Central Okanagan municipalities work together for childcare needs assessment

Melissa Hunt, with Childhood Connections - Okanagan Family Childcare Society, weighs in

Central Okanagan municipalities are considering working together to apply for a $100,000 grant which would allow them to develop a childcare planning and needs assessment.

Lake Country council will consider the grant application Tuesday, while Peachland and West Kelowna have already approved the application to the Union of BC Municipalities. Kelowna will consider it Monday during its regular meeting.

Melissa Hunt, executive director for the Childhood Connections – Okanagan Family & Childcare Society, which oversees daycares across the Central Okanagan, said a childcare assessment would be welcome news.

“There’s a definite high need for childcare throughout the Central Okanagan. We see that in Lake Country and Peachland especially. Those communities don’t have enough childcare to support the need there for the parents who are looking for childcare and we’ll see the families using the childcare facilities in West Kelowna and Kelowna,” she said.

READ MORE: Lake Country mom fails to find infant childcare after 2 years of searching

“Ideally when you’re establishing a community setting for your child, you want to be closer to home.”

She said she’s glad to see a holistic approach as the Central Okanagan communities are so interconnected with economies and resources.

The Central Okanagan is in need of childcare facilities and workers, especially in the infant care sector, Hunt said. It’s harder to open an infant childcare facility as more childcare workers are required to operate the facility and wages aren’t appealing in the Central Okanagan.

“It’s more expensive for the centres to open that up and you need more staff, which is an issue in the valley,” Hunt said.

Starting this month, the provincial government is providing a $1 per hour wage increase for front-line early childhood educators working in eligible licensed childcare facilities. Another $1 per hour wage increase is scheduled for April 1, 2020, according to the government’s website.

Hunt said this could entice more workers to the Central Okanagan.

“It’s positive to see the government is supporting childcare… it’s a step in the right direction and we need to value the work the educators do for childcare. We want to keep quality educators in the field… Kelowna is an expensive community to live in and they also pay rent and mortgage,” she said.

READ MORE: Kelowna daycare owner frustrated over lack of payments with B.C. childcare program

“This funding is available for local governments to engage in child care planning activities in order to develop a community childcare space creation action plan. Funded projects will collect information regarding the child care needs of the community; create an inventory of existing childcare spaces; identify space creation targets over the next 10 years; and identify actions that can be taken to meet those space creation needs,” according to a report which will be presented to Lake Country council.

“Staff members from local governments will collaborate on the project, with the budget from the grant allocated towards consulting and public engagement costs. There is no matching component to the grant and therefore any costs to the district will be in‐kind through staff time.”

A report to be presented to Kelowna’s council outlines a need for the assessment, as the Central Okanagan has limited childcare spaces and has underserved populations such as low-income families, young parents, minority groups and for children with extra support needs.

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