After surveying the child-care landscape in Canmore, the mayor is looking to have a frank discussion with stakeholders, and the province, about improving access in the Alberta mountain town.
Mayor Sean Krausert says it’s taking too long to access child care.
Parents in Canmore are waiting, on average, 16 to 17 months to access child care in the community of 16,000. More than half of those surveyed by the town say they are unable to access the child care they need within the hours they need it.
Spaces for children under the age of three or over the age of six are in high demand. There is about one child-care space for every four children in the town, which community evaluator Elle West told councillors she considers akin to a child-care desert.
Despite what the town found, Alberta’s Space Creation Grant may not help. The town doesn’t meet the criteria to be considered a “high need” community — and is instead classified as “low need.”
“It’s startling to me that 63 per cent of communities in Alberta are in a child-care desert, and we are certainly in that desert ourselves,” Krausert said. “It baffles me how we can be described as low need.”
According to the town’s report, the province defines need based on the number of licensed child-care spaces within a given community and the number of children under the age of six.
Not a ‘high-need’ community, according to province
Canmore has 23 per cent child-care coverage for kids under the age of six. The province defines a high-need community as one that has eight per cent coverage or less for child care.
“It doesn’t take into account the individual attributes and situations of particular communities,” said Krausert. “I think it’s trying to do a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Krausert pledged to hold a roundtable discussion with stakeholders to better understand and define the Town of Canmore’s child care needs to help address some of the frustrations parents and guardians are experiencing.
“It’s much needed and will help us to get to where we need to go, hopefully,” said Coun. Wade Graham. “I gotta say this is one of the more depressing reports I think I’ve read over the last little while.”
No evening, weekend care access for hospitality staff
Because many employed in the Bow Valley work in hospitality, some parents aren’t able to find child care within their unique work hours — like those working evening shifts in restaurants or hotels.
West told councillors that daycares were forced to reduce hours during the pandemic because of staffing struggles. Currently, there are no licensed providers offering evening, early morning or weekend services in the town.
Most businesses surveyed by the town said employees’ child care needs affect the days of the week and times of day staff can work. And those needs fluctuate based on the time of year, which businesses suggested have a trickle-down effect on their hiring needs — if a prospective hire can’t secure child care, they might choose to live and work elsewhere.
Average of 100 children per wait list
The licensed facilities in Canmore have an average of 100 children on their waiting lists.
Canmore’s high cost of living isn’t just a barrier for those looking to access child care. It also puts a strain on providers looking to up the number of spaces available to children because finding qualified staff who can also afford to live in the mountain town is difficult.
The average hourly wage for an early childhood educator starts at about $18 and tops out at about $26.
While the town has attempted to cut red tape in terms of allowing day homes in most neighbourhoods, condo boards and landlords often restrict these types of businesses. The report states that an average of two day-homes a year attempt to open but are thwarted by these types of restrictions.