The provincial government is rolling out 421 new childcare spaces in the Fraser Valley.
This brings the total number of new affordable childcare facilities in the region to just under 800 since the Childcare BC New Spaces Fund was created in the summer of 2018.
More than 10,400 of these spaces have been created in B.C. in the past 15 months – a move towards universal childcare that the government is calling “one of the largest social policy changes in B.C.’s history.”
These spaces – 88 spaces at two facilities in Aldergrove, 111 spaces at two facilities in Abbotsford, 105 spaces at one facility in Chilliwack, 36 spaces at one facility in Lake Errock and 81 spaces at two facilities in Langley – are offering childcare at a reduced rate for parents.
“As a mom with a young child, I have struggled with my own childcare as well,” said Katrina Chen, Minister of State for Child Care.
“I know how hard it is to find infant/toddler care; the wait lists are incredibly long. Some parents put their kids on over a dozen wait lists even before their child is born.”
The attention to early childhood development and family childcare is an area that was neglected for over a decade in the province, said Chen.
“We really want to walk away from a patchwork approach that you just fund things here and there,” Chen said. “We want to make sure we do a systematic change to build a foundation to an inclusive universal system that every family can have access to.”
Since B.C.’s NDP took office in 2017, child welfare spending has increased from $1.4 billion to close to $2 billion in their budget – an increase of almost 45 per cent.
The spending provides benefits for families earning under $110,000, along with the reduced fees at licensed childcare facilities.
“Whenever I travel [to the Fraser Valley] to meet with local parents, stakeholders and providers, there is a huge demand for families to be able to access childcare services,” Chen said.
“Infant/toddler spaces is in the highest need, the licensing requirement is higher… and there is a [staff] shortage.”
The province is trying to make sure there are enough staff to fill these new childcare spaces being created as shortages in the field are very real.
During the application process, providers have to present a plan on how they will be able to recruit staff, Chen said.
“Early childhood educators have really been struggling with a lack of support and low wages… This is a sector that is predominantly 97 per cent women,” Chen said. “The struggles are huge. Many of them leave the sector just after a few years, even though they have great credentials as early childhood educators.
“A lot of them don’t even make a living wage.”
In 2018, the province created over a dozen new initiatives to focus on better training, education and compensation for these workers.
So far these childcare workers’ wages have been topped off with an additional dollar, with another dollar coming in April 2020. The province has invested more than $13 million for wage increases for over 10,000 ECEs, with $1.2 million finding its way to hands in the Fraser Valley.
Chen acknowledges the small increase is only a start.
“We know that’s a huge challenge,” she said. “We know $2 is only a start – it’s limited – but this is definitely the first time the provincial government has taken important steps to address the workforce challenge and make sure it’s not just patchwork.”
These initiatives also include 5,400 bursaries for post-secondary students entering ECE, and for people also already working in the field who may need to upgrade their training.
The training will also allow for practicums to get students in the field and earning money faster.
“A lot of people pay a lot of money to go through those programs,” Chen said. “They are proud to be an ECE… that is why we’re trying to support our education, to make sure it’s more affordable as they go through the training.”
The provincial government says their Childcare BC plan has helped parents in the Fraser Valley save more than $35 million through the Affordable Child Care Benefit and Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative.
“I want to emphasize that this is only part of our Childcare BC plan…. We are bringing a $10 a day [voucher] already to over 23,000 families,” Chen said.
“All of [these programs] work hand in hand.”