‘Scary’: Parents reeling as child-care in Manitoba remains inaccessible

Summer is fast approaching, which means school will soon be out and and many parents will be pushed to look for child-care — if they aren’t already.

“It leaves me very frustrated. I am trying to find child-care. I have a child-care centre right in my back lane, and I know that centre, unfortunately, won’t be able to provide care for my sons,” said Sydney Lussier, a mom and early childhood educator (ECE).

She has been trying to get her six-month old into daycare since he was born.

“I have not heard anything,” she said. “It’s been an extremely difficult process.”

She said she noticed a shift in daycare access when the Manitoba government announced it would be rolling out $10-a-day programming.

“The call volumes and emails, at my centre in particular, doubled. Waitlists went over 700, 800 names on them,” she said.

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Other parents like Katie Ellis know the feeling. At one facility, her two-year-old son is number 195 on a waitlist of 1,500.

Fortunately, he is in a daycare right now, but will age out on his birthday in September.

“I might have to end up quitting my job and staying home with my son, because I’ve been looking and looking for daycare spots and nothing. I’ve been looking outside the city and all around the city,” she said. “I’ll drive, it doesn’t matter.”

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In the meantime, Ellis is looking down the barrel of crushed dreams.

“Of course I would love to stay home with my son all day long, but I’ve always known that I was going to be a working mom and now I might not be able to be that,” she said.

“The uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen in September, that’s kind of the scary part for me.”

Ellis and Lussier are two of about at least a dozen parents that have reached out to Global News, bewildered by years-long waitlists and dwindling options.

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In an email to Global News, one parent said she learned “a couple months ago that my private unlicensed daycare is closing permanently in mid-June. I am in the process of trying to secure daycare for my youngest and, so far, have been unsuccessful.”

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She added one facility she spoke with said her children are number 63 and 450 on a waitlist that she has been on since March 2019. There’s a chance they could get in by the end of the year, “which means if I do, you have to put your name on a daycare waitlist three years before you get pregnant,” she said.

Joanna Novak, executive director of Springfield Learning Centres Inc. in Anola, Man., said she gets phone calls from parents just about every day looking for a place for their child.

“Right now, at our pre-school and infant site, there are well over 200 that are on our waiting list,” she said.

For those stuck in limbo, summer camps could be a viable alternative.

But Jenny Stuesser, the general manager of programming with the YMCA-YWCA in Winnipeg, said some programs are already accruing waitlists.

“We’re constantly reviewing (waitlists) and assessing because we want to be able to serve families as they need it. We do see it as a challenge, as child-care centres may not be open to be responsive to that need,” she said.

Stuesser said registration for camps opened early this year to meet increasing demand, but 2,200 spaces have already been filled, leaving just 500 behind.

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These are expected to fill quickly, “especially as we get closer to the end of the school year and families start to look at their summer plans. So we encourage families to register as soon as possible,” she said.

Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association said she is optimistic about the direction access to child-care is heading, but there are still key steps that need to be taken in the way of staffing.

“We have a shortage. We anticipate probably about 800 within the current sector,” she said.

Novak echoed the importance of staffing at her own daycare, saying it’s “still in a crisis situation. We’re in a rural area as well, so it adds another dimension to attracting qualified staff.”

Minister of Advanced Learning and Early Childhood Education, Nello Altomare, said his team is working hard to fill in the gaps.

“I do have a lot of empathy for parents that are looking for child care. I was in the same boat when we were raising our kids,” he said. “I can feel the anxiety that they have.”

He pointed to plans to create 8,000 new preschool-age child-care spaces and 4,000 for school age kids, as a part of a commitment to create a total of 23,000 new spots by 2026.

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The minister also noted a recent budget increase for child-care worker salaries by 2.75 per cent.

“This is what’s going to keep people — not only in the field — but will keep people long term so kids can have somebody consistent in front of them,” he said.

Remuneration is just a part of the puzzle, though, Kehl said.

“It’s about the bigger picture of working conditions and benefits. Paid time off, paid time to do documentation and observations, time to speak with families not on the weekends and in the evenings, being recognized as a profession,” she said.

That being said, the almighty dollar does have a part to play.

“It’s a very, stressful job,” Novak said. “Everybody thinks that it’s, ‘Oh, it’s so much fun. You’re going to be playing with kids all day.’ That’s part of it, but it’s certainly not all of it.”

She said, “you’re dealing with children, parents (and) other staff members, so it can be a very stressful thing.”

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‘Left in limbo’: Parents struggle as Canada’s child-care plan faces roadblocks