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Tofino’s child care problems ramp up as busy summer season begins

“We are sending our daughter and son away for all of July”
Tofino-based chef Kristine Morrow is struggling to find child care for her kids Brennan and Hana. (Nora O’Malley photo)

As Tofino parents head into the busy summer season, the hunt to secure child care in a pinch has become next to impossible.

On June 22, the Community Children’s Centre in Tofino reduced their hours to part-time due to staffing issues. Tofino child care provider Grandma Marg retired and moved away in April, further compounding the daycare crisis.

Summer camp programs run by the district or organizations like Nature Kids booked up in fewer than 10 minutes, says Lindsay Whitefield, a mom of three and a member of the newly formed Tofino Child Care Society.

“Child care is an emergency that needs to be addressed now,” said Whitefield. “The district has neglected the Children’s Centre for years and they need to make it a priority.”

In 2019, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District conducted a child care needs assessment across the region. The research showed there was a lack of child care spaces on the West Coast, especially for infants and toddlers. The study recommended increased support to Early Childhood Educators and to partner with community stakeholders to create spaces.

In May of 2021, the City of Port Alberni received provincial funding to partner with the Community Arts Council for a new child care centre that will be located on a city-owned piece of property. The city hopes to open the Reggio Emilia’s arts and education inspired children’s centre in late 2022.

READ: Port Alberni receives provincial funding for child-care spaces

Nyla Attiana is Tofino’s director of financial services as well as the Children’s Centre manager. She says when council re-organized departments in 2012, parks and recreation was dissolved and the Children’s Centre became part of the finance department.

Attiana confirmed via email that the hours at Children’s Centre are reduced from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday to Friday until new, qualified staff is hired. In Tofino, a daycare assistant with an Early Childhood Education (ECE) certificate earns $24.29 (plus 26.95 per cent benefits). ECE’s also received a $2/hour wage top up from the province (soon to be $4). The district currently does not have staff housing in place for daycare workers as the Ocean Park home owned by the municipality is being used to house RCMP reservists contracted by district to support bylaw enforcement.

In 2017, the district increased all wages at the Children’s Centre to “at minimum, the living wage,” says Attiana. She added in 2020, the district updated zoning to expand the properties where childcare is a permitted.

“We continue to work with SD70 to find ways to collaborate on recreational and child care needs. We contributed to the ACRD needs assessment. There is notice of motion from Council to approach the Tofino Housing Corporation board to discuss staff housing needs,” wrote Attiana in an email to the Westerly.

Until new daycare workers are recruited and secure housing, the urgency for child care persists. Over a Zoom call, Kristine Morrow, a mom of two and chef who often works 10-hour shifts, burst into tears.

“We are sending our daughter and son away for all of July,” said Morrow, adding that they will be with their grandparents in Ontario, but it was not an easy or their first choice.

“A lot of families have been pushed out of this town because of this child care problem,” she said.

According to public health nurse Karyn Bernard, the West Coast (Tofino and Ucluelet) not including neighbouring Indigenous communities, see an average annual birth rate of about 75 births per year.

“This has been very consistent for the last 10 years. We also are seeing a growing trend of young families moving to the area with the advent of working from home so the numbers of children under the age of five years has risen also because of this factor,” said Bernard.

In B.C., child care is deemed an essential service. The province is in the midst of rolling out a universal early learning and child care system; a $1-billion investment delivered over the next three years touted as the biggest child care investment in B.C.’s history.

Tofino mayor Dan Law, who has five children of his own, says with that transition, the assumption is schools may be getting more heavily involved in day care.

“This is certainly a personal priority. District staff and council are looking at constructive ways to significantly improve delivery and administration of our Children’s Centre moving forward. I understand that this is an acute issue. We all have to work together as a community,” said Law.

RELATED: B.C. inches towards universal child care, pledges to support Indigenous-led initiatives

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