Parents who say they were promised first right of refusal on a waiting list for a Kelowna daycare now say they have been passed over for other families.
ProducKIDvity announced in January that it was taking over one of the locations of Building Blocks Educare, which is shutting down after 15 years of operation.
Building Blocks said it would close its Gordon Drive location, while ProducKIDvity would take over operations of the Sutherland Avenue facility this spring.
At the time, ProducKIDvity said families with children currently at the Sutherland location would have the first right of refusal to receive childcare from ProducKIDvity. Families with children at the Gordon location of Building Blocks would have to search elsewhere unless a spot opens up at Sutherland.
Now, many of those parents have been turned away in favour of others, and the owner of ProducKIDvity admits she has changed her policy.
“We had received countless threats, harassing comments and overall unpleasant experiences with families at Sutherland since announcing we would be taking over the location on April 1,” Alexandra Carnio told Castanet.
“To be clear, we did tell families on February 7 that based on this behaviour, we would be moving forward to admit families that wanted to access all of our services, regardless of whether they were at the Gordon or Sutherland location.”
Mom Jenny Weightman expressed her disappointment. She says that she saw the writing on the wall and found a day home spot for her son.
“It's still not ideal full-time, so it does affect my job. I will most likely just have to step down from a management job I fought for for years because my son will be home with me part-time now,” said Weightman.
One of the things that many parents objected to was being asked to pay for premium services, well above what they were paying at Building Blocks.
Carnio shared the letter sent to Building Blocks parents on Feb. 7.
“When we set out to support existing Building Blocks families, we said that we would triage the spots based on the families who wanted to access all of our services — not just the basic packages. We offered to give a first right of refusal to Sutherland families at our terms. As a private business, it’s important to us that the families we work with are aligned to our mission and philosophy. We have done our best to be as transparent as possible throughout this transition.
"We understand that you are stressed about your childcare. However — we had nothing to do with Building Blocks closing and are offering a favour to Building Blocks families who want to access all of our services. The premium childcare spots being offered to Building Blocks families go above and beyond our own 200+ family wait list,” said the letter.
Carnio doesn’t apologize for selecting those willing to pay for premium childcare spots.
“We are a private business and can choose to do business with the customers that best fit our business. It is unfortunate that some of the families felt the need to be hurtful and rude to our team, however, we have a zero-tolerance policy for any sort of harassment. These are not the types of people we want to bring into our community which is focused on caring and kindness.”
Weightman says that out of the 27 children in her son’s daycare class at Building Blocks, only 10 got spots with ProducKIDvity.
Building Blocks was able to secure an extension on its lease at the Gordon Drive daycare centre to June 2, but after that, families that haven’t found a space at ProducKIDvity or elsewhere could be left without childcare.
The demise of Building Blocks prompted calls for the provincial government to do more to solve the childcare crisis in Kelowna.
“I know how important accessible and affordable child care is for families – as well as our communities and our economy as a whole. That’s why our ChildCare BC plan invests in new spaces, supports operators and providers with more funding, and invests in early childhood educators," said Grace Lore, Minister of State for Childcare, in a statement to Castanet.
The minister suggests that for years, "families were abandoned to a patchwork system and childcare was only becoming more expensive and difficult to find."
"It will take time to reverse the damage done by treating child care as a luxury, instead of a core service every family needs, but we’re making progress. Since the launch of ChildCareBC in 2018, the Province has funded the creation of 995 licensed childcare spaces in the Kelowna area, with 237 of those new spaces operational," adds Lore.
She points out that the government is working to recruit and retain early childhood educators by helping with the cost of education, enhancing wages and providing better access to training and professional development.
“In Kelowna, we’re working with Okanagan College to deliver a Dual Credit Program for high-school students to get college-level ECE coursework and opportunities to work in the sector.”