Day care crunch in Whistler continues 

125 families on waitlist for The Whistler Children’s Centre

Families are still having a hard time finding enough childcare for their kids in Whistler, even though nine months has passed since Spring Creek daycare closed its doors to the public.

Kari Gaudet, director of childcare services for the Whistler Children's Centre, said she often gets telephone calls from families asking for an update about where they are on the waitlist - and it is always hard for her to hear their loud sighs when she tells them how much longer they have to wait.

"The waitlist is significant," said Gaudet. "I have families on the waitlist requesting spaces for 2011 and I have families on the waitlist looking for care for tomorrow... I am registering children now that were registered in 2008."

About 125 families were signed up on the Whistler Children's Centre waitlist this October, which is up from 100 families last May.

Gaudet said the biggest factor affecting the size of her programs is still the number of qualified daycare workers on staff, which sat at 16 people last month. As a result, about 120 families are enrolled at the centre's only location, on Nesters Road.

"I think it is going to be an ongoing issue until higher levels of government understand the need for childcare to be at the forefront," said Gaudet.

"We are doing everything within our means. There is nothing more we can do."

The problem goes back to the fact that qualified daycare workers require extensive training to get certified, and then they only make about $14 an hour, she said.

To help address the Whistler daycare crunch, the Whistler Children's Centre board of directors held a strategic planning session last month to talk about the possibility of opening Spring Creek again.

Gaudet said the board plans to send out a survey to families on the waitlist in the next few months to find out exactly what people's needs are.

Among the questions they plan to ask are: how much childcare do families still need, what days do they need it most, how long do they need it for, and what times of the year will they need it.

"We have to do our due diligence to make sure we have the enrolment and staffing we need to sustain a centre," said Gaudet.

Gaudet is also in close contact with Councillor Ralph Forsyth, who sits on Whistler's Childcare Working Group and has been outspoken in the past about the need for more local childcare opportunities.

Forsyth met with the B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development and local MLA Joan McIntyre at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities meeting to speak about Whistler's daycare crunch.

"It continues to be on the top of my agenda, and I bring it up whenever I can," said Forsyth this week.

Forsyth's own family has been impacted by the lack of childcare spaces in Whistler this year.

Last spring, he hired a ski instructor who was going to be out of work to look after his two sons while he and his wife were at work. And in the summer, he changed his work schedule so he could have more days off to look after his children.

"It was financially difficult, but we chose to do it," said Forsyth, adding he knows a lot of other families in Whistler have made similar arrangements.

Daycare in Whistler took a major hit last March when The Whistler Children's Centre decided to close down their daycare at Spring Creek because they couldn't find enough qualified staff.

Around the same time, the municipality also almost ceased operations at their daycare space run at MY Millennium Place, known as Teddy Bear Day Care.

Whistler Blackcomb stepped in at the last moment to take over the lease and currently plans to run the daycare for at least the next three to five years.

(During the Olympics, when the space is turned into the Norway House, children enrolled at Teddy Bear Day Care will be transferred to the day care at the Westin Hotel.)

The day care crunch was further compounded this summer when the Mark Warner daycare in the Hilton Hotel also ceased operations, although Forsyth does not believe many local families took advantage of that facility.

"It is always negative when families have less childcare choices and that was one that was available, but because of the business model, that day care had an occasional license," said Forsyth. "It was more geared towards guests and children of guests and Mark Warner clients."




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