Vanessa Law wants to talk about daycare, or rather the lack of it in Watson Lake.
As a working mother with two young sons it is an important issue; the centre is closed and, everyday, she and her husband have to ensure their children are being cared for while they are at work.
This young mom has been a member of the daycare board since 2005, when her eldest son Marshal started going to the facility, but by the time Ryder came along in 2007, the daycare centre was in trouble. It has been closed since August 2008.
The facility is new and attractive. So what’s the problem?
“Low wages are a big part of it.” Vanessa says “Chambermaids and store clerks make more; a daycare job is often a stopgap until a better job comes along.”
“It’s frustrating” she continues “because it is such an important job and deserves better pay. The government will subsidize us $1.85 more per hour to hire a minimally qualified person. There is no money to hire trained people.”
And the number of children with behavioural problems in the daycare contributes to a high staff turnover.
“It takes special training to learn how to deal with these kids,” Vanessa says. “And there ought to be programs designed for them. For most people without such training, the job is too difficult, too challenging.
“When anyone quit, it would leave such a hole in the organization that we would have to close the doors.”
Obviously Vanessa and her husband Darren are not the only couple struggling to find alternatives, so why hasn’t there been a storm of protest about the daycare being closed?
“Everyone seems to be waiting for someone to come and fix the problem,” she says. “There is the board, comprised of six people, and there are some committed members. A lot of moms are on their own and often can’t get away to attend meetings.
“Even if we could get the dollars to hire a qualified person, there is the issue of housing in Watson Lake for that person,” she sighs. “It really makes me angry that kids are so low on the list of priorities; and it’s not just here in the Yukon—it’s everywhere.”
Vanessa seems to enjoy a challenge, however tough it may be.
She grew up in Horsefly, BC, the daughter of a logger. She drove a skidder for her father, who is still involved in the business.
Right about the time the forest was beginning to be viewed as an entire system, not just trees, Vanessa graduated with a degree in natural resources science. Her dad, Les Lavendure, was progressive and also saw the forest as a whole entity, adopting many of the new logging practices in his current operations.
After graduation, Vanessa worked in Victoria for an environmental-monitoring company. While there, she played rugby and loved it; she was on a TV commercial filmed during one of her games.
Her family relocated to Watson Lake; Vanessa’s mother, Shirley, had grown up in Lower Post and her family was there. Vanessa joined them, getting a job as lands and resources officer with the Liard First Nation in Lower Post.
Darren Law, childhood sweetheart, followed her north. They were married in 2004.
Marshal was born, they bought a house: a family life was what they wanted and it had begun.
Vanessa is currently working at the Yukon College Watson Lake campus as a tutor/co-ordinator. Darren works at the recreation complex, known locally as the ‘recplex.’
There is a lot to like about living in Watson Lake, despite the daycare problem. Real-estate prices are low, so a young working couple can afford to buy a house. Their comfortable house has land with lots of space to grow their large garden.
An overall feeling of safety makes it a good place to raise children, as do the affordable recreation programs. Summertime camping is fun, as is snowboarding in the winter. Vanessa also likes that her family are around, her parents and two brothers are in the area. She really appreciates the low amount of traffic on the streets.
The lack of tradespeople, like electricians, plumbers and furnace fixers, can be a nuisance, she says. But, it is understandable given the small population.
She finds communication among local organizations difficult, which brings us back to the daycare issue.
“We had a feasibility study done,” Vanessa tells me. “It was useful in a lot of ways, though of course the number 1 priority is to get a training program in place for staff.
“Other similarly situated daycare facilities survive with town support, such as teen-parent programs and a community garden. It could happen here, too; we just need to get more people to care, to get involved.”
So what does she do for pleasure, for herself?
Vanessa gives this a lot of thought, while listing what she does: raises kids, keeps a house, gardens, works at the college as well as being an auxiliary on call worker for the Yukon government and the hospital, sits on the school council and puts in innumerable hours volunteering with the board and members of the daycare centre at meetings and fundraisers.
Long moments later, she gives an answer.
“I don’t remember what I do for fun,” she says with a rueful grin.
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer
who lives in Watson Lake.