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3 B.C. districts getting child care integrated in schools

Chilliwack, Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Nechako Lakes first school districts involved in new program

The B.C. government is integrating new morning and afternoon child-care spaces within school grounds, but the new program will initially only involve a small number of communities.

The initiative will begin this fall in the Chilliwack, Nanaimo-Ladysmith and Nechako Lakes school districts. The province put $2 million over two years into the program, which will see 180 new licensed child-care spaces in the three districts.

Backdropped by parents dropping their kids off at George Jay Elementary school in Victoria on Tuesday (May 14) morning, Premier David Eby said the initiative aims to expand across the entire province.

“It’s good news for parents, their kids are looked after before and after school in the same building where they spend their days in the K-12 program and it’s good news for the province because when we support parents being able to return to work, we make life a little bit less stressful for them,” he said.

The program infusing child care into sites that were built for kids and that already have the needed workers will allow the province to keep rates affordable for parents, Eby said. Using schools reduces the need to build new child-care facilities and the program will allow education assistants to expand their hours to full-time while working with children they already know, he added.

Asked why the initiative is constrained to such few districts, the premier said the three districts chosen were ready to roll out the program by the fall and the province wants to use their experience to show the benefits of what he called an “entirely new model of child care.”

“This is just the beginning of our work with school boards on this and our goal is to roll it out right across the province,” Eby told reporters.

Premier David Eby speaks at a May 14 announcement in Victoria about integrating child care in existing school sites. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

The province says 900 facilities are currently operating child care on school grounds across B.C., with those sites totalling 3,600 spaces. The 180 new spots in the three districts will meet regional affordability benchmarks set by the child-care ministry, the province said, adding that families will also be eligible for as much as $115 in monthly fee reductions, per child.

A 2023 report from the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives found almost two of three B.C. children not yet in Kindergarten live in child-care “deserts,” compared to 50 per cent of pre-K kids nationwide. In Vancouver, the report found there was just 2.4 spaces for every 10 children below school age, with that figure increasing to three spaces in Surrey, 3.4 in Kelowna and nearly four in Victoria.

Integrating spaces within schools will make commuting more convenient by creating a single drop-off location, will help parents who work full-time and eases a child’s transition into the K-12 system, said Mitzi Dean, minister for the state of child care.

“Parents will have that peace of mind knowing their children are in a safe educational environment,” Dean said.

Andrea Klassen, a Victoria parent of two boys speaks at a May 14 announcement in Victoria about integrating child care in existing school sites. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

Andrea Klassen, a parent of two boys, was recently able to return to the workforce after her youngest got into day care at the same school site her other son attends.

“I know how many parents struggle and juggle to try and fit work, drop-off, pick-up, meals and everything, and having after school and before school (care) in one place, one location, creates so much ease and efficiency,” Klassen said.

She also sees value in kids attending before- and after-school care with the same staff who are with them during the day.

“That’s just a smooth transition and that’s going to support them to thrive in their education and in their play.”

All three school board chairs for the first communities involved expressed their appreciation for the program, but they all referred to it as a “pilot.”

“We appreciate the financial support of the province through the Ministry of Education and Child Care as we continue to expand before and after-school spaces for families in our community,” said Chilliwack school district superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam.

READ: B.C. drops waitlist fees for child care spaces

B.C. United’s Elenore Sturko, shadow minister for mental health, addiction, recovery and education, said the announcement does not nearly go far enough to meet needs. “(The) reality is we’re talking about another pilot being announced,” she said. “This is a government continuously in an analysis-paralysis.”

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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