The design plan for the new Walnut Park school. Contributed drawing

Family ministry announces funding for new Walnut Park day care

The centre will create 42 new child care spaces in the new Walnut Park Elementary School

Smithers will be getting 42 new daycare spaces.

In a news release yesterday, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) it is working with School District 54 (SD54) to fund a new child care centre in the redevelopment of Walnut Park School scheduled for construction this year.

Doug Donaldson, Stikine MLA, said the project was made possible by changes to the School Act, which opens the door for broader scope for school districts to create and operate before- and after-school care.

“The changes will also require school boards to create an inclusive child care policy and prioritize space that is not being used for K-12 students for child care,” stated the MCFD release.

Donaldson said the two main impediments for parents trying to re-enter the workforce are lack of day care spaces and affordability.

Making new spaces available means more people in the community working, he said.

“That’s good for the parents, good for the kids and good for the local economy.”

Dave Margerm, SD54 secretary-treasurer said the school district has yet to determine whether the school district will operate the centre itself or contract it out to another provider and therefore could not speak to the issue of a fee schedule.

However, Donaldson noted there are programs in place to help parents.

READ MORE: Construction on Walnut Park School pushed back to summer 2020

“As for affordability for parents, we’ve done a lot to decrease the costs,” he said pointing to the NDP’s Affordable Child Care Benefit, Fee Reduction Initiative and Young Parent Program.

The Affordable Child Care Benefit (ACCB) provides subsidies for families earning income up to $111,000 per year. For example, a single parent with two children under the age of five and an income of $50,000 may be eligible for child care funding up to $212 per child per month.

The Fee Reduction Initiative (FRI) provides funding to eligible licenced day care providers to help them keep their fees lower. There are 11 such providers in Smithers, three in Telkwa and two in Hazelton.

The MCFD said those two programs have saved parents in the Smithers area $965,000 since their inception in February 2018.

The Young Parent Program provides up to $1,500 per child to help parents under the age of 25 finish high school and helps parents find child care near the school they are attending.

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Donaldson also said co-locating day cares with schools makes a lot of sense from a convenience point-of-view as many parents of young children also have school-age children in their families.

Margerm said day care spaces have always been part of the plan for the Walnut Park redevelopment, but that the $2.57 million in MCFD funding frees up more money for other community uses of the new school.

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