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Sask. daycare plan 'floundering' due to lack of staff, educators say

Early childhood educators in Saskatchewan are highlighting staffing shortages and intense demand following a report on the province’s sluggish start in adding 26,000 daycare spots over five years.

“Actually being able to staff our centres. The workforce is extremely bleak right now,” said Megan Schmidt, Director and pedagogical leader at First Year's Learning Centre in Regina. “For example, I’m missing eight educators from my centre alone today.”

Schmidt’s experience is not unique – early childhood educators (ECEs) attended the legislature on Wednesday, spreading awareness of shortcomings in the province’s approach to early childhood care.

Inadequate wages and incentives for ECEs is a topic Nicole Kessell, director of Whitewood Wiggles and Giggles Childcare Centre Inc., has brought up before in her visits to the legislature.

“I was here I let them know that Dairy Queen was going to be opening up soon it was going to take some of my staff,” Kessell told reporters.

“In the last three weeks, I have lost three staff. My centre is closed this week because I can't operate. I don't have the staff to operate.”

Saskatchewan was the third province in Canada to sign on to the federal government’s Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, intended to reduce the cost of early childcare to $10 a day and improve access.

According to Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill – there are issues with the agreement that are being worked out with the federal government.

“When the federal government comes to you with an agreement it’s kind of like building an airplane mid-flight,” he said. “There are some challenges with the makeup of this agreement and we've communicated with the federal government that we'd like to see more flexibility within the agreement.”

When asked what action the province is taking on the issue – Cockrill referred to daycare spaces that have been allocated.

“We allocated 2,500 spaces in communities across the province – 450 here in Regina, over 300 in Saskatoon,” he said. “Obviously we know there’s more work to do.”

A recent report from Cardus – a non-partisan think tank – outlines Saskatchewan’s underwhelming performance in the realm of early childhood education.

Only 37 per cent of the targeted 6,000 spots were added in year one. This consists of 1,803 centre-based spaces and 409 home-based spaces for a total of 2,212 newly allocated spaces.

“Despite falling short of the space-creation target, the province exceeded the space-creation budget by $289,000,” the report read.

“Having allocated only eight percent of the spaces promised under the five-year agreement in year one, and presuming that all allocated spaces become operational, the province will need to create 25,788 spaces over four years to reach its 2026 target.”

NDP Leader Carla Beck says there’s a disconnect between the government’s outlook and the situation on the ground.

“The rhetoric, the goals, the stretched targets, whatever the minister and the Premier want to talk about, simply doesn’t meet the lived reality of people in this province,” she said.

“We have one example where one of the providers has 90 spaces in their center, they have a waitlist of 1,900.”

According to the study from Cardus, the Government of Saskatchewan must add 6,447 spaces annually to meet its five-year goal.

“We needed to focus on the workforce before we focused on literally anything else,” Schmidt added.

“Because without the early childhood educators, without the workforce, without proper wages, without proper working conditions – there is no early learning and childcare plan. It's floundering.” Top Stories

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