Child-care providers raise coronavirus concerns in letter to B.C. premier

Child-care providers are raising concerns about B.C.'s COVID-19 protocols.

The B.C. Child Care Owners Association is raising concerns about the province’s requirement to keep daycares open.

In an open letter to Premier John Horgan, association board member Pamela Wallberg says the organization is worried about the “absolute dearth of directions from your ministries despite weeks of requesting information.”

“You were elected and placed into a position that is responsible for child care in B.C. and you are failing the children, families and child-care professionals throughout the province,” Wallberg writes.

“We support decisions being made grounded in best practice and science. We understand that the decisions for child-care program operations must be made by the provincial health officer. This is as it should be.”

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The organization is asking the province for direction for a number of issues.

One concern is that with staff in self-isolation, there are not enough educators and/or licences to operate facilities and meet the ratio.

The organization is also concerned about the shortage of cleaning supplies such as paper towels and sanitizer.

Wallberg is asking for help accessing supplies to ensure a full cleaning twice a day.

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Daycares are also struggling to meet provincial demands around social distancing and banning gatherings of more than 50 people.

“We are unable to maintain social distancing. It is simply a developmental impossibility within groups of young children,” Wallberg writes.

“How do you suggest we do so within our programs? Many programs are much larger than 50 children and educators within one facility. How do we meet the gathering-size mandate of less than 50?”

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says there are no requirements for all centres to stay open. Henry has made child care an essential service, particularly for parents who work in key sectors like health care.

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“Certainly, some daycare facilities, it’s very difficult to have that distancing, to have the measures in place and enhanced cleaning that you need,” she said.

There is also a growing concern from parents that if they keep their kids home from daycare they will lose a spot they have waited for in some cases a long time.

One of the suggestions from childcare operators is the province take over funding child cares and provide funding to secure the spots and ensure rent or mortgages can be paid.

“All these spots should be held with government subsidies so the parents don’t have to worry about their spot and we don’t have to worry about getting our income in,” Alexis Playdon from Imagination Station Childcare Centre said.

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“We’re trying to be here at the time of need but we’re not getting any direction whatsoever.”

On Thursday, Dr. Henry said the province is working on a plan to ensure parents do not lose childcare spots once the pandemic is over.

“Part of the things that we have discussed is making sure people don’t lose their day care spaces and that day cares are supported so that when we move through this phase and when we get back to starting to get our society going again, the day cares are there to continue the important work that they do,” Dr. Henry said.

Dr. Henry said the province is actively working with the industry to develop best practices for child care and to address concerns about workers and high-risk individuals.

“What I have asked the sector to do is to look at how we can best protect everybody in the sector, both the child-care operators, the early childhood educators, as well as the families that provide those necessary services for the essential service workers and health-care workers.”

Daycares are also raising the concern of parents refusing to pay fees and withdrawing children without notice. This leaves many operators in a space where they can’t meet lease or mortgage payments.

The province is committing to help facilities put in this situation.

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“There will be a legislative session next Monday,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

“Some of these issues will be addressed because we are dealing with issues around supply and so on. You’ll be hearing from the ministers responsible and, obviously, from the minister of finance on all that.”

There is also a growing concern from operators over whether they will be able to survive past the pandemic. Educare Early Learning CEO Jason Bains says his centre is now prioritizing enrollment for children of parents in the health care sector.

But with a strain being put on the business now there are worries they will have a hard time post crisis

Sufficient measures must be taken to assist child care providers that cannot remain open at this time, in order to ensure that they’ll be able to re-open their doors in the future after this pandemic is behind us. The key word here is sufficient, all measures must be sufficient and I have faith that they will be,” Bains said.

–with files from John Hua

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