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Cumberland council hears message of child care shortage

Comox Valley Record - 1/15/2020

Most kids in Cumberland don't have access to licensed child care, say consultants.

At council on Monday, Jane Worton and Greg Awai of Queenswood Consulting presented the Village with their findings about child care demand and resources in the growing community, as well as recommendations for an action plan.

They found an average of 11 spaces per 100 children in the community. By comparison, the figure for the rest of the Valley is 19.

"It points to a very large amount of need," Awai told council. "It'll be difficult to meet the number of spaces needed."

Cumberland has had an influx of young families, putting extra pressure on existing services. At present, the consultants found many families have to look outside Cumberland for care. In all, they estimate a need for 267 spaces.

"There seem to be a lot of young families moving into town," he said. "They're having more trouble finding child care."

There are various proposals for new care services, including some involving outdoor recreation. Most notably, a joint project between St. George's United Church, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Vancouver Island and the Village called the Beacon has been on hold, while the Village was waiting to get a clearer picture of the child care situation in the community.

As far as their top priorities for types of care, families would like to see more spaces for infants and toddlers, three- to five-year-olds and before- and after-school care.

To produce the report, Queenswood used methods such as stakeholder interviews or social media communications. This included contacting 14 partner organizations, eight providers in the communities and families.

Worton outlined some of the solutions for the community. For example, this can happen at the policy level of government by making sure zoning aligns with child care licensing on factors such as the number of children allowed at operations. Other measures could include waiving business licence fees to encourage more providers or designating child care as an amenity to encourage developers to consider child care in their proposals.

"A lot of the recommendations here are more about clarity," she said.

Funding remains a major challenge for child care, especially when it comes to matters such as wages.

"Higher wages are needed if we're going to expand early childhood education," Worton said.

The plan is to create 247 spaces in five years. The consultants recommend the community apply for grants such as Emerging Priorities Stream Funding, especially in light of the demand in Cumberland, even compared with the rest of the Comox Valley. This funding, which supports communities in transition, could help create needed spaces in the short term while longer-term projects requiring new structures are developing. Another possibility, Worton added, was something like a babysitting co-op.

"There's a real way to provide something sooner," she said.

Coun. Vickey Brown asked about waiting lists at local child care operations. Worton responded many no longer keep lists because they are too difficult to administer. Often, parents place themselves on multiple lists and do not always let operations if they are still looking for a provider. Worton cited one example of an operator who has chosen to hold an annual open house for parents instead.