Concerned parents share childcare experiences

Nearly a dozen concerned parents were at the College of the Rockies Fernie campus to discuss their issues with childcare in the Elk Valley.

Holding back tears, a mother stressed her concerns over childcare in the Elk Valley during last Wednesday evening’s Elk Valley Childcare Barriers and Opportunities Survey Information Sharing event.

Nearly a dozen concerned parents made their way to the College of the Rockies Fernie campus to discuss their issues with childcare in the Elk Valley.

“I won’t be coming back to work after my maternity leave because I can’t afford childcare on what I make,” Fernie School Aged Care manager Brittany Villemaire stressed, adding, “I wouldn’t put my kid in the childcare here because the quality is bad.”

Highlighting the lack of incentives for Early Childhood Education (ECE) workers in addition to the limited childcare spots available, parents and soon to be parents were able to share their experiences with the Elk Valley Child Care Advisory Initiative (EVCCAI).

The EVCCAI was established out of the 2012 Teck Advisory Initiative, which was initially set up to foster dialogue and communications between its Elk Valley operations and the people and communities within the operations’ area of influence.

Because the issues around childcare in the Elk Valley are considered to be complex, the EVCCAI felt that in order to better understand them, they needed to seek out a social research specialist to survey the communities and develop recommendations for the valley.

Last week’s community input sessions, which were held in Sparwood, Fernie and Elkford, marked the first phase of the survey.

Although parents acknowledged that the survey would not be distributed until late May or early June, the information sessions provided them with an outlet.

Villemaire, who is currently pregnant with her first child while working as a childcare provider herself, noted that there is little incentive for ECE workers to live and work in Fernie.

“They’re really making just over minimum wage,” she stressed. “In some cases they’re making $14/hour.”

She went on to say, “People have quit because they make more money scrubbing toilets at the mine.”

Villemaire attributed this harsh reality to the industry’s high employee turnover rate.

In addition to the lack of financial incentives, Villemaire said that parents are constantly struggling to find a daycare spot, with many being forced to go on a two-year waiting list.

“There’s no push to get quality care because parents will take anything they can get, so the quality of care for these kids is actually going down,” Villemaire noted.

And for the mother holding back tears during the meeting, low quality care isn’t even an option as she struggles to find a spot for her son just a month before her maternity leave concludes.

Despite these, and many other concerns, some believe childcare continues to be viewed as a low priority issue on the municipal level.

“During the election last year I knew it was an important issue to me since I was going to have a child,” father Rob Klein said. “[but] it didn’t seem to me that candidates recognized how significant of an issue it was for some people in the community.”

Despite their acknowledgement of the issue and their willingness to help, Klein noted that several candidates for City of Fernie council didn’t seem to think it was the place of the city to take on a leadership role when it came to the childcare issue.

“It didn’t seem to be as big as some of the other issues,” he stressed, adding. “It would be nice to see a committee that pulls together all of the different childcare providers in Fernie and says ‘okay, lets really talk about what the problem is and what the city can do to help solve it.’”

As the childcare issue remains unsolved, the EVCCAI continues to work with communities in the hopes that their survey will help to resolve some of the barriers parents are experiencing.

Researcher Phoebe Scotland was hired in March to develop, implement and analyze the Childcare Barriers and Opportunities Survey and to report on findings in addition to making recommendations.

Those unable to attend any of the three informal public meetings taking place in Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford are invited to share their childcare experiences by emailing Scotland at elkvalleychildcare@gmail.com or sharing their comments on the Elk Valley Child Care Survery Facebook page.