employ women.

Thames Centre Mayor Alison Warwick said a lack of child care “chops women off at the legs” in terms of re-entering the workforce.

“Here you are trying to get back to work and you’re trying to get child care,” she said. “We’re desperate. (Thames Centre) has been underserviced for a long time.”

A group of women politicians in the region, including Warwick and Elliott, came together to form the Women’s Caucus of Middlesex County last year, advocating for rural women amid the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a plan to build a child-care centre at River Heights elementary school in Dorchester has been in the works since 2017.

The project, a partnership among the Thames Valley District school board, Middlesex County and the City of London, was approved four years ago by the previous Liberal provincial government. London is involved because it administers child-care dollars for the city and the county.

The plan is to build a $3.75-million child-care centre for 10 infants, 30 toddlers and 48 preschoolers. It will include an EarlyON Child and Family Centre, which offers free, play-based programs for children.

The site was expected to open by September 2019. But the site is serviced by a septic tank, not sewers, triggering revisions to the construction plans and causing the delay.

“Unfortunately, the project has been delayed by unforeseen site challenges caused by sanitary services,” said Richard Hoffman, a spokesperson for the Thames Valley board.

“The board is pleased that, through successful collaboration with the Ministry of Education and local municipalities, a work plan has been developed to move the project forward soon so that a final design can be submitted to the ministry for approval to proceed to tender.”

Hoffman said the plan is expected to be submitted by the end of the month.

“At this time, we are awaiting the school board to formally submit a revised and updated plan to ensure this project can continue and get shovels in the ground,” Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in an email.

A cost-sharing agreement has been reached among Middlesex County, Thames Centre and the school board to bring sanitary sewers to the facility.

Dorchester has a population of about 4,000 and is continuing to grow, with multiple development projects in the works.

With more families likely to call the area home, Warwick said the need for child care and the completion of the River Heights project are even more pressing.

“We want it and we’re waiting for it and hopefully we get it,” she said.

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press