October 07, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Early childhood education squeezed too tightly 

Sea to Sky Community Services loses more funding for under-fives, this time from the United Way.

After a decade of success that has meant that a third of all preschool children from Squamish to Pemberton have taken part in Early Child Development programs offered by Sea to Sky Community Services (SSCS), its programs are being squeezed so tightly from lack of funds that they are in danger of dying off altogether.

"When they are being chipped away the parents and their families are taking a loss. This education is crucial to the development of young brains," said Suzie Soman, the director of SSCS's Early Child Development Services.

These programs are especially needed because throughout the corridor the "vulnerability rate" of under-five-year-olds – defined as adverse impacts that effect language, emotional, communication, physical and social development – is above the provincial average, with 30 per cent of children at risk, according to the Early Development Instrument questionnaire administered in B.C. by the University of British Columbia. The EDI assesses how children in a particular region are doing and is used throughout Canada.

The fear of death by a thousand cuts comes because all previous sources, governmental and charity, are giving less or withdrawing altogether.

The United Way of the Lower Mainland, one the main funders of SSCS development classes and sessions for preschoolers through its Success By Six funding program, has cut from $100,000 to $50,000 the amount SSCS got in 2012, and may cut the rest entirely in 2013.

"United Way Success By Six funding is independent of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (their program is called Putting Children First), which have provided less and less over the years, but the United Way cuts also hit the same programs," Soman said.

She added that they have already been forced to "make adjustments to staffing" due to cuts to Putting Children First. With the withdrawal of money from the United Way, actual programming is impacted, including homegrown grassroots classes set up by parents in each community in the Sea to Sky corridor, such as Little Squids in Squamish.

"In Whistler as well, we had funding pulled from our parent-tot program because it was deemed that it was a resort town and the service wasn't necessary for young families. Meanwhile, I know that Whistler is full of young working families who don't make a lot of money," said Soman.

And full-time childcare is so expensive it is out of reach for many.

"We had an infant toddler centre and we ended up closing it in June 2010...  and our families couldn't afford to pay $1,300 a month for childcare... that's a mortgage payment!" Soman said. At the same time, she added, birth stats show the numbers of preschoolers have doubled.

Today, this means families cannot be offered the infant-toddler care they need.

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