Two-dozen Kelowna families are scrambling to find childcare after their daycare announced it is closing spaces due to a staffing shortage.
Building Blocks Educational Childcare on Gordon Drive will say one final goodbye to 24 children on Friday. The decision has left parents like Adam Klassen in panic mode, who learned the news on Tuesday evening.
“We have to find something for Monday. I’m calling all the daycares, but obviously there's a year or two waiting list. We’re now looking at private nannies or maybe even my in-laws. It's pretty shocking how fast this is happening, we’re just trying not to panic,” said Klassen.
The closure will also have an impact on his son.
“It's devastating. Our son just started to really feel happy there, and so to rip him out, it's a lot of change for him.”
The daycare is closing the spaces because it can't find staff to meet minimum government licensing requirements.
Childhood Connections Okanagan Family and Childcare Society executive director Melissa Hunt says the provincial government needs to do more to encourage the training of early childhood educators throughout B.C.
She says bursaries to financially support future daycare workers while they receive their training would help alleviate the provincial staffing crunch. The government has done a great job funding new childcare facilities, but they haven't done enough to support future educators, she added.
Becoming an early childhood educator takes two years of education, so students must be able to support themselves financially for that time, followed by an unpaid practicum at the end.
Hunt called the current childcare shortage a “crisis level" situation in the Okanagan.
“Unfortunately, Building Blocks is among many childcare programs that are not able to stay open because of the lack of early childhood educators. We have 194 spaces in the Central Okanagan that are either closed or not able to open because they don’t have the staff,” said Hunt. “This is at a crisis level.”
Hunt added the situation is frustrating because it won't go away anytime soon.
Building Blocks daycare director Laura Forbes says the decision to close the spaces has been incredibly difficult.
“We understand the impact this will have on our families, and we are so sorry,” Forbes said. “We’ve tried everything we could to not have to do this. The [early childhood educator] staff crisis has been ongoing for many years, but COVID has exacerbated it.”
Forbes also understands why regulations and staffing requirements are in place, but considering the situation and how out of control it's gotten in the Okanagan, she's hoping some adjustments can be made.
“Childcare regulations are in place for a reason, but they really do need to be adjusted to help support centres get to the other side of this crisis,” said Forbes. “There needs to be collaboration with the government to help teachers and families, because the answer can't be to force closure on children, families and teachers.”
Forbes says rather than focusing on opening new spaces, the focus needs to shift to educating daycare staff. Advocates in the South Okanagan have been making similar calls.
“We know there will always be a demand for space, but we have those spaces. The focus has to be on [early childhood educators] and getting them into the workforce in order to service these spaces,” said Forbes.
Building Blocks has been providing childcare in Kelowna for fourteen years.