Parts of Ontario are experiencing a child-care ‘crisis’ due to soaring demand, staff shortages: YMCA.
In the weeks after her second daughter was born in August 2022, Eniola Adams got to work.
Her job: find child care.
Adams said she registered on wait lists for about 20 licensed centres across Hamilton, where she lives, and in the nearby Ontario cities of Burlington and Oakville.
Adams said she was hopeful she’d find a spot by September 2023 so she could return to her career as a nurse practitioner at a hospital dialysis unit that’s already short-staffed. She also wants to pursue medical school to become a doctor.
But 10 months later, Adams doesn’t know if she’ll be able to get back to work at all this year.
One centre told her its wait list is 1,000 families long, she said. Another centre said not a single spot would open until at least March 2024. The shortest one Adams is on has over 200 families.
It’s a vast difference from when her first daughter was born in October 2020 and she secured a spot at the centre of her choice within six months.
“As a woman, I feel stuck,” said Adams. “It keeps me in the same spot. I can’t further my career. I can’t do anything else. I have to wait until I find child care so I can move forward.”
‘We’re in a crisis’
It’s a frustration felt by families and providers across parts of Ontario, including Hamilton, Burlington and Brantford, said Christina Martin, senior regional manager of child care at the local YMCA, one of the area’s largest child-care agencies.
On the one hand, demand is skyrocketing, Martin said. Families pay half of what they used to in fees for licensed centres or licensed home providers, thanks to Ontario’s child-care deal with the federal government.
On the other hand, the industry is facing the worst early childhood educator staffing shortage Martin has seen in her 34-year career.
Not a single YMCA child-care centre in Ontario is operating at capacity, according to a report by the organization released in January. It would need to hire nearly 3,000 more early childhood educators to provide full service.
Even when they post jobs, “there’s just no applicants,” Martin said.
“We’re in a crisis. The lower fees are great, but until we resolve the workforce shortage, I’m not sure how to meet the demands of families.”
Fewer people are pursuing a career in early childhood education, said Martin. One barrier is low pay, while requiring a high level of qualifications. There’s also a lack of recognition or respect for the profession.
“We need to remind the community the importance of an early childhood educator is foundational,” said Martin. “It’s not just about singing and playing games. It’s about helping children grow and develop.”
While the province has set a wage floor of $18 per hour last year, with a plan to increase that by $1 a year up to $25, Martin said it could also tweak qualification requirements for early childhood educators. If they want to work with children ages 1 to 5, for example, the skills are different than when providing after-school care to older kids.
City of Hamilton goal is to add 1,500 spots
Jessica Chase, city director of children and community services, said Hamilton aims to add over 1,500 child-care spots by 2026.
The city doesn’t provide child care directly, but disperses money from the province to for-profit, non-profit and school board providers. She said the city’s currently focusing on boosting access in Ward 3 (Hamilton Centre), Ward 4 (East Lower Hamilton), Ward 6 (East Mountain) and Ward 7 (Central Mountain) — where Adams lives.
The city determined each ward’s “access rate” by comparing existing licensed child-care capacity to the population of children under six years old. The province’s goal is to have an access rate of 37 per cent.
But where Adams lives, for example, the access rate for her daughter’s infant care (up to 18 months old) is a mere one per cent, according to city data. Other wards in Hamilton have an infant care access rate of zero per cent.
“It’s so bad,” Adams said. “I have four other friends, we all got pregnant around the same time. Nobody can find child care.”
Despite the numbers, Chase is optimistic that with more support from other levels of government, the situation will improve in the coming years.
“We’ve heard from families around the challenges of finding access to child care,” Chase said. “So I think it’s an incredibly exciting time for the sector to see things moving forward in terms of affordability and increased access.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Samantha Beattie is a reporter for CBC Hamilton. She has also worked for CBC Toronto and as a Senior Reporter at HuffPost Canada. Before that, she dived into local politics as a Toronto Star reporter covering city hall.
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca