Parts of Eastern Shore becoming childcare ‘deserts’

·4 min read

ST. MARY’S – Concern for young families resounded last week as calls for more licensed, affordable childcare flared across the Eastern Shore.

While one working mom took to social media to raise awareness of a public survey to determine “the potential demand” for a “new childcare centre” at Sheet Harbour’s Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital (ESMH), more than a dozen people gathered in Sherbrooke to clamor for a similar facility in St. Mary’s, without which, one participant said, the lives of local citizens may soon become untenable in a virtual childcare “desert.”

The root of the problem, several noted, is the province’s rollout of its five-year childcare plan. Though it promises to effectively underwrite the cost of licensed facilities and pass the savings along to users, it has also paused granting new licences to for-profit operations. This, critics said, has curtailed options for meeting an urgent, growing demand.

For Chelsea Katarina Herrmann – an Ecum Secum mom who works in Sheet Harbour and posted a link on her Facebook page earlier this month urging people to fill out the Nova Scotia Health (NSH) survey and support a plan to install a licensed facility at ESMH – the issue is straightforward. “I’ve been struggling for over two years to find childcare,” she said. “I’m rotating through seven to eight [caregivers]. If I had childcare in Sheet Harbour, it would greatly impact everything.”

The stories were similarly poignant at the Sherbrooke meeting, where Guysborough-Tracadie MLA Greg Morrow, St. Mary’s Warden Greg Wier and Councillor Beulah Malloy listened on Aug. 25.

“I explained that, as a parent and caregiver, I was unable to find childcare services this summer [and] I’m unable to obtain it heading into the fall school year,” former St. Mary’s municipal councillor and policy consultant Kaytland Smith reported in an email to The Journal. “I went on to explain that this burden as a caregiver has resulted in stress and anxiety, excessively long commutes and the inability to feel secure … How can we expect to entice an economic industry, a doctor, nurses, a professional of any form, if we cannot offer basic services which include childcare?”

Carla Archibald, the new operator of a small daycare in Sherbrooke, sees the toll the situation has taken on her predecessor, the parents of the six or seven kids she is licensed to mind at any given time, and the folks who have no childcare options. She said change is needed now. That her workload prevented her from attending the meeting she organized only proves, to her, that she’s right.

“I didn’t get to go because I had to stay with the kids,” she said. “If we had childcare, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Her plan, she explained, had been to transform her operation into a licensed facility. “That means workers, more kids, government run, the $10 a day subsidy,” she said. “But, when I spoke with the minister of education’s office, I was informed that there would be another rollout of facility licenses in January. My argument to them was: Why are parents having to wait that long? The five-year plan is a wonderful program. What’s going to come out of it is going to be great, because it is going to pick up on these things. And it is going to help for sure. But the issue is we need something now, not in five years.”

She added: “I have been calling the municipality, Greg Morrow, and [Premier] Tim Houston and saying, like, we have a hospital in this community, and a school. We have other businesses in Sherbrooke. We have all these things in this area, but there’s no childcare.”

Smith concurred: “Under COVID-19 and the consequential lockdowns, it became very clear that our society and economy cannot function without childcare,” she stated in her email. “Originally, the governments chose to close childcare facilities and when it became clear that the most at-need humans in our society cannot do their job without access to quality and licensed childcare facilities, they reopened them … We need that same importance recognized for rural areas … In Guysborough County, there is not a single licensed childcare facility; we are the epitome of a childcare desert.”

For his part, Morrow said he’s sympathetic. “There was certainly frustration,” he told The Journal following the Sherbrooke meeting. “I had a chance to hear from a lot of people in the community and hear their needs directly. And, like I told them, they were preaching to the choir. I understand their concerns, and it was important for me to hear firsthand. The need is there now, not in January, February. That’s one of the important pieces that I’m bringing back to the government. I’m going to continue to work on it.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal