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B.C. daycare operators apprehensive, as parents go back to work

Last Updated May 22, 2020 at 11:01 pm PDT

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Summary

Daycares have adapted activities and routines, but questions remain about masks and staffing levels

Operators are worried about how maintaining pandemic protocols will impact young children

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – With people heading back to work as the province reopens, B.C.’s daycares will have to ramp up their capacity.

But some operators are nervous.

“We are super worried about what that means for the overall well-being of young children,” says Emily Gawlick, executive director of Early Childhood Educators of BC.

“We are being asked to practise social distancing, when we know that’s not possible when you work with young children.”

During the last two months, some daycares closed altogether, while others kept open, but with only a fraction of the children they are used to accommodating.

Daycares that stayed open will be seeing more kids, while daycares that are opening for the first time in months will have to quickly get used to the new reality.

Employees will have to balance the needs of a crowded room of children with the need to adhere to health protocols.

“We’ve seen programs develop unique ways to support the children –like using materials and activities that can be cleaned faster,” she points out. Routines are being altered. “Lunch, snack and nap times are planned so that the kids are more spread out within the rooms they are in.”

She says the emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical wellbeing.

“There is no way to strictly enforce social-distancing. You can’t just tell a child ‘You can’t come close to me. When you fall down and cry, we can’t give you a hug.'”

She says there are still a lot of questions, such as whether employees should wear masks.

“This is a question that is being asked by the professionals working in this new environment. We have children where maybe language is an issue so putting on a mask covering your face becomes a challenge.”

Gawlick says as daycares fill up once again, staffing levels will have to be increased as well.

“Many in our sector have been laid off, or they’ve moved on to other industries. So we don’t know how much that is going to affect our workforce that was in a critical shortage to begin with.”

She says that’s where the government should come in.

“How do we entice people to come back into this profession, to feel safe in this profession, and to feel respected?”

Sharon Gregson of the Coalition of Child Care Advocates stresses the government has stepped in to provide incentives for daycares to stay open. The province provided enhanced funding to keep operations going. Funding was increased to cover about 75 per cent of daycare facilities’ monthly operating expenses.

“The big deal is going to be affordability, for all those folks who have been laid off or who are looking for work. In order for them to back into the workforce they need affordable childcare,” Gregson notes. The coalition has been behind the ‘$10 a Day’ childcare campaign.

“Dr. Bonnie Henry, the premier, and the prime minister have all said childcare is an essential service. It shouldn’t be surprising to think there should be funding to support childcare recovery.”