Child care needs vary throughout the Basin.
In some towns there’s not enough spaces for the little ones, in others there’s not enough helping hands or trained educators, and in some cases, existing daycares are in need of a little upkeep.
“The Trust heard from residents back in 2014/2015 that this was a priority,” says Johnny Strilaeff, Trust President and CEO. “So we identified it as one of our 13 strategic priorities … the reason it’s taken from 2016 until now to announce the new program, is we’ve been out talking to (providers) as well as folks who are experts in the sector and also folks from the Ministry of Children and Family Development,” he added.
“To try to build as robust an understanding as to what the challenges are, and sculpt a program to the extent possible, that will have an impact in each of those areas.”
Over the next three years, capital grants will be available for existing facilities to improve their sites and create new child care seats.
However, it’s not always about adding more space.
Program funding will also help fill workforce gaps and strengthen professional development for Early Childhood Educators (ECE).
“On a broad level, we are seeing very low supply (of spaces) in the East Kootenay region,” Strilaeff told the Trail Times. “But it’s not unique to the East Kootenay at all. In some cases, for example, we have communities with adequate space for children but they don’t have enough child care providers, and that’s another element of the program – we released the supports to increase the capacity of the sector.”
Support will likely be in the form of bursaries, which will bolster the Trust’s existing bursaries and grants available to those seeking a career the ECE field.
“What we are looking to do, is target current employers and provide them some resources to shore up the capacity and the opportunities for their employees,” Strilaeff explained. “Sometimes it’s about the condition of those spaces, and in some cases, it’s not having enough Early Childhood Educations to be operating in those locations.”
But it’s another element, the hiring of a specialized advisor, that will be key to the program’s efficacy.
“This is an area that doesn’t get much attention in headlines, but it is what the sector was saying is critically important,” he clarified.
“An ECE may also have to do the accounting, communications, and mop up the floors at the end of the day,” said Strilaeff. “And it’s incredibly difficult for those individuals to balance their primary responsibilities of being there for the children, with all those other responsibilities of pretty much managing the business.”
Program advisors can help with the time consuming and often overwhelming part of accessing other child care funding streams – and give providers better focus on the myriad of duties that come with running a daycare.
“They can bring information on where funding may be available and what’s required to access that funding,” said Strilaeff. “And also work with the operators to find solutions for what are often common business challenges … it could be in the area of introducing technology to realize some of the efficiencies, they can help identify opportunities and point to different funders, then support the actual application,” he emphasized.
“So it’s an extra set of hands and minds to augment the capacity of those operators who really need to focus on day-to-day responsibilities.”
The first intake of the capital grants program will launch later this fall.
Earlier this year, the Trust committed $210,000 to 20 Early Years Planning Tables throughout the Basin, which are community planning groups that coordinate and develop local resources to support young children’s healthy development and the needs of their families.
There are currently 2,600 child care spaces in the Basin. Over the past five years, the Trust has helped improve the quality and safety of 300 child care spaces through its social grants program.