A 52-space daycare in central Prince Edward Island is closing its infant room due to a lack of staff — and could soon close its entire centre.
Merry Pop-ins Childcare Centre in Tryon has been short-staffed since 2018, said co-owner Helen Green. Now one educator is going on maternity leave and one just resigned.
“We’ve worked all over the place trying to figure out how we could shift schedules, have staff longer, but none of it really works,” said Green.
Though the daycare has space for 52 children, it only has 32 right now due to a lack of staff.
The news from Merry Pop-Ins comes on the heels of another rural child-care centre in P.E.I. struggling to stay open, in Fortune Bridge, near Souris.
Green said finding educators to work in a rural area is challenging.
“We get inquiries often from people out of province and out of the country, but when they find out that we are rural, they don’t even have cars, so that eliminates the opportunity,” she said.
Merry Pop-Ins is run out of Tryon’s South Shore United Church, but the church wants its space back at the end of May 2023.
Green said she and her husband, co-owner Neal Viger, have been looking for a new space, but finding one that’s affordable is no easy task.
“I can’t charge more money because our wages are regulated, as are what parents are charged. So at the end of the day, there’s really very little money for doing renovations or expansions,” said Green.
When rural daycares shut down, it has a big impact on working parents in the area, including Aurora Wills, who has four children at Merry Pop-Ins.
“That’s a lot of kids to take care of. And if I’m not working, I can’t pay for daycare. And if I can’t pay for daycare, I can’t work. So it kind of leaves me in the dust for sure,” said Wills.
She is already scrambling to find new spots for her twin babies, who are in the infant room at the centre.
“I’d love to keep them there and have that space, so I can work and provide for my kids.”
The province has made progress addressing some of the challenges in child care, including increasing staff wages, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning said in an email to CBC News.
There are ongoing initiatives with Holland College, Collège de l’Île and Skills P.E.I. to add educators to the workforce, said the spokesperson.
The child-care wait list has grown from 1,500 to 2,000 over the last two years, despite the addition of 480 child-care spaces.
Ottawa has committed to funding
The province is also waiting on federal funding for infrastructure, said Education and Lifelong Learning Minister Natalie Jameson.
“The federal government did commit to ensuring they would roll something out. So we’re just waiting on the details. Hopefully that’s coming really soon,” said Jameson.
For Green, that money needs to come now. She has her eye on a new space in nearby Crapaud, but is in the midst of figuring out how to pay for it.
“We’ve asked for an extension from the trustees of the church. But we need a plan, so we know where we’re going,” she said.
“We want to renovate this winter and get into a new centre. We need it. We need the answers today.”
Green said she has been looking for infrastructure funding for five years and hasn’t been able to find any.
“For all the early years centres in P.E.I. to grow, to have the space for that long wait list, there has to be infrastructure money, in some way or another,” she said.