B.C.’s minister of state for childcare has promised local providers that fair compensation for early childhood educators (ECEs) and a strategy for training staff is in the works.
Minister Katrina Chen made the comments during her visit Terrace on May 23.
Chen joined Katrine Conroy, B.C.’s minister of children and family development, on a four-day tour of rural communities from to gain a better understanding of the needs of childcare providers. Conroy left for Castlegar while Chen was in Terrace last Wednesday.
The tour follows the NDP government’s announcement of its B.C. ChildCare initiative in February, a $1 billion dollar investment over the next four to seven years. It’s organized into a three-pronged approach focused on the affordability, quality, and accessibility of daycare in the province.
In Terrace, Chen visited Bumblees and Butterflies Daycare on Best Street, a licensed family daycare that opened last September. She then facilitated a roundtable discussion with more than 10 other childcare providers in the region at the Skeena Child Care Resource and Referral Centre (CCRR).
During the discussion, Chen said she recognizes that support to the workforce is a crucial aspect of the government’s plan, and assured several providers in the room that the province is working on providing fair compensation. Currently, the median wage for early childhood educators in BC is 19 per cent lower than B.C. workers overall, according to the 2017 B.C. Child Poverty Report Card.
“We’re hoping to get our Labour Market Analysis in the summertime and then we will be able to figure out what is the best way to fund the system,” Chen said. She added other initiatives will be rolled out once the analysis is complete, including start-up funding for licensed-not-required providers to become licensed providers.
“We have the funding, we just need to know how to fund it — because one challenge that we have is that we don’t have a lot of data. There was no government that has ever done this type of comprehensive strategy.”
In addition to fair compensation, the providers said finding qualified staff is the main challenge in the Northwest, especially with the government’s promise of adding 22,000 new childcare spaces across the province.
“With the increased spaces that are being created, it immediately makes the demand to increase the staff,” said Marianne Hemmy, executive director of the Kitimat CDC. “Do we have to wait a year, two years in order to be able to upscale the staff to be able to work in those centres?”
Chen hopes it would be sooner, and said a training and education strategy is in the works with 20 initiatives focussed specifically on increasing the amount of graduating early childhood educators (ECEs) and work-integrated learning opportunities.
But another challenge is the lack of adequate training for aspiring ECEs to become certified.
“It’s not valued,” said Charmaine Anderson, mentioning that some of the programs that she took four years ago to get her ECE certification have changed at Northwest Community College. “It’s no longer Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — some of the courses I took, don’t exist anymore.”
The sentiment was echoed by Tara Salavich, program coordinator at CCRR.
“It almost feels like there is watering down of that because we had some very, very specific courses and those are important when we are working with our families, when we’re working with children,” she said to Chen during the roundtable discussion. “The government is talking about quality care, we’re trying to increase as much quality care as we can, however, our educators are feeling like they aren’t getting that quality.”
Chen agreed the conversation around training and education is important and will be followed up with the Ministry of Advanced Education.
In addition to Terrace and Kitimat, Chen also visited Smithers and made her last stop on the Sunshine Coast on May 25.