A fix for QB daycare chaos?

We have a time-limited, once-in-our-life opportunity to repurpose the Qualicum Commons in the heart of our town.

While a group of students, at the direction of the Town’s Planning Department, recently conjured several re-development possibilities for the Bus Garage and Qualicum Commons land, their suggestions are heavily biased towards typical commercial and residential construction. This is inconsistent with the guidance in our current Official Community Plan.

This inconsistency is confirmed by Luke Sales, Town planning director, who notes in his June 24, 2020 report to Council:

In the 2018 OCP, the following goals for the Qualicum Commons property are identified:

  • Creating an outdoor community gathering place (e.g. “village green”) with opportunities for events and recreation;
  • Providing indoor and outdoor spaces for arts and culture, education and community service; and,
  • Retaining room for the potential of a future school site.”

COVID-19 offers us an opportunity to rethink one of life’s fundamental challenges – what do we do with young children, not yet capable of looking after themselves, when their parents or guardians have to work? The Qualicum Commons can help answer that question.

While the recent pandemic chaos was compounded by school closures in mid-March, most of the current discussion revolves around “early childhood”, including services such as baby sitting, day care, nursery school (where there is no nursing), pre-school etc. – all severely disrupted by the fear of corona virus transmission. When the dust settles on this pandemic, and we return to a semblance of normality, we will still be left with the chaos and economic disruption of our existing non-system of early childhood care.

To set the stage for some outside-the-box solutions, let’s take a broad look at the current approach for getting a newborn into adulthood with some data from Erin Duffin of the Statista research firm:

  • BC children are expected to attend formal schooling starting at age five. Why 5 here, vs. 3 (like France), vs. 7 (like Finland)?
  • BC children are mandated to stay in school until the age of 16 [but until age 18 in Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick.]
  • Kindergarten is available to children when they turn four in Ontario and Quebec, but when they turn five everywhere else.
  • Kindergarten is mandatory, but only in BC, New Brunswick and PEI.
  • In Canada it costs about $15,000 per student per year in primary and secondary school, with government collected taxes covering around 90% of that amount, and parents (and sometimes teachers) running around buying supplies etc. to cover the remainder.
  • Post-secondary education runs $20,000 per student per year and up, with the public (taxpayer) covering roughly 70%, and with students borrowing much of the remainder to pay tuition, buy books etc. And pay for accommodation if they are attending college or university away from home.
  • Schools are typically in session Monday to Friday, which works OK for youngsters whose working parent(s) have the same schedule, which is not always the case, and in fact, increasingly not the case.
  • For young children and adolescents, the school is providing TWO valuable services – student learning PLUS day care while parents are at work. Scheduled Pro-D days send parents scrambling to find an alternative for the day care part of the deal.
  • Primary and secondary schools typically close in July and August. Not a bad idea 100 years ago when our agrarian forefathers needed extra harvest hands in July and August. But what is the rationale today? Ironically, only when the student gets to college, do we find plenty of continuous programs such as co-operative education offering learning through three consecutive four-month terms every year.

A radical alternative?

Inconsistencies in the existing provincial education systems aside, there is no comparable structured, organized, and publicly funded early childhood development program across Canada for children under 4 years old, such as exists for children in K-12.

Consider this fundamental premise: learning begins at birth, not kindergarten.

…we could create a permanent childcare learning campus providing both learning and child care for children aged 0-5. Not by carving up our community park, but by repurposing land and facilities already in use, and available for, child care and learning.

Instead of the current convoluted patchwork of advocacy groups, provincial regulators, local governments, day care operators, all working in self-interest on non-mandated, incremental day care service delivery, quibbling over who pays how much for what, here is a fundamentally radical alternative:

  • Extend the mandate of the provincial Ministry of Education to include childhood learning and day care for children from birth to Grade 12.
  • As is the case with K – 12 today, home schooling would also be an option for the youngest children as well. Private day care operators for babies and toddlers would also remain an option, using a partial funding model and performance requirements, similar to today’s private schools for K-12.
  • Commit to including 4 year olds starting in September 2022, and add an additional cohort each year thereafter (3 year olds the following year, then 2 year olds)
  • Make ONE agency responsible for the readiness of ALL requisite components – space and facilities, qualified early childhood educators and assistants, audits and process accountabilities.

The current confusing system of early childhood care

There are incremental pilot projects for child care that come and go, often depending on the priorities of the  government of the day at every level – municipal, provincial, federal. Together they create a threadbare patchwork quilt that provides inadequate and unsatisfactory results.

For example, the current BC government, through the Ministry of Children and Family Development, has established the Community Child Care Space Creation Program. In the CCCSCP, money is funnelled by the province to local governments to build new, licenced child care spaces on local government property, or in a facility under a long-term lease agreement with the local government. The fund is administered by the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) and provides local governments with up to $1 million each to create new licensed child care spaces for children aged 0 – 5.

The above program is not to be confused with the Childcare BC New Spaces Fund which is administered directly by the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development, and can provide funding to public sector, non-profit societies, and businesses and corporate companies – not just to municipal governments.

And not to be confused with the Community Child Care Planning Program, also administered by the UBCM, that can provide up to $25,000 of provincial government money to municipal governments who haven’t yet figured out what’s needed in their community.

Another regional player is PacificCARE, a not-for-profit based in Nanaimo that advocates for the development of community childcare services, and also provides a service that guides families through the maze of current child care fee-for-service providers.

Closer to home, PacificCARE is a member of the Early Learning and Childcare Council in Oceanside (ELCCO), an initiative of the Qualicum Community Education and Wellness Society.

The minutes of the Qualicum Beach Town Council meeting held on November 20, 2019 record that Council directed staff to apply to the UBCM – Community Child Care Space Creation Program for funds towards the creation of new childcare spaces within Qualicum Beach. At first blush, that sounds promising.

A second motion in that same Council meeting directed staff to work with the Early Learning and Childcare Council (ELCCO) to “collect additional information” required to apply to the province’s Childcare BC New Spaces Fund for the balance of the funds required for the creation of new childcare spaces within Qualicum Beach.

One can also assume that BOTH grant applications must succeed before any “new” projects for child care spaces are created.

A Qualicum Beach campus for early childhood learning?

In his report to the Qualicum Beach Council meeting on June 24, 2020, Councillor Adam Walker noted that “on June 11, 2020, six ELCCO members including an elected official from the RDN and the City of Parksville, a representative from School District 69, the Town of Qualicum Beach Directors of Planning and Engineering along with an experienced architect spent the day evaluating locations for a childcare centre in our community park. After reviewing nearly a dozen sites the group narrowed the selection down to 3 sites which will be discussed further. ELCCO continues to support the advancement of new childcare opportunities in our region.”

In Qualicum Beach, we could create a permanent learning campus, serving QBers from cradle (to grave, if we wish), by providing both the student learning and the child care that is apparently so needed for children aged 0-5. Not by carving up our community park, but by repurposing land and facilities already in use, and available for, child care and learning.

We have a time-limited, once-in-our-life opportunity to repurpose the Qualicum Commons in the heart of our Town to meet that need. Your guidance and direction of our community’s support to early learners is encouraged.

[Full disclosure – I have neither children nor grandchildren under the age of 20, nor any vested interest in the creation or operation of any of the services suggested above.]