Childcare centres are stepping up to offer support for essential service workers in B.C. during the pandemic.
The province has asked for frontline workers to get priority access to child care, in particular those in fields such as health care, social services and emergency response.
While some centres are already matching children up with spaces, others are waiting to hear if they’ll be able to help.
Ohana Childcare owner and operator Angela Lam told CTV News Vancouver they received a call from Fraser Health last week, asking if they would provide spaces for essential workers. Lam said they agreed, and are eager to help.
“If we can help them out in any way we can, we definitely want to offer that service to them,” Lam said.
Ohana is an occasional childcare centre, which offers flexible care arrangements where parents pay a monthly membership and pick the times they need. Lam’s fellow owner and operator Poonam Chhabra said most of their families have chosen to keep their kids home, so things have been pretty quiet. They have been creating live Instagram videos featuring circle time, crafts and stories to keep connected with kids, and now Chhabra said they’re hoping to help support front line workers in their roles.
“They’re out there fighting for our community. We just want to create a safe space that they can send their children while they’re working and they can feel kind of at ease about where their children are,” Chhabra said.
Ohana is now waiting to hear back on referrals, and they’re also waiting to find out whether their centre will qualify for the temporary emergency funding being offered by the province. Licensed providers that stay open are eligible for additional funding at a rate of seven times their average government funding (the Child Care Operating Funding, or CCOF).
However, Lam said because Ohana is an occasional centre, it doesn’t qualify for CCOF.
“Helping out and opening up our centre was no question,” Lam said, but added they’re hoping not to go into more debt. She said they just want "that same support from the ministry as all other centres are.”
The YMCA of Greater Vancouver’s vice-president of children and youth services, Cathy Poole, said they have several spaces available in their programs, mostly because parents who are able to do so have kept their children home.
“They’re not paying any childcare fees, but they’re retaining their space, which enables us to offer the essential service workers’ children care,” Poole said. “That’s definitely freeing up the majority of the spaces. For the YMCA, we probably would have had a few, maybe one or two, at each program if families weren’t doing this, but this is definitely helping us be able to offer more care.”
In Vancouver, the Westcoast Child Care Resource Centre is acting as the central point for referrals for temporary childcare for essential service workers. Parents who are eligible can fill out an online form to receive information on available spaces.
Poole said over the weekend, they registered about 19 children of essential service workers and still have several more emails awaiting a response.
“Families do have the option too of just reaching out to us directly,” Poole said. “In that situation, we just again give them the registration form. We do ask if they’re an essential service worker, and then go from there.”
The government is working on setting up a provincial reporting process so they can let parents know which providers are open and what can kind of space they’re offering for children of essential workers.
For a list of professions deemed essential in B.C. during the pandemic, click here.