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Column: Estevan needs more regulated child care

An opinion piece on governments' program to reduce parent fees for regulated child care in the province wilto $10 a day.
Governments provide $28.9 million to develop up to 2,197 new child care spaces in Saskatchewan regulated child care centres.

The Governments of Saskatchewan and Canada announced last week that parent fees for regulated child care in the province will be reduced to $10 a day, starting April 1.

It would sound like one of the greatest news items in a long time, if not for one big local hiccup. The serious shortage of regulated child care in Estevan. 

A friend of mine who resides in Calgary has two little kids. Once the youngest one was about a year old, she decided that for her sanity and everyone's safety, she had to start working. That meant kids needed day care.

Being a recent immigrant with no local experience and also being in the midst of the pandemic, she wasn't able to secure a job relevant to her main education and experience. But the three of them staying at home full time were going crazy, so she applied and got a job in the daycare to which she also brought her two munchkins.

The daycare where they ended up was far from being the most expensive in Calgary, but in the beginning, while she was confirming her level of relevant education (which she did have), she found herself in a pretty absurd situation. She was working full-time, yet still paying her employer on top of giving up all of her wages to have her two kids in the daycare (and that's after the employee discount). She chose that path not to go crazy feeling stuck at home, but still, it's pretty ridiculous. 

Fortunately, that didn't last too long. Once her level was confirmed, she got a raise and ended up making a few hundred dollars a month after paying their daycare fees.

Things changed for them big time when the federal and Alberta governments introduced the first programs aimed at eventually getting to $10-a-day daycare. The year 2022 started for them in a totally different situation with under $1,000 in bills for daycare for two kids instead of over $2,000 they had to pay before.

So once I learned about how much things changed for them, I started asking my friends here in Estevan, if they were able to benefit from the governments' programs. (By then, Saskatchewan had also made the first steps towards dropping fees significantly). And apparently, no one, not a single mother I know and asked, was able to get a break with their daycare bills. Why?

The answer is simple, but the solution to the problem is more complicated.

Estevan only has two regulated childcare centres, and the line to get into either of them is apparently longer than it takes for a child to grow to daycare age. (Especially now that it doesn't cost as much for the parents, hardly anybody drops out, and there are only so many spots.)

So, steps are made at the government level towards helping parents, mostly mothers, to be able to sincerely choose if they want to return to work or to stay home with their kids. But in Estevan's reality, the implementation of this vision, which outside of better opportunities for self-actualization for parents – which, in turn, usually results in a happier and a more successful community – is also beneficial and currently necessary for the economy. This is not getting too far ahead.

Estevan is not the only smaller community that finds itself in this situation. The Government of Saskatchewan has been trying to encourage more regulated child care in the province for a while, and hopefully, we are to see the results of their campaigns and efforts soon.

The first potential positive bells for Estevan rang at the latest council meeting, when council approved a development permit for the third regulated child-care centre. We soon are to learn more about what's coming. Yet, I'm not sure if it will have the capacity to satisfy the needs of our and surrounding communities.

I'm not sure if in other communities people started stepping forward and taking upon the serious job of opening regulated childcare centres either. But one thing I know for sure, we desperately need more regulated child care both in Estevan and in other places.

As of the end of 2022, there was a total of 19,790 regulated childcare spaces operational in Saskatchewan across 144 communities. To stimulate the changes and create more spaces, through the agreement, the governments are also providing funding for free training and education to increase the number of early childhood educators, wage enhancements of up to $5 per hour, and a range of grants for regulated childcare facilities. So the support is there.

After this last and third fee reduction, Saskatchewan is to become one of the first Canadian provinces to achieve the $10-a-day child care milestone, which is three years ahead of schedule (the goal is to bring it down to a set level country-wide by 2025-26).

Hope local parents will also benefit from these changes and we soon will see the third regulated daycare opening its doors in Estevan, and probably even more to come if the need persists.

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