Figures from the District of North Saanich suggest that the community at large might need three times as many childcare spaces as currently exist.
Rebecca Penz, communications manager with the District of North Saanich, said current estimates show 150 licensed spaces for pre-school children and another 150 licensed school-aged care spaces (before and after school care) in North Saanich. This total figure of 300 contrasts with the latest census figures. They show 390 children aged five and under and 615 children from 6-12 years old in the municipality, for a total of 1,005, more than three times as many children as spaces.
This comparison comes with two important provisos: first, the time frames do not match for comparative purposes, and second, not all children in the community require pre-school care, as well as before and after school care, or they might receive it elsewhere. This said, the figures broadly confirm the regional shortage of various types of child care spaces.
Perhaps the most immediate symbol of this phenomenon was the recent fate of Beacon’s Nature Club, an after-school care program. Beacon Community Services started the service in September 2019 after KELSET Elementary School reclaimed space from an after-school program offered at that school. That program had closed its doors on June 28. Yet three months later, Beacon’s Nature Club closed its doors after Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church reclaimed space previously used Beacon’s Nature Club. This odyssey left parents like Sharon Larade scrambling for after-school care not once, but twice within the span of six months.
Katrina Chen, the provincial minister of state for childcare, told the Peninsula News Review that her office would look into the specific situation, while promising broader improvements.
This said, North Saanich, along with Sidney and Central Saanich, have received some good news after showing initiative on their own.
The three are among six Greater Victoria communities (along with Saanich, Oak Bay and Highlands) that recently hired Queenswood Consulting Group to lead a series of workshops and public engagement opportunities to study existing childcare resources in the region, with an eye towards addressing gaps.
The six communities had jointly bid for and received a $150,000 grant through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities Community Child Car Planning Program for the analysis.
Details around the use of the money is not clear yet. “The exact allotment for each municipality has not been quantified,” said Penz.
“This is a regional issue (child care crosses municipal boundaries) and the aim of pursuing it as a regional initiative is to strengthen the ties and working relationships with neighbouring municipalities as well as cost savings.”
Penz said the report due back in November will include recommendations on potential actions, which North Saanich may pursue.
“Council will give direction on next steps,” she said, adding the initiative aligns with the strategic priority to “maintain a safe and healthy community.”
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes, who has been spearheading the initiative, is delighted by the collaboration of the six communities.
“We all hear from young families in our communities that the chronic shortage of child care causes significant problems and negatively affects their quality of life,” he said. “We aim to improve child care services across the region, reducing stress on families and the economy.”
The Peninsula News Review also reached out to Sidney and Central Saanich for comment. Sidney has said that it plans to issue a press release with details, while Central Saanich, currently dealing with the pending departure of outgoing chief administrative officer Patrick Robins, has not yet responded.
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