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Location, costs and staffing major hurdles for Fort McMurray child care: Report

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Author: 
McDermott, Vincent
Publication Date: 
29 Aug 2018
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A combination of a lack of qualified staff, location and costs means available child care spaces in Fort McMurray are not being used, despite the high demand for them in the city.

According to a survey done by the Early Years Coalition, 671 licensed child care spaces in Fort McMurray were available when the survey was done last November. However, only 351 spaces were being used by families.

The survey found that out of 143 parents surveyed, 44 per cent wanted care within five kilometres of their home or workplace, with 26 per cent wanting it within 10 kilometres.

The biggest demand came from families in Timberlea, with 70 per cent of parents saying they needed care in the neighbourhood. However, only 29 per cent of respondents said they were willing to travel and the majority of the empty spaces are in downtown and Thickwood.

“This shows that we have spaces, however parents do not want to travel to access child care outside of their community location,” states the report, which was released Tuesday.

A major factor is also the cost of child care in Fort McMurray. Annual child care costs range from $14,400 to $17,550. Annual tuition for an undergraduate degree averaged $6,571 and $6,907 for a graduate degree.

While subsidies are available for Alberta families, Fort McMurray is met with the same threshold income as the rest of the province, even though the cost of living is higher compared to other Alberta communities.

Some staff at the eight local centres surveyed said they did not have the qualified staff to open up more spaces in the centres.

Of the 85 staff members who responded, 45.9 per cent had a certificate in Early Learning and Child Care while 25 per cent had a diploma.

The remaining 30 per cent had an equivalency granted by the province, with no formal education in child development for children up to five years old, guidance and planning.

There was also a lack of supports found in the community for children with disabilities and behavioural concerns. Access to resources, training and a diploma program were also found.

“We either have a lack of spaces or a lack of child care workers. They never seem to sync up together,” said Janet Huffman, spokesperson for the coalition. “A centre may open new spaces by taking staff from another space, but that means the other centre may have to shut off spaces because they don’t have the needed staff-to-children ratio.”

The report recommends advocating for more $25-per-day child care centres in the region. Fort McMurray centres in the program include Children First: Community Child Care- Eagle Ridge Nest, YMCA Birchwood Child Care and Tiny Toes Daycare.

It also recommends that Keyano College begin a diploma program while offering flexibility to people already working in child care centres.

The college offers a one-year certificate program, but suspended the diploma program in June 2015, along with 11 other programs. Keyano cited financial problems from the late 2014 global crash in oil prices as their reason.

More opportunities for existing staff to upgrade their skills is also needed, as is a better subsidy program for local families.

“We understand we need the power engineers and people out at site doing lots of other different jobs, but we also need to support the people within our community with their children,” said Huffman. “We want families to be able to go to work.”

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Entered Date: 
4 Sep 2018
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