Sask. has the worst childcare deserts in Canada

Megan Schmidt is tired of telling parents there is no room for their children at the First Years Learning Center in Regina.

Schmidt, the center’s director, said she’s glad child care has become more affordable, but her day care has a waiting list of 1,925 children.

“It’s really, really hard to just have to turn people away like that. We feel the struggle in the parents’ voices when they call, and we just do [have to] say it’s likely your child will come in here,” Schmidt said.

“We could open 10 more centers in this area and we’d still have a waiting list.”

Saskatchewan has the worst child care deserts in Canada, according to a report by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), titled Not Yet Done: $10 a day childcare calls for addressing Canada’s childcare deserts.

A line graph ranks Canadian provinces by availability of regulated child care.
This chart from the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives on Child Care ranks the number of children in each province who live in a child care wilderness. (Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives)

The report says 92 per cent of Saskatchewan children not yet in kindergarten live in zip codes where more than three children compete for every licensed childcare space.

Saskatchewan was the third province to implement $10-a-day child care, two years ahead of the federal target.

“The problem is that without more spaces, parents who might want to use that much more affordable childcare can’t because there isn’t space,” said David McDonald, CCPA senior economist, who co-authored the report. told CBC radio The Morning Edition’s: host Stephanie Lagenegger.

MacDonald said making some changes to the way child care is provided could help reduce the number of child care deserts in the state.

“When it comes to places like Saskatchewan, we need a public planning process that’s more like what you would see for public schools,” Macdonald said, “so that’s where you have to locate public schools, not where it is most convenient. for the school, for the school administration, but where it is most convenient for the children.”

Among Canadian cities, Saskatoon ranks dead last for children not yet in kindergarten, while Regina has the third-worst coverage. However, McDonald said there are even more children living in rural Saskatchewan’s child care deserts.

Graph showing Regina and Saskatoon in the bottom three for non-kindergarten coverage rates
Both Regina and Saskatoon are in the bottom three for pre-kindergarten coverage rates. There are more than 6,500 children in that category in all cities on the list. (Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives)

Some government subsidies end in July

Nicole Kessel is the director of Wiggles and Giggles Childcare Inc. in Whitewood, a town 175 kilometers east of Regina. She remembers the stress and tears that came with fitting surgeries to meet the demands of $10-a-day childcare on short notice.

Kessel currently receives $10 per child from a parent and $32 from the government. On July 1, state subsidies for open and part-time spaces will end, which he says will be devastating for his center.

“It’s disappointing. It’s exhausting. It’s just very sad,” Kessel said Tuesday at the Saskatchewan Legislature.

“It just looks like our great efforts may be for naught and our center will collapse.”

A woman answers questions at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building
Nicole Kessel is the director of Wiggles and Giggles Childcare Center Inc. in Whitewood, Sask. About 175 kilometers east of Saskatchewan. He spoke at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Tuesday. (CBC)

Kessel, who is also vice-president of the Southeast Saskatchewan Principals Association, said about half of the region’s centers have committed to lay off some families because there won’t be enough money for staff and resources.

How does the government support the industry?

The Saskatchewan government has announced pay increases for all three levels of early childhood educators in the past two years.

Kessel said some child care workers in rural communities don’t qualify for that improvement because they don’t have the same level of early childhood education.

He mentioned that the childcare center in Whitewood was opened in August.

“Who in Whitewood, Saskatchewan, has their level of early childhood education when we’ve never had kindergarten before,” Kessel said. “I just had some of my employees start moving up their levels, but they’re making $13.21 an hour when Dairy Queen will start them at $15.”

“I can’t compete with that.”

Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan said the province is working to develop a long-term early childhood educator workforce strategy that will outline a longer-term vision for growth in the sector and a salary grid to ensure early childhood educators receive competitive salaries.

Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan
Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan says the province is working on a workforce strategy and salary grid. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

» [We are looking at] an expansion strategy that will look at where we can expand not only where there’s no childcare, but also work with centers and regulated family spaces to see if they can take on additional numbers,” Duncan said in an interview on Tuesday. :

Duncan did not meet with Kessel on Tuesday.

Kessel wants to see a workforce strategy by June 9 and a payroll grid by June 23.

A more attractive salary is needed to match the demand

Angie Stevenson, director of the St. Brie Community Child Care Center, said it’s great that child care is becoming more affordable.

She added that in St. Brieu, about 180 kilometers northeast of Saskatoon, children are not living in a child care desert, but the center is still feeling the pinch of increased demand.

“We’re seeing a waiting list now, and we’ve never had a waiting list before,” Stevenson said. “We have 78 areas planned for a city with a population of 650.

“We could have more kids in some of our classrooms if I had more qualified early childhood educators, but that’s what we’re seeing in Saskatchewan and across Canada.”

A woman takes a photo
Megan Schmidt is the director of First Years Learning Center Inc. in Regina. That day care has a waiting list of 1,925 children. (Submitted by Megan Schmidt)

Schmidt said there is an immediate need for a wage net, improved working conditions and benefits.

“I would say most early childhood educators have two jobs, some may have three jobs,” Schmidt said.

“It will be important that the government focuses on those three things so that we attract more educators into the field and those who have left come back,” Schmidt said.

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