Williams Lake City Council passed a resolution Tuesday in an effort to address a dire shortage of qualified early childhood education (ECE) workers in the lakecity.
Councillors agreed unanimously at its Tuesday evening regular meeting to do whatever necessary to encourage the enrolment of ECE students, to task Laurie Walters, who works for the City as a business liaison, Williams Lake hiring initiative, to further look into the problem and, lastly, to apply pressure on Thompson Rivers University to schedule and run ECE programs regardless of the number of students enrolled.
“We’ll do whatever we can, we know this is a big deal,” said Mayor Walt Cobb.
Councillors made the recommendation following a presentation from Linda Bond, administrator for the Williams Lake and District Daycare and Faren Lozier, co-owner of Exploring the Puddle Early Learning Centre.
Exploring the Puddle has been operating infant/toddler care, three to five year old care and preschool and summer day camps in Williams Lake for over six years.
Williams Lake and District Daycare has operated in the lakecity for the past 47 years, offering infant/toddler care and three to five year old care, year-round.
Bond said they understand councillors are well aware of the childcare crisis the city of Williams Lake and the entire province is facing, however, still felt the need and obligation to ‘come forth and share with you the hardships we are facing and the ripple effect that the lack of childcare is causing in our community.”
Bond said many local childcare centres are being forced to close spaces completely due to lack of permanent staff, noting Exploring the Puddle is closing its preschool program due to staffing challenges, leaving 32 families without preschool. She listed several other centres operating below capacity due to lack of staff.
“The bottom line is there are no qualified staff available in Williams Lake,” Bond said. “The problem is retention, respect and remuneration in the field.”
ECE workers are very underpaid and undervalued, she said, and often are viewed as “glorified babysitters.”
Typically ECE graduates make as little as $15 per hour, sometimes without benefits and a pension.
Administrators such as Bond have had to step in when staff are sick to look after children, leaving them to work evenings and weekend to catch up on their other work.
She said there are more than 200 families on waitlists for childcare in Williams Lake with “the very real possibility of never obtaining childcare at all.”
Bond said the lack of childcare options leaves parents unable to work, doctors and other professionals deterred from moving here, parents being forced to put their children in sub-par care and children not getting the benefits of preschool before kindergarten.
Faren also spoke to council, and described the chain reaction that is occurring when ECE staff call in sick.
“If an ECE is sick today in Williams Lake that could mean the closure of up to eight childcare spaces, meaning eight parents cannot attend their jobs that day,” she said.
Council told the delegation they are continuing to work on the problem and will assist wherever possible to find solutions.