Keremeos families got an unpleasant surprise when they received a letter informing them that their child care is likely ending by the start of June.
On May 17, six families who have their children in the OneSky Keremeos child care program were informed that the contract for the caregiver of the program would be expiring.
“We just haven’t had any applicants with the necessary training,” said Ian Gerbrandt, the director of community services for OneSky. “There’s a real shortage of childhood educators across the province.”
It’s a situation that is leaving those families facing uncertainty over how they will be able to handle work and their children’s care.
“It’s a bad situation right now for a lot of us,” said Lisa Flex, whose two-year-old is in the program. “I was trying not to panic until we knew for sure whether they would find someone, now I’m panicking a little.”
Without a childcare program in place, Flex added that she will likely have to take a leave of absence from work.
The Keremeos childcare program currently has six families with eight children in it and is the only child care program in the community. The waitlist for the program has 17 families on it.
In the letter sent to parents currently in the program, spots were offered in Oliver and Penticton for their children. According to Gerbrandt, only one family was considering the option.
“Sometimes that’s just not practical for the families, especially if they’re working in Keremeos,” said Gerbrandt. “Our mandate at OneSky is to meet community needs and I do feel like we’re letting them down.
Over the last seven years that the child care program has been running in Keremeos, the staff running it have gone from positions at the Keremeos program to other OneSky child care programs in different communities.
“I feel like Keremeos isn’t on their main priority list,” said Flex. “The great lady we have is going to Penticton to become the manager of one of their fancy centres there.”
This isn’t the only time OneSky has faced shutting down the program in the last seven years, due to Keremeos’ rural location.
“The reality is with smaller communities the shortage is even more acute,” said Gerbrandt.
In a report compiled by the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen that was presented to Keremeos’ council, the village will need an additional 40 child care spots by 2030.
In order to meet the requirements for the license, OneSky has to operate the multi-age childcare program with a caretaker who is required to have an early childhood education (ECE) certificate. It’s a stricter requirement than other family child care providers face.
Recent announcements and projects such as the Edmonton Avenue Childcare Centre in Penticton have been focused on the number of new child care spaces the facilities would be able to accommodate, while the funding has been focused on the construction for the new facilities.
Those projects, being announced across the province, have put the trained educators in high demand which is just another hurdle OneSky will have to compete with.
“Just this week I saw the school district posted for six new jobs and the qualification they’re looking for is the ECE, with 20 per cent higher wages than ours,” said Gerbrandt. “All of a sudden there’s a movement of talent. We can’t compete with that, without increasing the fees for child care and we want to keep it as affordable as possible.”
One avenue he wants to see explored is a local post-secondary program to provide the training for the early childhood educator certificate, without having to take distance programs or leave the region, and for a better government program to improve the number of trained educators in the labour force.
Gerbrandt said that OneSky will continue to seek a new educator to run the program.
“We want the families to know that OneSky is still committed to being a childcare operator in Keremeos, we are open to reopening that program as soon as we have the right candidate.
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