(File photo)

Surrey-focused child care report calls for ‘immediate’ action from province

‘Child care challenges threaten Surrey’s family friendliness and liveability,’ notes April report

While Surrey has the most children and highest birth rate of any city in the entire province, it falls far short when it comes to child care spaces, a new report reveals.

With more than 35,000 children under the age of five and more than 41,000 aged six to 12, the city has just 12.4 child care spaces for every 100 children ages 12 and under — the lowest rate among 17 Metro Vancouver municipalities.

A new report outlines a “made-in-Surrey action plan” on how to grow and support the struggling child care industry in the city.

“Our focus is on the particular challenges specific to Surrey,” the report notes, “coupled with our tremendous and continuing population growth, high proportion of children, significant diversity, geographic scale and longstanding service gaps and lags across the entire waterfront of human services.”

The April report, revealed at a Surrey council meeting Monday night, is from the Surrey Community Child Care Task Force, co-chaired by Centre for Child Development CEO Gerard Bremault and City of Surrey’s Healthy Communities Manager Daljit Gill-Badesha.

“What was surprising to me was the extent of the gap,” Bremault told the Now-Leader, noting Surrey has roughly half the spaces, per capita, than Vancouver. “And knowing how far behind we are as a growing community…. It’s really the truth the growth in this community is so fast and so dramatic that an already overstretched system is being stretched even more desperately.”

Bremault said “a massive infusion” is needed to be able to catch up.

“Surrey’s situation is exacerbated because it doesn’t fit in line with the averages,” he added. “We have far fewer spaces with far higher prices.”

The report recommends the provincial government take three “immediate” actions to improve child care in Surrey.

First, it recommends investing in local child care resources through additional funding to the CCRR (Child Care Resource and Referral program) to meet growth needs and provide one-time support for local government to development an “immediate space creation plan.”

Secondly, it recommends investment in local ECE (early childhood education) training spaces in partnership with high quality public education providers such as the school district.

Finally, it suggests the province invest in increased Fraser Health “quality control licensing resources,” via more licensing officers, and keep up with growth in “child care licensing applications to mitigate pressures on child care quality and reduce risks to children in child care.”

Without intervention, the report notes the lack of child care spaces could “threaten Surrey’s family friendliness and liveability.”

Click here to see the whole report.

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(Photo: Flickr@familymwr)

The child care issue isn’t new in Surrey, and space availability is not the only concern.

“Child care fees comprise the second largest expense for Surrey families,” the report notes. “Yet, despite high need, there are unfilled spaces because many families cannot afford existing child care costs.”

According to the report, child care fees in Surrey are as high as $1,850 per month for children under three, and up to $1,550 for those over three.

“Barriers to the creation of new and maintenance of existing child care spaces include complexities in the development and licensing processes, and cost barriers,” the report adds. “These economic constraints hinder non-profit agencies’ efforts to create and/or expand child care.”

Further, there are gaps in the early childhood education sector and “severe” labour shortages constraining capacity.

“Low rates of pay for most early childhood educators limits the attractiveness of the field and constrains the ECE workforce,” the report notes.

Almost all — 93 per cent — of Surrey’s child care providers are in the commercial sector, with just seven per cent run provided by non-profits.

“In other Metro Vancouver municipalities, non-profit child care is more readily available,” the report reveals, “providing a broader continuum of support to families.”

“Systemic shortages” of out-of-school (OST) care is one of the most “pressing challenges,” the report reveals.

“While the optimal location of OST care is on or in proximity to schools, accessing space on schools is extremely difficult due to Surrey’s rapid population growth and capacity pressures on existing schools,” it notes.

Several efforts to improve the child care situation in Surrey were outlined in the report, including partnerships with the YMCA, the city taking a “leadership role” in licensed preschool and child care programs, “collaborative” efforts to create new spaces such as those seen at the Kensington Prairie Community Centre in 2011, and the city’s prioritization of after-school services as a “key service focus to expand a range of licensed school-aged care and semi-structured recreational programming to meet the development needs of school-aged children during the critical after-school hours.”

It’s expected the federal and provincial governments will start to move forward with early steps toward a more universal system in 2018, the report notes, “that appears to open possibilities for existing local efforts on children care.”

The report highlights recent bilateral agreements between provinces and federal government which is expected to “increase funding for child care to support child care affordability, quality, flexibility, accessibility and inclusivity, with an initial focus on vulnerable and marginalized children and families.”

This “unique alignment of multi-level government focus on child care presents a critical window of opportunity for Surrey.”

“Changes in child care funding to British Columbia will make positive contributions to addressing the child care needs faced by families in Surrey,” the report suggests. “Similarly, the 2017 provincial election has brought increased attention – and funding – to child care issues, with commitments for additional investments in child care spaces, operational stability, and affordability initiatives for parents.”

The 2018 B.C. budget, released in February, touted a “made-in-B.C.” child care plan, with an investment of more than $1 billion to put the province on the path to universal child care with more than 24,000 child care spaces over the next three years.

The province estimated they will need 12,000 new such educators to provide the new licensed childcare spaces.

That will more than double the number of those workers – something UBC economics professor Mariana Adshade called “a pipe dream.”

“In this current economy, where unemployment is at record lows, we’re going to find 6,000 daycare workers?” Adshade said. “It is a serious flaw.”

Meantime, a new child care benefit that will be rolled out in September will reduce child care costs by up to $1,250 per month per child and support 86,000 B.C. families per year by 2020/21. The province has also announced they’ll be providing up to $350 per month directly to licensed child care providers as of April 1 that is expected to reduce fees for an estimated 50,000 families per year by 2020/21.

See more: BC BUDGET: New spaces a step to universal child care

See more: Questions raised over B.C. NDP’s childcare budget plan

The expansion of child care facilities and the improvement of care will provide immediate relief to tens of thousands of families, according to the province, who say these steps — in addition to lowering fees for parents and increasing the number of qualified early childhood educators — will drop fees at licensed child care centres for infants and toddlers, and for children between the ages of three and five years old.

No mention was made in the budget of the $10 a day childcare, which became the NDP’s slogan during last year’s election campaign. Following the provincial throne speech earlier this year, Premier John Horgan reiterated his commitment to the plan, but also pointed out it was put together by child care providers and not the province.

“We’ve embraced it and we’re going to implement it. We’ve had discussions with some other members of other party’s in the legislature and we’re bringing people around, I believe, to a position that will meet that commitment,” Horgan said at the time.

-With files from Black Press

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