Desperate for more daycare


Chelsea Powrie

Amanda Burnett is already halfway through her maternity leave, but still has no daycare lined up for her daughter when it's time to go back to work in the fall. 

"I've already been stressing and spending so much time just trying to find childcare," the Penticton mother said, with emotion.

She's not alone with this issue — it's an epidemic in town. Penticton childcare spots, especially affordable ones, are few and far between. Burnett managed to get her daughter on one waiting list, but she's number 75 out of 77. Other daycares don't even have waiting lists because they get too overwhelmed. 

Kristen Armstrong, co-owner of Two Peas in a Pod daycare, says the industry in town is nowhere near able to match the demand for spots.

"We've only been up and running for just under three months now, and I am completely full with a waitlist," she said. "It's about a three-year waitlist for my infant/toddler program."

Armstrong added that part of the problem is shortages of caregivers available to hire, which limits the number of spots a daycare can offer to kids. She's currently fully staffed, but knows that's not the case for everyone.

"It's basically, we fight with other centres on who offers more and who offers what, is basically how it works," she said. 

Burnett is frustrated by that shortage, as the childcare industry is overwhelmingly female. Are some young female caregivers not going back to work, she wonders, because they themselves can't find a daycare?

"It's not the 1950s anymore," she said "I shouldn't have to stay at home because I don't want to. The parents who can afford to and want to stay at home with their children, then that's great and you have the right to do that. But the parents who don't want to, the parents who can't afford to, who are living on one paycheque and barely getting by, they don't have childcare."

Frustrated and wanting things to change, she started reaching out to local and provincial politicians. In her view, chlidcare should be something the City of Penticton is interested in funding, since a city without childcare isn't an attractive place for young professionals to settle down and start families. 

"I heard back from two [council members]. And they both said they're sorry, there's nothing they can do," she said. 

So Burnett started collecting short, real stories from other mothers in the Penticton area and posting them in a Facebook group she titled Waitlisted Project BC

"I had my son on a waitlist since he was three weeks old. Two weeks before I had to return to work a full time spot finally opened at a licensed daycare. Three months later he was bumped out due to lack of staff," writes one woman. 

"Politicians should care about new families. We are the future and things have changed. Most of us can't live off of one income," reads another.

Burnett is collecting the stories and all the local statistics she can and will be presenting to city council in June, hoping that the real testimonies will show that saying “sorry” isn’t enough.

"You know, [they] should tell that to the mom that had to quit her job and go on assistance," Burnett said, referencing one of the personal stories. "After childcare costs, she was bringing home $2 an hour. She was a manager at her work making minimum wage, and she had to quit her job because she couldn't afford the unreliable babysitters."

Through the project, Burnett has met countless other mothers who told her they thought they were alone with this endless frustration. That only bolsters her resolve to shine a light on the problem. 

"I realized lots of people are struggling with this, and not a lot of people are talking about it," she said. "They can't ignore it and it will go away."

The new pilot projects of $10 per day childcare from the provincial NDP government are a good thing, she says, but it's nowhere near enough.

The pilot project in Penticton, KinderBear Daycare, has 64 spots for preschool-aged babies and toddlers, and is completely full. Their website lists the wait time for a 3-5 year old as up to three years, and doesn't even give a wait time for infants.

"The majority of our infant toddler spaces are filled by siblings of children currently attending our program and the children of our staff. Few spaces are filled from the waitlist," it reads. 

On June 18 when she addresses council, Burnett hopes to convince the mayor and councillors to see daycare for its working citizens as strong investment and a necessary public service. She also plans to keep lobbying the provincial government for more as well.

"[City councillors] have told me before that if a daycare company comes and asks them to open, of course they'd allow it," Burnett said. "But that's not how it should work. If we didn't have a hospital in town, would we just wait until one came to us and asked to be built? No."

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