No light at the end of the tunnel: What a summer camps shortage means for working moms

Working moms Yelena Goren (left), Jacinda David (centre) and Allison Venditti (right). Pictures courtesy of Yelena Goren, Jacinda David and Allison Venditti

Yelena Goren says she checks the COVID-19 case count daily, looking for signs that the novel coronavirus pandemic is waning. But the light at the end of the tunnel has been hard to spot, she says.

“I’m just not seeing it right now.”

Since the beginning of the health emergency, the Richmond Hill, Ont.-based disability and employment lawyer has been managing her practice from home and simultaneously looking after her three children, one of whom has Type 1 diabetes, a condition that can lead to more severe symptoms of COVID-19.

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For that reason, the family has been in strict self-isolation, according to Goren.

With her husband working full time, Goren says she is working evenings and weekends on her current caseload but hasn’t been able to take on any new clients, even as her competitors have been ramping up their marketing.

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“This is the time to get the disability and employment files because so many people have been laid off,” she says.

But without a viable child-care option for her children this summer, Goren says she will likely have to stay in that holding pattern for several more months.

I was hoping they were going to go to camp over the summer,” she says. But with the virus still circulating, she adds, “I think it’s still too risky for us to consider.”

Click to play video: 'Overnight camps in Ontario cancelled amid COVID-19 pandemic' Overnight camps in Ontario cancelled amid COVID-19 pandemic
Overnight camps in Ontario cancelled amid COVID-19 pandemic – May 19, 2020

Many provincial governments across Canada are still evaluating whether to let summer camps open this summer and how. But no matter what they decide, many parents will likely find that camp is not an option this year.

Ontario, for one, has already announced the decision to cancel all overnight camps. But regardless of provincial rules, some camp operators have already given up on holding planned activities this summer, says Martha Friendly, a Toronto-based child-care expert who runs The Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

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Also, the camps that do run may have fewer spots available due to physical distancing and heightened hygiene requirements, Friendly says.

Then there’s the question of whether families will feel it’s safe to send their children to camp. Summer camps aren’t subject to the strict provincial regulations that govern child-care centres, Friendly notes.

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Friendly suggests that parents check their camp operator’s COVID-19 measures against the guidelines provinces have put in place for child-care centres. Even in places like Ontario, which has yet to reopen daycare and other child-care services, there are rules in places for centres that look after the children of essential workers, Friendly notes.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec’s summer day camps to reopen June 22' Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec’s summer day camps to reopen June 22
Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec’s summer day camps to reopen June 22 – May 21, 2020

For Jacinda David, summer camp is a double conundrum. Not only is the mother of three wondering what to do with her children as the warm season approaches, but she is also waiting to know whether she’ll be able to operate her very own day camps.

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David and her husband, who own Toronto’s Just Bounce trampoline club, have been running camps for 15 years and added a new location in Newmarket, Ont., this year, she says.

Being able to run summer camps this year could be “a lifesaver,” David says.

But even if the Ontario government gives day camps the green light, David and her husband may have to crunch the numbers to see whether running the camps makes sense financially, she says. David expects to have to operate with fewer kids and more staff than usual, which means “the cost of being open may be more than the cost of being closed,” she says.

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For now, David says many families with summer bookings at Just Bounce have opted not to cancel their reservations in a show of support for the small business. For those who wish to opt out, though, the company is tapping its $40,000 emergency loan from the federal government to provide refunds, she adds.

With summer camps in limbo, some parents are already turning to backup child-care options.

Nannies on Call, a nanny placement service operating in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa, is already seeing bookings for the whole summer, says founder Michelle Kelsey.

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“We have seen an uptick in the last couple of weeks of people trying to find solutions,” Kelsey says.

The company is also about to launch its own 10-week summer program, with different weekly activities — like Olympics week and math and science week — the nannies can do with the kids.

Click to play video: 'Summer camps find ways to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions and reopen' Summer camps find ways to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions and reopen
Summer camps find ways to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions and reopen – May 20, 2020

Nanny shares, with two families pooling resources to hire a single nanny to watch their kids, is a way to bring down costs, says Friendly. Another option is looking for early childhood education students who may be available for summer work, she adds.

But child-care backups are out of reach financially for many parents, Friendly notes.

I’m very concerned about lower-income families just having no options,” she says.

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The likely dearth of summer camps will also disproportionately impact women, Friendly adds.

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While there are plenty of fathers who are also currently juggling work, child care and house chores, “women still are more responsible for making arrangements for their children,” she says.

Click to play video: 'Camp Horizon cancels spring, summer camps for the first time in over 50 years' Camp Horizon cancels spring, summer camps for the first time in over 50 years
Camp Horizon cancels spring, summer camps for the first time in over 50 years – May 16, 2020

For some families, it’s financial considerations dictating that women take on more of the child care.

Allison Venditti says it “didn’t feel like much of a choice” in her case.

While Venditti’s husband is still working full time, the mother of three says demand for her business has dropped.

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Venditti, who runs Careerlove, a career coaching service for parents, calls herself “a huge advocate for working moms.”

But, she says,it’s hard for me to make the argument that I want to keep working full tilt.”

Venditti and her husband had to make decisions at the start of the lockdown about who would work when and who’d take care of the children. At the time, before the government announced various support programs for small business, the couple decided Venditti’s husband would keep up a regular work week and she would work evenings and weekends.

Many others faced similar choices, adds Venditti, who also runs the Facebook group Moms at Work.

There’s a deep discussion on many online groups about women’s careers being sidetracked,” she says.

But Venditti doesn’t see a solution for her family in the near term.

Sending her children to camps or her two-year-old to daycare feels “very uncomfortable,” she says, especially since her youngest child has a medical condition.

Hiring a babysitter or nanny on the family’s reduced income isn’t possible either, she adds.

“For people who rely on two incomes, the financial stress is crippling.”


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