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Region of Waterloo looking for new spaces for child-care

Children and a staff member at Little Explorer Montessori in Elmira are pictured on August 23, 2023. (CTV News/Heather Senoran) Children and a staff member at Little Explorer Montessori in Elmira are pictured on August 23, 2023. (CTV News/Heather Senoran)
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On the heels of a decision to look for regionally-owned lands and buildings that could be used for housing, the Region of Waterloo is now also exploring whether any could be repurposed for new child-care centres.

At a committee meeting Tuesday, councillors approved a recommendation from staff to consider using regionally owned buildings, lands and housing developments to create more non-profit child-care spaces.

Staff will also consult with area municipalities, school boards, universities, colleges and hospitals to see if they have buildings that could be used.

“Last session we made a motion to look at all regional land through a housing lens, and now I can also see that we need to include the child-care lens looking at all our buildings,” Coun. Pam Wolf said.

9,200 kids on region’s child-care waitlist

The region currently has child-care spaces for only 32 per cent of kids under four years old – 9,200 children are waitlisted, according to a staff report.

The region’s director of children’s services, Barb Cardow said the waitlist has grown by 115 per cent since the announcement of $10-a-day child-care in 2022.

“There has always been a shortage of childcare, however many people did not even consider licenced child-care because, in most cases, they just felt they couldn’t afford it. Now that it’s more affordable, that has increase the demand,” Cardow told council.

Under the $10-a-day agreement, the region has a target to create 3,725 new licenced child-care spaces by 2026. That would provide coverage for 37 per cent of children.

As for progress on the $10-a-day part, Cardow said the region is “not there yet,” but parents are paying around half of what they did in March 2021.

Lack of land major barrier

Cardow said regional staff have been consulting with non-profit operators, who say lack of affordable land or space is a major issue.

“It seems that besides the workforce, a significant barrier is accessing land – affordable, appropriate land or buildings – that are suitable for licenced childcare,” she said.

Child-care spaces could be created through renovating existing buildings or exploring modular/portable-based structures, the staff report said.

The committee’s decision still needs to be ratified at a regular council meeting.

Staff are expected to report back on what they find later this year.

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