Preschoolers eat lunch at a day care center. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Preschoolers eat lunch at a day care center. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Child care crisis in Smithers worsens; working parents seek help from town council

Shortage of qualified early childhood educators partially responsible for lack of childcare spaces

A Smithers group of parents struggling to find childcare are looking to the Town of Smithers for help.

A delegation from Working Smithers Parents without Daycare Smithers to the regular council meeting Dec. 14 asked the Town and council to take the following steps: To advocate to the provincial and federal governments to financially support local Smithers childcare workers who are pursuing their ECE qualification and to incentivize qualified childcare workers to move to and serve the Smithers community.

To support local daycares and preschools in attracting and retaining childcare staff, for example, by ensuring that housing is available to educators.

For the Town and Council to consider partnering with local daycares and preschools to devise long-term solutions and plan for future needs.

In an open letter to all levels of government the group characterizes the situation as a “crisis.”

“The childcare crisis in Smithers is not new nor is it unique to Smithers. However, in recent months, it has worsened dramatically,” they said.

In February 2021, the Town created a Childcare Plan, in recognition that access to childcare is an essential service that benefits children, families, the community, and the economy.

The plan identified several shortfalls in what was then currently offered to community members, including the lack of placements for infants/toddlers less than 30 months old.

The plan set out several recommendations, but there is no update whether any progress has been made on those recommendations.

Moreover, none of the recommendations address the immediate staffing issues.

The lack of placements for this youngest age group is now at a point of crisis.

Currently, Bulkley Valley Little Horizons Child Care is the only licensed group facility offering care to infants/toddlers less than 30 months old.

In September 2021, Northern Health required Little Horizons to suspend childcare for 13 families with infants/toddlers under 30 months old, because the daycare did not have enough licensed early childhood educators (ECE).

In the past, Little Horizons has been able to obtain exemptions from the Northern Health Licensing Office, but it has not been able to this year.

Little Horizons has several staff members who are partway through their ECE studies, and it was hoping these staff members would be qualified by the end of 2021. However, this has not occurred, and over the past few weeks, many more families who have had placements with the daycare beginning in December and January were told they no longer had a placement.

The parental group estimates 40 families are affected by these staffing shortages.

Reggio Kids Nature School also has a staffing shortage. This year, it suspended childcare for eight families with children between 30 months and five years old.

“Until the above asks of the council, the province, and federal government are achieved, the Northern Health Licensing Office should grant an interim exemption to Little Horizons, on any conditions necessary to ensure the safety of the children, that would allow educators pursuing their early childhood education to care for our children while their studies are in progress, as was done in the past,” the parents wrote.

In holding with council’s policy of deferring delegation requests to a future meeting, council agreed to bring the issue forward for discussion at their next regular meeting on Jan. 11, 2022.

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