Parents say they’re out of options; may have to move
by EVAN MATTHEWS
The daycare in Valemount has more kids on its waitlist than it does in its care, and the reason is a shortage of Early Childhood Educators.
Krista Voth, Manager of the non-profit Valemount Children’s Activity Society and Early Childhood Educator (ECE) at the daycare, says the organization will hire and train almost anybody willing to work.
“We have a huge waitlist right now. For babies alone, we have a waitlist of 14,” says Voth, noting there are only three babies — categorized as less than 36 months — currently in the daycare’s program.
“You can take your ECE online. If anyone is interested in a new career path, think about becoming an ECE.
She says they are applying for B.C. Job Grants, so we can help people get educated by paying their tuition, and ultimately have more ECEs to run different groups.
Voth says once a student is enrolled in classes, they can work with the society as an assistant. It means the student is getting paid to work while in school, and the daycare has an extra employee, she says.
One of the society’s current ECEs is on maternity leave, leaving only Voth and one other. Voth recently took over from Sandy Salt as Manager.
Licensing regulations do not allow for the society to care for more than three children less than 36 months with their current staff.
Older kids are on a separate waitlist, but Voth says once school lets out the daycare fills up fast, and can’t take kids until the following September.
This summer has been particularly difficult, she says, as the daycare can only take eight kids in total — including the three babies — because of licensing regulations.
“I’ve had to quit my jobs to be at home for the babies. We’ve contemplated moving to a different situation because (of the lack of care). The two jobs I’ve had in three years living here, the kids have always been a factor as to why at some point I leave my job,” — Leslie Stone, foster parent
While regulations say each ECE should be able to take eight children — which would total 16 children — Voth says with uncertainty around staffing the society has been reluctant to take on more than eight, especially with the three babies less than 36 months in the society’s care.
Karen Shepherd has a six-year-old who was full-time in the daycare for five years, but couldn’t get in even one day per week this summer.
Trish Dunn, another parent, says her child was going three or four times per week until January, but then the society put her son on “drop-in” status. Now he gets in between one and three times a month, she says.
While the society worries about staffing, space and budgetary constraints, some parents in the village are contemplating major life changes due to the lack of childcare.
Leslie Stone moved to Valemount three years ago and is a foster parent.
Foster care is a system in which a minor has been placed into a ward, group home, or private home of a state-certified caregiver, referred to as a “foster parent.”
Because the foster parent must be state-certified, so too must be any childcare provider, meaning Stone is left with few alternative options to licensed daycare.
The only alternatives are for her to stay home, or hope her 20-year-old biological daughter is available.
Stone says she did find one alternative option outside of the daycare, but for two babies less than 36 months old, the caregiver was asking $20 per hour.
“Who can afford that?” Stone asks.
Stone’s husband works in emergency traffic control, she says, making it difficult for him to be certain of his hours. Stone has taken overnight jobs since living in Valemount, she says, to ensure either she or her husband would be home with the kids.
But the staggered schedules haven’t been enough.
“I’ve had to quit my jobs to be home for the babies. We’ve contemplated moving to a different situation because (of the lack of care),” says Stone.
One of the babies Stone now cares for is 18 months old, she says, while the other is 10 months old — both falling in the “less than 36 months” old category — making it even more difficult to gain access to childcare in Valemount.
Stone’s 18-month-old has been on the waiting list for over a year, she says.
“They haven’t told me where we are on the waitlist, or how long the wait will be,” says Stone.
“Their communication isn’t very good. I feel like I’m being a pain,” she says.
But Voth says she understands the community’s frustration, and nobody is being a pain. The reality for the daycare, she says, is without additional staff there really isn’t much to communicate.
“We have lots of plans. We want to possibly rent the upstairs and open up more spaces,” says Voth, but noting the society would still need more staff for an expansion to take place, and the timeline for any changes to the daycare’s space is uncertain.
There are renovations needing to happen before the daycare can move upstairs, too, Voth says, including renovations to the windows.
“But we need people to know we have to follow rules and regulations,” says Voth.
“If we could take every child whose parent called us, we would. But we need the space, the staff, and the child has to fit in the age categories we have available,” she says.
With over 20 babies being born in Valemount this past year, Voth says she can foresee an upcoming need, and a lack of available workers.
Typical ECE courses are done online and can take anywhere from six months to a year, depending on how quickly the student is working through the material.
“We’ll hire anyone right now and get them started with schooling. If we can get them started, it’s a help to everyone. The more educated people we have, the more kids we can take.”