Child care in St. John’s area in crisis, say parents, operator

ST. JOHN’S, NL — Karyn Laporte is due back to work after maternity leave in less than a month, but instead of enjoying the last few weeks of cuddles, she is desperately looking for someone to take care of her babies.

Laporte, who is a nurse, said she put her twins, Clifford and Eloise Laporte, on daycare waiting lists as soon as they were born.

“Some child care centers said to us, ‘You know, you really should have called when you found out you were pregnant.’ How do you know, right? You don’t think about these things when you’re three months pregnant.

She said regulated child care centers tell her she’ll have to wait until spring of next year before a space becomes available. She also hasn’t found a day care home, and she and her husband are from rural Newfoundland and have no one in town to take care of the children.

She is not alone.

St. John’s resident Rebecca Aylward told SaltWire Network that she has seven-month-old twins for whom she has been unable to find care. She said her husband, a teacher, will have to quit his job to look after their children when his maternity leave ends.

“It’s really ridiculous that the province is losing a wonderful teacher because of this shortage,” she said.

Brittany Smart is a human resources manager with two children.

She had booked unregulated daycare for her son, but when the province lowered the cost of regulated daycare to $15 a day in January, the daycare closed — two months before she returned to work.

She now works from home and has a babysitter from 9 a.m. to noon every day so she can work a little. She said her employer was, thankfully, understanding.

“It has been incredibly difficult for our family, my career, my mental health and my children. I’m lucky to have some sort of arrangement at the moment, but I know many aren’t so lucky.

A nurse practitioner who asked to remain anonymous said she had to take unpaid leave because she couldn’t find childcare and her maternity leave had expired.

“The shortage of child care providers has an indirect impact on the health care crisis. I know many nurses who are in a similar boat and currently have no childcare options available, and will not be able to return to work in time,” she said.

Parents may be forced to quit their jobs

Flatrock resident Devin Norman told SaltWire Network that the one side street he lives on in Flatrock has at least four babies under the age of one who currently don’t have childcare as of the end of the maternity leave from their mother.

Norman wrote a letter to Education Minister Tom Osborne, which he shared with SaltWire Network.

“If we don’t have the ‘luck’ in the coming months, my partner or I are considering the very real possibility of having to give up our permanent full-time jobs to care for our child,” he said. writing.

He said social media groups formed to help families find childcare services indicate how desperate people have become.

He highlighted a post in a group in which someone said they could open a day home in the Mount Pearl area, and within an hour the post had over 150 responses from parents of the area looking for a daycare.

Devin Norman with his fiancée, Kerry Strowbridge, and their daughter, Hannah Norman. – Contributed

SaltWire Network spoke to a single mother of three who did not want to be named, but said she was due to return to work in April and had no one to take care of her child. a year.

“I have no choice not to work and stay at home. I’m the sole earner in the household and it’s pretty hard on maternity benefits. … If I can’t find care for my child in April, I will have to go to social assistance because my maternity benefits will be finished.

Another woman told SaltWire Network that she could afford to pay more than $15 a day for childcare, “but we can’t find anyone to take our money.”

Since returning to work at the end of January, her mother-in-law has been traveling to St. John’s from rural Newfoundland on a two-week rotation to care for their child.

She said she had already taken seven days off and will have to take five more next week as they still have not found childcare.

“If we can’t find child care quickly, my husband will have to quit his job and find part-time work in the evenings (or) on the weekends. In a province where the cost of living is already high, how are people supposed to afford to have children if they cannot work?

“Emotions are strong”

Jennifer Quilty is a licensee who operates Leaps and Bounds Daycare and Apples to Zebras Daycare.

“Emotions run high,” she said.

“We have parents crying on the phone saying, ‘I can’t get to work, I can’t get ahead in my career.’ You shouldn’t have to choose between family and childcare and your career.

Like the parents SaltWire Network spoke to, Quilty also called the situation a crisis.

“I recently had a couple (write to say), ‘Hi, we just got married and are planning to have kids, can I put my two kids on your waiting list for 2024?’ And I’m like, ‘Wow, we need 10 fingers and toes first.’ »

Quilty said the move to $15-a-day daycare in January increased demand.

To that end, she said she had been trying to build a toddler room since June last year and government processes were slowing progress. She said she finally received the permit to do the work on the building in December and only inspected it this week.

“(The government) is considering moving to a pre-K curriculum, but they need to understand, what are you going to do with all the infants?” Quilty asked.

Pre-K starts in September

On Wednesday, March 9, federal and provincial government officials announced further initiatives under the $347 million Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Early Learning and Child Care Agreements previously announced at summer 2021.

A pilot pre-kindergarten program will begin in September of this year. By 2025-2026, the program is expected to be fully implemented, creating approximately 3,100 regulated spaces for four-year-olds, thereby opening up existing spaces for younger children.

Several other initiatives were announced “to encourage the creation of regulated child care spaces by non-profit groups, municipalities and regulated family home services, to increase the salaries of early childhood educators and to increase the workforce. in ECE,” according to a press release. Release.

This includes increases to existing grants, providing more funding to Family and Child Care Connections to increase the number of home operations, introducing a salary grid for ECEs which is expected to increase their salaries, and addition of approximately 700 additional places in early post-secondary institutions. early learning and child care programs.

“Through these measures, by 2025-26, the province aims to add approximately 5,800 additional regulated child care spaces and increase the percentage of fully certified ECEs working in the sector to at least 60%,” reads the press release.

These changes won’t immediately help many families SaltWire Network spoke to on Wednesday about getting child care next month.

“You have to start somewhere”

“It would be great if we could make this all happen tomorrow, and snap our fingers and it would just be all sorted,” Prime Minister Andrew Furey said.

“But we have to start somewhere. We start here, and we recognize that we’re trying to move in parallel – pulling two different levers at the same time, which increases affordability while increasing capacity, and I think that an announcement like today brings us closer to where we all want to be.

Education Minister Tom Osborne said making childcare more affordable is easier than making it more accessible.

“I can’t look at someone and point my finger and say, ‘You’re going to be ECE tomorrow, come to work.’ ECEs need to be trained, but we have identified a large list of former ECEs who are highly qualified, whom we are saddened to see have left the sector due to low wages, whom we hope to attract to the sector through higher wages,” he said.

“There is no silver bullet to accessibility, but we didn’t want to penalize parents who had daycare places by keeping the prices higher in order to avoid creating greater demand. These people deserve to benefit from more cost-effective early learning while we work on accessibility. »

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