How far does the NWT government’s childcare funds go? Not far enough, say these operators
Hundreds of new childcare places for NWT children are still on the way, but some operators say they are concerned current dollars won’t go far enough to ease the pressure on parents and providers.
The NWT has grown about 170 spots since 2018-19, Education, Culture and Employment Secretary RJ Simpson said on Thursday. With federal aid, the government is injecting millions of dollars into the child care system in hopes of making child care more affordable and has set a goal of opening 300 new child care places by 2025-26.
Simpson joined Patricia Davison, chair of the NWT Early Childhood Association, and Yvette Cooper, who owns Yvette’s Day Home in Yellowknife, on CBC North The trail breaker Thursday morning to discuss the issues facing parents and providers. They also heard from several parents who were struggling to find childcare.
Operators say staff shortages need to be addressed
Those additional spaces the area hopes to open could serve as a pressure valve for the hundreds of parents on waiting lists, but they won’t be possible without more workers, Davison said.
The government has allocated $4.6 million to raise wages, but Davison said she’s not sure that’s enough to attract more workers to an industry that has lower wages and fewer benefits than other jobs and jobs generally don’t have a retirement plan.
“The budget we have won’t go very far. That’s my concern,” she said.
“We’re talking about a lot of support that needs to happen and a budget that may not quite do it justice.”
Simpson also pointed to other funding, including $1 million a year for infrastructure, which he says has contributed to about 50 new rooms.
“Work is happening, but I know it’s not going fast enough. If you want to go to work today, you’re not going fast enough,” he said.
“But we’re trying. We’re working on it.”
Flexibility for day homes
Cooper said day care centers like the one she runs are under even greater pressure — they’re sole operators and don’t have staff. That means coordinating with parents whenever operators need to go to a doctor’s appointment or take time off.
Cooper said previous experiences for day care providers with the area have been “super negative”.
“So vendors keep leaving the field, honestly. And day care centers are the canary in the coal mine, right? They are the ones who will close first,” she said.
She said the NWT should implement a system like Manitoba’s, where two day care centers can work together and hire someone to effectively serve as a substitute teacher.
Simpson said the NWT’s childcare system isn’t as “mature” as other areas, but he takes it seriously.
“We have a lot to find out,” he said.
“We want to end up somewhere where the system is sustainable, and if more investment is needed in the future, the government needs to make that investment.”