Sask. daycares experience staffing shortages despite government grants

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Sask. daycares experience staffing shortages despite government grants
The Balgonie Early Learning Centre is one of several struggling daycares in Saskatchewan as early childhood learning centres battle the labour shortage – Feb 1, 2023

The Balgonie Early Learning Centre is one of several struggling daycares in Saskatchewan as early childhood learning centres battle the labour shortage.

“In September I lost about four staff members, and I haven’t been able to replace them yet,” said Ashley Austman, executive director of the daycare.

“It’s been extremely difficult. Just recently, actually last week, we had to give notice that we would be suspending our entire toddler group until we are able to hire again because we just physically cannot do it anymore.”

Austman has never experienced a shortage of staff until the past few months.

“Getting people to come out to a rural community is really difficult now that wages are subsidized and the same across the board.”

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Some of the staff members who left in September 2022 were headed to new jobs with more competitive wages and Austman said it has left an effect on the children who attend the centre.

“Children have a hard time understanding why someone needs to go from one workplace to another or that they got a new job or why they don’t want to stay with us. Children get very attached to their educators.”

Since losing some of her staff, she has been forced to ask work-from-home parents or parents on maternity leave to temporarily suspend their contract with the centre and care for their children at home.

“Due to ratio, we have to have a certain amount of staff in the building in order to care for all of our children.”

She says the quality of daycare has changed as staff members have more responsibilities with inadequate work distribution.

“We strive so hard to try to keep up with it, but there’s definitely things that we are missing,” Austman said. “Our educators don’t get programming time like they used to. It’s really hard to be implementing the play and exploration like we are supposed to be.”

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The governments of Saskatchewan and Canada announced $44 million in grants for daycares and for early childhood learning centres on Monday.

The government says the grants are to offset inflation, support preventive maintenance and centre repairs, and fund outdoor play equipment.

“We want the best possible start in life for all children in Canada,” Canada’s Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould said in a release. “These grants will help ensure childcare providers can continue to provide access to high-quality, affordable, flexible and inclusive early learning and childcare across the province.”

Austman said most of these grants actually make it harder for daycare centres in rural communities to remain competitive with those in nearby cities.

“I feel it would be best if there were a bit more flexibility with the use of the grants,” Austman said. “Something like an operational grant or a maintenance grant is great, but for centres that are already well maintained and don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on maintenance, that could be better used towards staff retaining and recruiting.”

Balgonie Early Learning Centre is currently putting together wellness and benefit packages for current staff and new recruits to offer more financial support.

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Barb Gustafson, interim dean of the School of Human Services at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, said they have seen a huge enrolment spike in their early childhood education program since the implementation of a $3.5-million grant given to the school last year by the government.

“It covers tuition for those who are working in the field already and want to take part-time studies to upgrade.”

While the school is seeing an uptick in the number of enrolments, they are still hearing directly from daycares about the labour shortage.

“There will always be a need,” said Gustafson. “Especially now with the funding to open new daycare spaces.”

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