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Yellowknife families wait for day care

Emily Watkins
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 26/06) - There are more than 100 Yellowknife children waiting for a spot in a day-care centre.

But due to lack of funding, staffing and space, child care workers are unable to provide care to all families, as every spot is filled.

"There is a huge demand for infant and after school care," says Christina Korotasz, executive director of the Northern Tykes day care.

"There simply isn't the funding to provide it.

"I don't think there is any hope of (providing) it anymore."

In the NWT, there are specific regulations controlling the activities of day-care centres.

According to legislation, all day cares in the Northwest Territories must be non-profit organizations.

As non-profit organizations, the day cares can only raise enough money to cover operating costs, which means they have to rely on donations and government funding and cannot raise their day care prices.

Three day cares in the city, Yellowknife Day Care Centre, Northern Tykes and Garderie Plein Soleil all say how tight their budget is and how difficult it is to be able to meet the needs in the community.

Even day care staff members have to put their own children in child care - which costs them the same amount of money as other families in the community.

They, too, have difficulty finding spaces for their children.

Linda Benedict, director of Yellowknife Day Care Centre, recently had her two grandsons come to stay with her.

"I run the biggest day care in the city and I can't put my own grandsons in there," Benedict says.

Compounding the problem is staff retention, due to what operators say is a low wage being paid to qualified workers. One of the staff members at Yellowknife Day Care Centre, Jennifer Kravitz, has an early childhood education degree, but earns a great deal less than what the degree should give her.

Kravitz says her wages are used to put her own children in day care, as she has to work and she would not be able to survive if her partner did not have a well-paying job.

"Personally, I have three children in the centre," Kravitz says.

"Most of my income goes right back to paying for their own day care.

For example, Korotasz says at jobsnorth.ca, an online job search site, three out of four jobs advertised are specifically for day care workers.

In addition, there are very few day care workers in Yellowknife with early childhood education degrees. This is directly due to the limited funding available and inability to pay workers with degrees the appropriate wage, Benedict says.

Education Minister Charles Dent says there is funding allotted for NWT day cares within the budget.

"We provide funding per child, per day as long as the day cares submit the appropriate paperwork," Dent says.

"For infants, day cares receive $12 per day, for pre-schoolers, $8 per day and for after school children, it is $2 per day."

He also says the department will provide workshops and training ideas for those who are interested in setting up new day cares.

"We also provide start-up grants for those who wish to start up a day care and also for those who wish to expand an existing one, provided they have the allotted building requirements," Dent says.

Day care workers in Yellowknife are only expected to have first aid and a clean criminal record.

Dent acknowledges staff retention is a serious problem for Yellowknife day cares but offered no solution to the issue.

At Garderie Plein Soleil, Arlette Fronteneau says the exclusively French day care centre (only open to children with one parent who is French), has 10 children on the waiting list.

Fronteneau said the likelihood of these children getting into the French day care is very slim - not before next March and there will likely only be one spot available. There is a certain amount of money allotted for day cares by the territorial government and whoever files their report the earliest, the greater chance there is of getting the money needed.

Dent also says that they had been looking at partnering with the federal government on funding for day cares when the Liberals were still in power in Ottawa.

"We don't have that option now as the federal day care program has changed with the new government," Dent says.

"But I have drafted a letter to Minister Finley and I will sign it along with Brad Cather, Yukon minister and Ed Picco, Nunavut minister."

The letter to Finley, federal minister of human resources and social development, outlines suggested changes to the current day care program, what life is like in the North and the different impacts that various areas of life have on people who live in the North.

The territorial ministers are also are hoping to get a bit of the $250,000 promised to the provinces and territories for space.

Day care services cost $600-$700 a month per infant and about $200-500 per preschooler.

It costs $200-$300 per month for after-school children.