The Yukon Child Care Association is asking the government to increase wage funding for day cares to avert what it describes as a growing staff crisis in the industry.
Entry-level child-care workers in the Yukon make $9 to $10.50 per hour to start, while those with two-year child-care diplomas make $15.50.
Neither wage is lucrative enough to lure new workers or to entice current ones to remain, as service industry jobs are now paying higher wages, said a multitude of workers and parents at a press conference at Nakwaye Ku Child Care Centre at Yukon College on Wednesday.
“I would like to not worry who’s quitting this week and moving over to Superstore or Kal-Tire — they have families to feed,” said Miranda Colbert, director of Nlaye Ndasadaye Day Care in Granger.
Low wages are a result of small, stagnant subsidies to day cares and they are leading to a staff exodus in the territory, said Colbert.
At Nlaye Ndasadaye, five of 11 employees will leave by the end of the month, and the daycare has already lost 14 staff in the last 10 months, she said.
“All of them are leaving for higher wages or to go back to school,” said Colbert.
Judy Wengzynowski, the director of Love-to-Learn Daycare in Riverdale, is losing six people and will have to close the operation by August 31st, if help-wanted ads continue to garner little response, she said.
“This is the worst year of trying to operate a day care, and if I up wages the business goes under,” said Wengzynowski.
On the other side of the equation are workers who love what they do but struggle to survive, said those at the press conference.
Lynn Rice-Rideout, a child-care worker at Nakwaye Ku Child Care Society at Yukon College, is one of them.
“I live from paycheque to paycheque,” said Rice-Rideout.
“Without my spouse, I wouldn’t be making it.”
Heidi Spinks, a worker at Care-A-Lot Day Care in Riverdale, said her son recently became a construction labourer and now makes more money than she does.
“Staff retention is a big problem,” she said.
The Yukon government funds day cares and other child-care facilities through direct operating grants, which must be applied for.
Every day care receives a different amount based on a points system, and each point is worth a dollar value, explained Cyndi Desharnais, president of the Yukon Child Care Association and director of Care-A-Lot.
“We need more to put into the wage portion,” Desharnais said.
Without wage-funding increases in grants, day cares will have to increase fees to increase wages, she added.
Nakwaye Ku is doing just that, increasing fees by 16 per cent in two phases, with all of the increases going toward salary raises.
“Low wages are making it next to impossible for us to attract qualified early childhood educators,” said Bryna Cable, a board member at the day care, in a release.
The first phase of the increase will take effect in November, and the second in April.
By the end of the increases, fees will have jumped from $570 per month for a pre-school child and $600 per month for a toddler to $620 per month and $700 per month, respectively.
Those fee increases could leave parents out in the cold.
“I may be forced to stay home,” said Echo Johnson, a mother at the press conference.
“I cannot afford $1,200 to $1,400 a month for daycare,” she said.
The basic federal government subsidy of $450 per month is not increasing with the costs of day care created by the crisis, added Cheryl Timmerman, a single-mother.
“Day-care workers are not babysitters, they’re childhood educators,” she said.
Day-care workers often run across such stigmas, but they’ve decided enough is enough, said Desharnais.
“We’re teachers — why shouldn’t we be making on par with other teachers?” she asked.
Parent Craig Dempsey, who has a son at Nlaye Ndasadaye, is a recent convert to Desharnais’s way of thinking.
“Prior to having a child in day care, I thought a day care was a large building where people hung out and took care of your kid,” he said.
“But I started realizing the learning that was taking place.
“(My son) is being taught by underpaid professionals.”