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Childcare crisis under microscope

A new local task force is tackling the East Kootenay's childcare crisis.

Starting this spring, the group is conducting a child care needs assessment for the region. The assessment will seek public input on problems that families face in securing child care, and make recommendations on how to alleviate the issues.

The task force is made up representatives from the East Kootenay branches of Children First, Success By Six, Child Care Resource and Referral, as well as community members. Columbia Basin Trust and Teck are partnering with the task force.

"Many of us in our different roles have had people approach us quite often about the childcare crisis," said Patricia Whalen of Children First. "Right now, there are two scenarios in many of our communities: they either have the space for child care but not staff, or some communities have staff but no space."

The group conducted a survey recently that illustrated the need for a comprehensive study of childcare issues.

"It was quite evident from that survey that there is a huge need in all of the communities," said Whalen.

"Out of 272 respondents, 80.5 per cent said they felt there was a need to do a more in-depth childcare assessment."

Whalen said some of the task force members have spoken to families who are planning to move to Cranbrook and call to enquire about childcare availability. When they learn there is a wait list, some families change their relocation plans.

"It's a bigger picture than I think is realized. People aren't moving here."

As well as childcare availability, the cost of childcare is an issue, Whalen said, mentioning that when she had two children in child care it cost $1,200 a month.

"That's another part of the crisis – parents are feeling, 'I'm basically just going to work to pay for child care,'" said Whalen. "It's tough – there are a lot of people out there who are very employable but they can't find the child care. So it certainly affects our economy."

Starting in the spring, a consultant will begin to circulate surveys about child care for community members to fill out. There will also be a round of community consultation sessions.

The consultant will use the consultation to prepare a report on East Kootenay childcare with recommendations. That report will be presented to the community, as well as to the recently announced B.C. Office for the Early Years, elected officials, school districts, city councils and chambers of commerce.

"A lot of people talk about the crisis but they don't really know how bad it is until they see it on paper and they see the stats and the different types of childcare that are required to help our families," said Whalen.

"Most people probably feels it's 9-5 required, but then there are families that need after school care, we've got parents who do shift work – there is quite a few scenarios."

With the report in hand, the next stage will be acting on its recommendations, Whalen went on.

"I know it's not an easy fix. It's bigger than just building a space; we need the staff, they have to be paid appropriately.

"It's quite exciting that we can move forward now. High quality child care is very important to the development of our children."

Stay tuned for more details on how you can provide input to the childcare needs assessment.

"I look forward to being part of the project. It's a very important one to our region," said Whalen.

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