Childcare is an essential service that’s been undervalued for far too long.
That was part of the message being articulated at a Chilliwack childcare centre visited on Friday by Katrina Chen, Minister of State for Child Care.
“This is something we are working on,” Chen said during a tour of the À:lmèlhàwtxw Early Education Centre on the Sto:lo Nation grounds on June 29.
“Some of my staff are saying, ‘I may need to pick up another job’” À:lmèlhàwtxw supervisor Jenn Carman said of the pressure on early childhood educators.
Chen’s visit came the same day the provincial government announced $111,000 in funding to the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) to add 12 new seats to the September 2018 intake of its infant toddler educator program.
That money is part of $7.4-million over three years in the budget of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training to fund an additional 620 early childhood educator graduates at public post-secondary institutions throughout B.C.
“Early childhood educators (ECEs) play a vital role in providing quality early learning experiences, and that’s why training more ECEs who are committed to caring for children — especially infants and toddlers — is so important,” Chen said in a June 29 press release. “Infant and toddler care is in high demand, and these 12 new seats, in addition to the many others government is funding, mean that more young children and their families will be able to access high-quality care.”
But more ECEs and more child care spots don’t necessarily solve a more pressing problem, according to critics who say the career is undervalued.
”It is not just a lack of ECE qualified workers but the amount of money they get paid after a rigorous training period,” Krista Weatherford commented after this reporter posted a social media request for comments. “They have to have more practicum hours than teachers. It is a VERY important position that is underpaid and undervalued.”
Diane Braun went further.
“And working conditions,” she wrote. “Hard to find casuals, often no paid sick leave or no casuals to cover you if you are sick. Working nine-hour shift with an unpaid one-hour break is common. Not very attractive for someone with experience after the first couple of years.”
When asked about these concerns, Chen said her government was doing its best as cost of living continues to grow, and changes could come to compensation by the fall after they get back a labour market analysis.
She also blamed the current state of affairs on the BC Liberals’ more than a decade-and-a-half in power.
“In 1997 good things were happening,” Chen told The Progress. “That work didn’t continue when the government changed, so we are picking it back up.”
Carman at À:lmèlhàwtxw said last July they had to shut down their infant-toddler program because of staff shortages.
The government says that based on the 2017 Labour Market Outlook, the province will need 9,100 additional ECEs by 2027, hence the funding for UFV.
“Under Budget 2018, the Province is investing more than $1 billion into child care over the next three years to help lay the foundation for a universal child care system that will provide access to affordable, quality child care for anyone in B.C. who wants or needs it,” according to a ministry press release.
In 2018/2019, the government intents to focus on creating more infant/toddler child care spaces across the province, as well as reducing monthly child care costs for B.C. families.
In addition to the child care fee reduction initiative launched in April, another affordability measure will be introduced in September 2018. The so-called “affordable child care benefit” will give up to $1,250 per month for child care costs for lower-income families.
As for the ECE funding for UFV, school president Joanne MacLean said they are appreciative of the support.
“Funding more spaces in our infant toddler educator program will allow us to better meet local demand, while ensuring those educators are qualified and can help our children get the best start possible.”