Child care has been a growing issue in Whistler in recent years, with changes to the federal funding formula, the proposed closure of the Teddy Bear Day Care at Millennium Place, and most recently the closure of programs for kids aged three to 36 months at Spring Creek because of a lack of provincially certified staff. More than 100 children are currently on the waitlist for the Nesters facility.
In order to determine what the current and future child care needs of local parents are, as well as their preferred mode of delivery, the Resort Municipality of Whistler launched an online survey this week similar to one conducted on the North Shore at www.arboreducational.com. You can answer the survey online, or request a PDF version. The deadline for responding is Dec. 31, although it may be pushed back to get a wider sampling of opinion.
According to Councillor Ralph Forsyth, who led the battle to save the Teddy Bear Daycare, the survey has been in the works for a long time.
“It goes back more than a year and a half ago when (the Whistler Children’s Centre) came to council for $120,000 in emergency funding,” he said. “They ended up getting about $70,000, but I called up Kari Gaudet to find out what was happening and why things weren’t going so well for child care. That led to more talks and meetings over the last year, including regional meetings, to really get a pulse on what was happening.”
That in turn led to the creation of a Child Care working group, which meets every second month to discuss issues. The proposed closure of the Teddy Bear Daycare this past June, however, was the catalyst to action, says Forsyth. “Those were spaces we didn’t know if we could afford to lose,” he said.
The Whistler Millennium Place board made the decision based on the low number of older kids using the program. At the time Forsyth said he could have supported another group using the facility in the short term, but he drew the line at any permanent change that would prevent it from ever serving as a daycare again.
“The bottom line is that we don’t know what the need is going to be in the future, and once that space is gone, it’s gone,” he said.
The child care survey asks people what their needs and preferences are, whether they prefer the idea of centres or the option of creating in-house daycare centres through the village. It will also help determine future staffing needs.
But for Forsyth, the survey will also help the municipality plan for space.
“We need to know by 2020, if our population is 15,000, what our child care needs are going to be,” he said. “For example, we have Rainbow going in, and there’s a zoned property in there for daycare, but right now there’s nobody building it. We need to know what infrastructure we need, and whether it’s going to be in-house or not. Do we have to come up with a lot of money to build those spaces, or do we have to build it into future zoning?”
His main goal is to ensure that daycare is available. “The reality is, when parents are four or five months pregnant they have to get on the waitlist then or they might not get in when they need it,” he said. “It’s not a barometer of health for the whole community, but we need to find a way to make it work.”
Roger Weetman, manager of recreation services for the municipality, is in charge of the survey. He says they have received about 40 responces since the call went out, but is hoping for a wider survey.
“We have a lot of information available to us from Whistler 2020. We have access to birth rates for the last five years, access to school enrollment stats for the last five years, which is a great tool but it only provides us with so much information,” he said. “How parents plan to use daycare is a big question, and we felt the survey was important to give us that big picture.”
Weetman says the survey results could be organized into a report by the end of January if enough people submit surveys by the Dec. 31 date.
“Obviously this is a community issue that’s close to everybody,” he said. “This is literally motherhood and apple pie, and we have some serious challenges. It’s not unique to this community, it’s also a provincial if not a national issue, but this is something that the municipality decided to do to understand the scope of this issue in our community.”