The after-school daycare program at Queen Elizabeth Public School will be closed indefinitely, in part due to staffing shortages, says Childcare Algoma.
In a memo to parents and guardians, Childcare Algoma executive director Anne DeLuco said the program will close on Dec. 16.
“After careful review we have made the difficult decision to close the Queen Elizabeth After School Program indefinitely, primarily due to a lack of qualified early childhood educators within our organization,” said DeLuco in the memo.
DeLuco told SooToday she is unavailable for further comment until Wednesday.
Rachel Punch is a mother of two who relies on the after-school daycare program at Queen Elizabeth. She says it's the only option for many families who rely on it in that neighbourhood.
“There are no other child care centres in the catchment area that do after-school care, and no home daycare that I can find either,” said Punch. “It is very stressful and I — along with other parents — are scrambling to try and find somewhere for our kids to go.”
Punch said she has struggled with local child care since her children were babies. First they were on a waiting list for daycare, then impacted by the closure of city-run daycare.
“My youngest daughter attended five different child care centres by the time she entered junior kindergarten,” said Punch. “When I heard this after-school program was closing, it's like, ‘here we go again.’”
Punch said there used to be a number of home daycares in the neighbourhood, but those providers have either retired or moved on to other employment.
Luke Dufour is a city councillor for Ward 2 and chair of the local social services administration board (DSSAB), which is the delivery manager for local daycare.
“The challenge is system wide. They definitely aren’t specific to Queen Elizabeth or to Childcare Algoma,” said Dufour of the staffing shortages.
As a parent himself, Dufour said he gets concerned when he sees any kind of cutback in services to neighbourhood schools, like Queen Elizabeth.
“I feel like I have heard this story before and from my point of view, I have seen the ending of this story a decade later and it’s not good for neighbourhoods, it’s not good for the city and not good for families,” said Dufour.
The cost savings of closing a neighbourhood daycare can end up leading to other issues that will have to be handled by social services in the future, he said.
“With these kinds of decisions, we end up paying more for them long term, in my opinion,” said Dufour.
Last month, the DSSAB approved an increase in the general operating grant allocation for licensed daycare in the region, the first increase in six years. A total of $3.577 million will be allocated for the 1,698 licensed spaces in the region, up from just over $2.6 million.
DSSAB approved the increase, but can’t dictate how those funds are used.
“The board’s sincere hope is a significant amount of that money will go to front line wages and service enhancements. The idea is the money would go to make being the after-school ECE at Queen E a more attractive proposition for employees,” said Dufour.
“Hopefully we can keep working with the college, with other partners and perhaps with other programs to see that the ECE designation is more attractive thing for our current employees and people trying to get into that industry,” he added.