Thousands on waitlist for childcare spaces in Waterloo region
The demand for child care is hitting new heights in Waterloo region with more than 7,200 children on a waitlist for licensed spaces.
Regional council isnow looking to higher levels of government for help.
Barb Cardow, director of children services with the Region of Waterloo, said during a committee meeting Tuesday the region is expecting significant growth within the existing system - meaning more spaces are needed.
“The $10 a day childcare has absolutely caught the attention of all parents,” Cardow said.
To help meet demand, a Region of Waterloo committee has approved a request to the province for an additional 997 community-based childcare spaces.
That would top up the region's target of 1,871 new licensed spaces under the new national childcare program.
The current allotment sees about 26 per cent of children from newborns to age four in the region with access to a licensed childcare space.
If approved, the new spaces would help the region reach its provincial access target of 37 per cent.
Even still, Cardow admits there just aren't enough spaces for everyone.
“It truly is heartbreaking that some families truthfully will not be able to access the system,” Cardow said.
Her office has identified 13 priority areas which have limited access to care, including low-income families, children with disabilities, Indigenous and other racialized children.
“It's great to be excited about this opportunity for growth of spaces, but if we don't have staff to work in those spaces, we can't grow,” said Cardow.
It's up to the province to determine how many – andif any -- of the additional spaces are approved.
As far as Cardow is concerned the benefit far outweighs the cost.
“We know that the payoffs economically and socially are just so worth it,” Cardow added.
Meanwhile, Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman said the region will also push the province to improve new and existing facilitiesand for better early childhood educator pay to address low wages seen as a root cause of the childcare staffing crisis.
“I'm optimistic. I don't know that we're going to fill the gap in as timely a fashion as we would like. Again, we recognize that we're a growing community, and that gap will continue to exist, if not get wider,” Redman said.
Adding: “In my view, it's 'how are we being flexible enough to fulfill the needs of somebody who may work 12-hour shifts, doesn't work 9 to 5, may have to work weekends' and there has to be a variety of types of childcare that we provide.”
Redman said while the region needs more facilities, it also needs more early childhood educators to stay in the profession, and they need to be paid appropriately.