Local daycare operators are sounding the alarm over a lack of qualified staff they believe is putting a strain on the number of spaces available for families and their children in Victoria.
Tronie Brown, owner and operator of Nightingale Preschool and Junior Kindergarten in Victoria, said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to secure properly trained, experienced staff to work with the children in her daycare, which has been operating in Fernwood for the past 14 years.
“There are a lot of colleges offering courses, but fewer people are coming out. When they do the courses, they get snapped up by lots of daycares. There’s no subs on the list at all,” said Brown, whose facility has 20 children and employs three early childhood educators (ECE). “Many of us can’t find staff to (operate)the preschool or the daycare.”
The lack of available childcare spaces has plagued the region in recent years. Many daycares are operating at capacity and hundreds of parents sit on wait lists — some sign up even before their children are born.
However, some operators believe the lack of experienced staff has also led to an overall lower standard of practice in daycares across the region.
Brown knows of many daycares in Victoria that are working with the bare minimum number of staff, who, in turn, are working long hours.
“Some of these people (operators) are wonderful, but … they’re tired, they’re burnt out, they’re frustrated by not finding quality staff,” she said.
It’s a problem Alyson Culbert, director of Sundance Playschool in Fairfield, is all too familiar with. The problem is exacerbated, she said, by the standards of practice set out by Island Health, which among other things includes very stringent staff-to-child ratios and ECE requirements.
Some daycares operate at less than full capacity, out of fear of falling below the allowable ratio – which, if detected, results in a licensing infraction – if an ECE calls in sick, for example.
“You’re going to be unwittingly encouraging daycares to be quietly breaking licensing rules because they won’t want to shut down (for the day or turn children away). They don’t want to not provide care, but they don’t want to be in trouble with licencing,” Culbert said.
“How do you keep all parties happy? How do you keep their families happy and make sure their children can go to daycare that day and how do you do this without contravening the guidelines set out by licensing?
“There are people who are breaking rules and getting people who are not qualified because (the staff shortage is) a crisis.”
Currently, Island Health has six licensing operators in Southern Vancouver Island who help maintain a minimum standard of practice within daycares. Operators respond to complaints and check daycares for such things as appropriate furniture, safe storage of hazardous materials, and that all employees have had criminal record checks.
Recently, Island Health changed its approach to licensing to a more risk-based approach.
“If you are experiencing problems or you have conditions on your license; in other words, you’ve had some difficulties and certain expectations are required that go beyond what is usually expected; then you’ll be seeing your licensing officer more often,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s chief medical officer. If a daycare is considered low risk, a licensing officer might not come by for up to 18 months, he added.
“Every complaint is responded to. In most instances they are resolved successfully, but from time to time we do have to impose conditions and very rarely say we’re going to cancel the license … It is striking that balance where the Act and regulations are fitting minimum requirements.”
Brown and Culbert are concerned that not enough is being done to ensure the safety of children. Brown would like to see more investment in standardizing the curriculum for ECEs, as well as higher starting wages to encourage more people to get into the field.