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Parents coping with lost day care spaces

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Parents are finding ways to cope with the closure of infant programs at the Spring Creek campus of the Whistler Children’s Centre, but are unanimous that they want the service back as soon as possible.

On Nov. 28, the Whistler Children’s Centre was forced to cancel programs for children aged three months to 36 months because of a lack of instructors with provincially recognized Infant Toddler and Early Childhood Educator credentials. Roughly 26 families were using the infant services on at least a part-time basis, with roughly 100 other families on the waitlist for one or more days.

The Whistler Children’s Centre was able to accommodate many of the displaced parents at the Nesters campus for at least a few days, largely thanks to parents that voluntarily withdrew their children to make space for others. However, with the growing waitlist and spare capacity at Spring Creek, parents would like to see the programs restored as soon as possible.

Ryan Donohue, chair of the Whistler Children’s Centre parent committee, said he knows of a few families that haven’t been able to find an alternative to Spring Creek, and many others that have been forced to change their schedules.

“A few I know of, and this is myself included, were not able to get all the days we needed,” he said. “Some of us have supplemented those days with home daycares. A few individuals in the community who are mothers decided they wanted to be home with their kids, and that they had the ability to take on one or two other children. It’s less structured because it’s out of someone’s house and it’s a little more expensive, too, but it’s definitely an option that has helped parents.”

Instead of taking both of his kids to Spring Creek in the morning, Donohue takes his youngest daughter to Nesters three days a week and to a home daycare one day a week. His older boy was able to stay at Spring Creek.

“Basically that means I have two drops to make in the morning, and Thursday I have to take my daughter to an entirely different place,” he said. “It’s serviceable, but it’s not ideal by any means. It adds to the general hectic-ness of the day and it’s more difficult, but honestly I feel fortunate that I was able to get the three days at the Nesters facility. A lot of parents don’t have that option.”

With many kids enrolling in Whistler Blackcomb ski school programs through the winter, Donohue says there are only a handful of kids at Spring Creek, with only one program running for kids over the age of three.

“It’s eerie to see a building go from three programs, 20 to 30 kids a day, to a handful of kids. It’s a shame,” he said. “It’s a nice facility, but it’s just not being used to the level that it could be used unless we can find more teachers to staff those two program that were cancelled. We’re not holding our breath that’s going to happen anytime soon.”

Rebecca Wood Barrett is another Spring Creek parent who managed to get her child into the program at Nesters — one day a week after the closure and then two days a week a month later. She would like the option of having a third day, especially during the shoulder season where she prepares programming for Resort TV, but says she can get by with two.

Like Donohue, she’s grateful for the alternative but says the situation is less than ideal.

She moved to Spring Creek because she and her husband work down the road in Function Junction, and because of the daycare. Now she has to drive 15 km to the village and back two days a week to put her son in daycare.

“It just seems like a waste,” she said. “It’s just so appalling that there are no cars parked at the (Spring Creek) daycare anymore, no kids going in and out. It’s embarrassing that we have this daycare and 100 kids on the wait list, but the daycare is mostly empty.”

She says she looked into the home daycare option, but it’s difficult because it’s not as reliable and there is no curriculum.

“Daycare is always there for you,” she said. “I do have a couple of friends with kids the same age and we’ve been sharing, but it’s harder because you can’t rely on friends the same way. People go on holiday, they have jobs, their kids get sick. When I’m working I can’t call a client and say my daycare is sick today so I can’t make it.

“The school — because that’s what it is — has been really good for my little guy. It isn’t babysitting. He’s been socialized with other children, and they’ve helped to teach manners, how to interact with others, how to express feelings, how to play with other children — we love the program.”

Claire Wilson’s situation is a little more difficult. Her son was enrolled for three days a week at Spring Creek and was supposed to go to four or five days when the centre closed. She was able to stay home more during the month of September, but will need to be at work full time in January, arranging bookings for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler golf course.

To date, she has only been able to pick up one day at Nesters. She will use a home daycare two days a week, and friends and neighbours the other two days.

“There’s no consistency,” she said. “All the confusion about where he’s going and to who has been stressful for him, and it’s definitely taken a toll on us. We have to pack up everything, snacks, lunches, indoor clothes, outdoor clothes, diapers, blankets, toys, every day because he’s never in the same location more than two days in a row.”

Getting a babysitter or nanny cost more than double, said Wilson, and was not an option. Right now her boy is 15 months, and when he’s 18 months they will have the option of using the Mark Warner Whistler Daycare, which offers a reduced rate for residents but still costs an extra $20 per day over Spring Creek for a full day.

“It’s tough out there right now,” she said. “It’s not (the Whistler Children’s Centre’s) fault, and I know they’re doing everything they can to get certified workers, but it’s a strain on families. I can see people choosing not to work, or leaving town because of this, which is something I would hate to do because I love it here. These are all people that chose to stay in Whistler as employees, and to raise families here, and were counting on daycare.”

Whistler Children’s Centre has been busy recruiting certified instructors for months, but to date they haven’t been able to find the instructors with the right qualifications. That’s partly to do with the fact that instructors require a two-year degree for a job that is generally low-paying and high stress, and the general shortage of instructors in the province. The higher cost of living in Whistler and lack of affordable housing also makes it difficult to attract workers.

As well, the federal government reduced its subsidy for child care in early 2007, instead opting to give parents $100 per month per child. Daycare supporters argue that those subsidies were necessary to boost staff wages and keep costs down for parents.

In addition to recruiting certified workers, the Whistler Children’s Centre and parents are appealing to the province to make it easier for workers to become certified, and to speed up the process to recognize certifications from outside the province that are as good or better than the B.C. standard. They are also looking for more funding, allowing daycares to pay their instructors more.

Donohue says a solution will likely take all three levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal. “We are not the only community that is being hit by this, it’s a problem for everybody and it’s going to take everybody working together to find a solution,” he said.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler is currently conducting a survey on child-care needs in the community at www.arboreducational.com. The deadline was Dec. 31, but will likely be extended to get a wider sample of responses.