Rural child care providers say Sask. gov't needs to rethink training regulations, fund daycare expansions

Interest in licensed daycares is expected to rise now that Saskatchewan has almost reached its $10-a-day child care goal.  (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC - image credit)
Interest in licensed daycares is expected to rise now that Saskatchewan has almost reached its $10-a-day child care goal. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC - image credit)

Wait-lists for daycare spots across Saskatchewan are long, and that includes small towns and rural communities.

With this week's announcement that the federal and Saskatchewan governments will reach their goal of $10 dollars a day for licensed child care in the province by April 1, daycares in small towns say they expect the wait-lists to grow even longer, because more people will be able to afford child care.

Terri Low, director of Play Fair Daycare in Moosomin, approximately 224 kilometres east of Regina, said it is the only daycare in the town, which makes things very difficult for parents.

Play Fair can only accommodate 71 children. There are about 60 children on their wait-list, which Low said is a lot for a town with a population of, according to the 2016 census, approximately 2,550 people.

"Our wait list is a million miles long. We're probably about a two year wait-list right now," Low said.

Low said the $10-a-day fee is a great improvement, but that child care providers will be waiting to hear how the province expects to meet child care demands.

"I definitely anticipate [the wait-list] to get to get worse. Like, I get it. I know they're trying to make it affordable for both parents to be able to go back to work, right? But they're not taking into consideration of who's staffing these places," Low said.

"I don't think they thought this through all the way."

Submitted by Terri Low
Submitted by Terri Low

Keeping and training staff

Low said that if the Moosomin facility had the funds, it would expand or build a sister centre. Furthermore, she said that serving the 71 children aged six weeks to 12 years old at Play Fair Daycare requires at least 21 staff members. Low said the business is always looking for staff.

"It's very difficult, and it's difficult keeping them too," said Low.

Getting Level 1 training is at minimum a three-month period of distance learning, according to Low, but she said it's difficult to find people who are willing to enter the profession due to low wages.

"Even for somebody starting here with no education, they're only at $13.50 an hour," said Low.

She said child-care workers need to be paid a competitive wage.

"They need to live too."

A minimum of an Early Childhood Educator I (ECE I) certification is required to work 65 hours or more per month in a regulated child care centre in Saskatchewan, according to the province.

CBC News
CBC News

Natalie Smart, director of Happy Hearts Daycare in Shellbrook — about 45 kilometres west of Prince Albert — said the daycare cannot fill all it's spaces because it does not have the staff to accommodate all the children.

Happy Hearts has 36 spots, with 32 of them filled, and a wait list of around 30 children.

"I expect we will have an expansion of that, though we do have a large wait-list already. There are not enough child-care spots within our area," Smart said.

She said one issue is that workers without Level 1 child care education cannot work more than 65 hours a month. Smart said the province should rethink think this rule.

"If we could have the workers be required to take their courses after they've done a few month probation period … that would be better. Only being able to work 65 hours in a month without your education … it's very difficult to find [workers]," Smart said.

Smart said giving new workers some time to see if they fit into child-care work before they invest in their education will likely make recruitment and retention easier on rural daycares and let the facilities start thinking about how to create more spots for children.

"We have talked about it with our board, about expanding the centre. However, it's not necessarily feasible for us at this time."

Up in La Ronge, Florence Lee Sanderson, director of La Ronge Child Care Co-operative Churchill, said there is a great need for more child-care spots in the community. That daycare, which serves 41 children, has a wait-list of about 70.

Sanderson also said staff is difficult to retain in the northern community.

"The more staff I have, the more kids I can take. Possibly even drop-ins and half-times. More staff and more space would be nice," Sanderson said.

Minister of Education responds

Saskatchewan Minister of Education Dustin Duncan said that of the first 2,000 licensed childcare spaces the province reported having created in November 2022, 60 per cent were outside of Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

"We see that there is a big need in rural Saskatchewan. We have organizations that are coming forward and want to be a part of having child care, quality child care, as a part of the agreement. So there's a number of ways that they can access the federal, provincial dollars. One of them is a capital grant," Duncan said.

Matt Duguid/CBC
Matt Duguid/CBC

The minister said the province is looking into develop a wage grid for daycare workers.

"We know that competitive wages is an important part of this and so that's the work that we're working on this year."

As for training for new child-care workers, Duncan said the province will try to be flexible.

"We're really trying to be flexible with our post secondary institutions that do provide the training, flexible with [the workers'] employers, knowing that they don't want to lose an employee for whatever length of time that is," Duncan said.

"So working with them to see is there a way that we can backfill that staff member, so that that staff member can go and do their education. So really trying to be flexible as much as possible with the with the federal funds."