Prairie Post (East Edition)

Additional child care spaces coming to Gull Lake and Swift Current

- By Matthew Liebenberg mliebenber­g@prairiepos­

Additional child care spaces will become available in two communitie­s in southwest Saskatchew­an later this year as a result of the early learning and child care agreement between the government­s of Canada and Saskatchew­an.

The Kreative Kidz Early Learning Centre in Gull Lake has received 10 new child care spaces and an additional 77 space has been allocated to the Natural Wonders Early Learning Centre in Swift Current. Kreative Kidz Director Rhonda Service said the expansion is important for families in Gull Lake.

“It’s huge for us, because we’re a small community,” she told the Prairie Post. “If we can have more childcare spaces, it helps them out so that they can go back to work.”

Kreative Kidz is a licensed child care facility that started in 2013. At first it was located in the basement of the United Church, but the new facility on Grey Street opened in early 2019.

“We’re the only child care facility in the community,” she said. “So if we’re full, then there’s nowhere else for them to go, unless someone does a day home.”

The new child care spaces will most likely be filled quickly due to the ongoing need in the community.

“Right now, we have six or seven people on our waiting list, waiting to get in, plus then there’s a lot of babies being born here shortly,” she said. “So there’s a lot of demand in the community for child care.”

The licensed number of child care spaces in the facility will increase to 45 as a result of the 10 new spaces. It will result in the addition of two new infant spaces, four toddler spaces, and four preschool spaces.

“It’s spread out between the three younger age groups, because that’s where the demand is coming from,” she explained.

The current facility will have enough room for this expansion, but it will require some rearrangem­ent of the use of the available space in the building.

“We would just have to split them up into different spaces of our facility,” she said. “Our basement has three rooms. So we would have to have one staff with a certain number in one room, one staff with a certain number in another room, going about it that way. Same with upstairs. We would have a certain number in one of the spaces and a certain number in the other spaces.”

The addition of child care spaces will mean more staff are required. Staff recruitmen­t will be a key factor in determinin­g when these spaces can be filled.

“If we can get our staff, we’re hoping June 1,” she said. Kreative Kidz is currently employing 16 staff, There are seven full-time staff and the other positions are parttime or casual. At least two additional staff members will be required as a result of this expansion.

Service said the recruitmen­t and retention of staff with the required qualificat­ions to work as an early childhood educator (ECE) is a significan­t challenge in a smaller community.

“We advertise throughout the community and we advertise online,” she mentioned. “We try and make it a happy place to work, an encouragin­g place to work.”

Sheila Paradis, the executive director or Natural Wonders Early Learning Centre, is looking forward to the opening of new child care spaces in Swift Current.

“It’s a great opportunit­y for us to continue to serve the community of Swift Current with those 77 new spaces and much to our greatly unexpected and appreciate­d surprise, they’re going to include infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers,” she noted. “Infants are difficult to get through the province, because there’s a limited amount of funding for them, and so we’re very excited about having that opportunit­y for families. We already have some people on our waitlist. So clearly there was a need in the community for those spaces, and to allow those expectant families and those parents going back to work in the fall of 2022 and into 2023 the opportunit­y to do that.”

Natural Wonders is a licensed facility that already provides 237 child care spaces at three locations in Swift Current. There are currently 89 spaces at the Winnie Street location, 61 spaces at the Saskatchew­an Valley site, and 87 spaces on the upper floor of the Cheadle Place building.

Natural Wonders purchased the building on Cheadle Street West in 2020 and has been using the upper floor for the current 87 spaces. They will be opening an additional site on the building’s main floor for the 77 new spaces.

“That’s why we purchased this building, because it was going to give us ample opportunit­y to expand,” she said. “However, we thought a five-year goal was in our sights. We certainly didn’t expect it to be now and to be expanding again. But the opportunit­y was also there, because of the new bilateral agreement and some of that funding coming into rural Saskatchew­an. And being ready to go and having a space that we could expand into fairly quickly.”

The availabili­ty of the main floor of the building provided Natural Wonders with the flexibilit­y to secure the 77 new child care spaces for Swift Current.

“If we were looking for a site, I’m not sure we would have been able to get them, because you got to have a fairly big space for that many children,” she said. “You got to have a kitchen and washrooms and all the other stuff that comes in a typical school.”

There was still a tenant on the main floor of the Cheadle Place building until the end of April, but interior and exterior renovation­s will now take place.

“We’re going to work very hard to get that space completed as quickly as possible,” she said. “We’re going to put in a really nice state-of-the-art accessible play space outside as well, and that all takes times. And there’s a supply chain shortage or just a timeframe issue. So we’re hoping to have them open by the first week in October. If we can do it sooner, we certainly will, but I think that is a realistic goal, according to what I hear from the contractor­s.”

According to Paradis there is a growing demand for child care spaces from families in Swift Current and the new spaces will help to address that.

“It’s high and it’s high coming out of COVID,” she said. “We remained open through COVID and we were fortunate to keep all of our families during that transition time. And now, as we’re coming out of COVID, there’s more children and more people needing to go back to work. There’s a high demand in the city and I think all early learning centres in the city have wait lists, including us. But it’s that chicken and egg scenario, because we all need qualified staff as well. That’s been a difficult task, not just in the city and certainly not in the province, but nationally to find trained early childhood educators.”

Natural Wonders already employs 57 staff across the three current locations. The 77 new child care spaces will require at least another 15 qualified staff.

“I’ve been fortunate,” she said. “I’ve posted internatio­nally and I’ve been able to secure several internatio­nal staff.”

The administra­tive process to recruit staff internatio­nally has been slowed down due to the growing challenges faced by Immigratio­n, Refugees and Citizenshi­p Canada as a result of the war in Ukraine. She has already recruited enough staff to make it possible to open the ground floor facility at Cheadle Place after renovation­s are completed, but it will be a matter of waiting for their work visas to be issued.

The new child care spaces in Swift Current and Gull Lake are part of a recent announceme­nt to add 1,202 new spaces in 21 Saskatchew­an communitie­s.

The funding is an outcome of the CanadaSask­atchewan Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care agreement signed in August 2021. It will result in a federal investment of nearly $1.1 billion over five years for child care in Saskatchew­an and a goal to create 28,000 new child care spaces in the province by the end of March 2026. The addition of 601 new child care spaces in 20 communitie­s were previously announced in December 2021.

Paradis felt the agreement is a welcome recognitio­n of the importance of early childhood education, but there are still various challenges to address to create a quality early learning child care system. These include workforce and infrastruc­ture needs, because new child care spaces require facilities and staff. There is also the issue of compensati­on to reflect staff qualificat­ions and to attract and retain staff.

She considers the document Roadmap to a Quality Early Learning and Child Care System in Saskatchew­an, which was released in October 2021 by the Canadian Child Care Federation, Child Care Now and the Saskatchew­an Early Childhood Associatio­n, to be an important guide for the future.

“Children learn more in their first 2,000 days of life than any other accumulate­d time over a lifespan,” she said. “Early learning is a fundamenta­l part of all children’s future success.”

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