A recent unofficial poll conducted by the executive director of Wawanesa Wee Care Inc. has shown an alarming trend in child-care centres in the region.
Of the 25 to 30 child-care centres in the Westman area, 16 executive directors were asked how many centres were short-staffed or having trouble recruiting, Jenn Cullen, executive director of Wawanesa Wee Care Inc., in Wawanesa, said.
"Their responses were that they are short staffed or that they might lose someone for not being vaccinated. We’re waiting for direction and Oct. 31 to arrive. We don’t know what that looks like yet," she said.
Some centres will have staff choosing not to be vaccinated. "Lots of us are far away from Brandon and we can’t afford to drive to Brandon for testing," she said. "There are centres in a lurch and we don’t know what November will look like in terms of testing."
That may result in a child-care centre having to reduce its hours if there isn’t enough staff to supervise the children placed in their care, she said.
"If staff get sick, there’s no more coming to work. We can’t take children if a staff member is sick," Cullen pointed out.
And that is only one issue child-care centres across the province are dealing with.
Facilities are reporting that there are significant challenges in terms of hiring early childhood educators and child-care assistants, Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association Inc., said.
"The challenges of recruitment and retention that were prevalent pre-COVID have been amplified over the past 18 months," Kehl said over email. "This is even more widespread in facilities located in rural and Northern Manitoba."
On Sept. 7, cohort sizes increased from 30 to 48 children (not including staff). "However, many facilities are unable to meet this change due to the inability to hire staff. As a result, they have been forced to remain at lower enrolment."
In addition, facilities have needed to reduce hours of operation to ensure staffing ratios are being met.
"This will, undoubtedly, impact families looking for licensed child-care spaces," she noted.
She said MCCA’s job board regularly has as many as 100 or more postings for staffing positions in the early learning and child-care sector.
The reasons behind this growing shortage include a workforce that has been stepping up since March 2020 that is overworked, stressed and exhausted, Kehl said.
"In addition, many ECEs and CCAs have exited the sector due to the inadequate pay. In a recent survey of its members, MCCA reports that 57 per cent of facilities surveyed indicated that their educated ECEs were earning below or lower than the 2015-2016 recommended scale ($18.50-$23.13/hour).
In the same survey, 84 per cent of child-care assistants were earning below the $12.97 per hour range with 24 per cent of facilities that responded have frozen staff salaries in the past three years, Kehl said.
"If this trajectory continues, the health and safety of children and the quality of care provided will be jeopardized. At the heart of a high-quality, licensed child-care system is the educated and supported early childhood educators. Manitoban children and families deserve no less."
"ECEs need fair pay," Cullen said. "It’s important to pay them."
Cullen said that there has not been an increase in operating grants since 2016 (from the provincial government, amounts are per licensed space).
"Parent fees have not increased since 2013. Our expenses continue to climb, but our revenue is stagnating."
Cullen’s hope with the pending election is that parents ask, "how will this benefit the sector, the front-line staff in child care and the quality of care offered?"
She wants parents to ask how will the ECEs and CCAs working with their child be compensated, respected and acknowledged?
"What will make them stay in the field? The tax cuts for parents, or $10-a-day child care is great for families, but where is the investment in the sector?" she asked.