Both a psychology student at TRU and a mother, Heather Andersen has had a difficult time finding daycare for her daughter in Kamloops since she returned to school last year.
Andersen put her daughter’s name on the waitlist for the Cariboo Child Care Society, TRU’s on-campus daycare, last June. After eight months, the daycare was finally able to get Andersen’s daughter in three weeks ago.
“I’m currently living with my parents, but as they get older, finding daycare is hard,” Andersen said.
Andersen originally tried enrolling her daughter at the Montessori pre-school in Sahali, but cited the cost of part-time daycare there as a barrier to entry.
While an eight-month waitlist period may seem like a long time, it is fairly common in Kamloops and around the province. Waitlists at some daycares can even be years.
Owner of Lil’ Foot Daycare in Sahali, Crissy Felker, said that waitlist times for infants can be upwards of two years.
“Most people, when they get pregnant, they sign up,” Felker said.
At the Cariboo Child Care Society, executive director Marian Hardy says it’s much of the same situation there.
“There is a huge shortage of childcare in this province,” Hardy said.
“Here, we are limited because we have 12 infant spaces, 12 toddler spaces, and 50 spaces from ages three to five. Infant-toddler is the most needed.”
While Hardy admits it is heartbreaking to have to turn parents away, many of the spaces available at the Cariboo Child Care Society are filled months in advance. While students are given priority, and the daycare is mandated to maintain 70 per cent of the spaces for the children of students. They also reserve spaces for faculty, alumni and parents within the community.
The facility survives, in part, on funding from student fees and government subsidies as well, and although the situation has slightly improved over the last decade, Hardy says that more needs to be done by the government.
“For students and especially young parents, it needs to be an election issue. These politicians need to put their money where their mouth is and get it moving,” Hardy said.
“If you rolled all the subsidies, small and large grants together, and directly distributed it to the programs themselves, not the parents, then you would be able to develop this $10 a day program everyone is hoping for.”
Currently, prices for infants stand at $50.50 per day. Elsewhere in town prices for children of the same age can run as high as $70 per day.
With demand so high, and with TRU’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) program right here on campus, some are wondering why waitlists are still around.
While daycare prices are often a barrier to enrollment for parents, the cost of the the ECE program combined with the low wages of the profession often make many cautious about entering the ECE field, according to Connie Alger, TRU’s ECE program coordinator.
“People are drawn to this profession. They really value children, they recognize that the research is showing that early childhood education is critical to a child’s success,” Alger said.
“But because the educators are not being respected and valued at the societal level and they are not earning a good income, people can’t stay in the profession long.”
Last year, in order to make the ECE application program easier and less costly for those interested in the program, Alger and her department revised the application process and removed unnecessary prerequisites.
“We looked at our requirements and realized some of them were from the ’80s, like needing first aid and foodsafe,” Alger said.
“We checked with licensing and asked if they these were required of ECE students anymore and they said, ‘No, they are not.’ So we decided to eliminate those because they are just cost barriers to students.”
While the low availability of ECEs does present problems for Kamloops daycares, Hardy is hoping that TRU’s university village plan will force the university to make child care on campus more accessible.
“The idea would be to have more childcare spaces, more options for parents across campus,” Hardy said.
Until concrete changes come to the way TRU looks at child care, Hardy says that it’ll be business as usual.
“It sometimes amazes me how many people say they don’t know a daycare exists on campus. But then again, sometimes we keep quiet,” Hardy said.
“I don’t put out advertising, because I don’t think it is fair to get parents’ hopes up.”