Daycares to shut down in protest

Many daycares across the territory are planning to shut down on Friday morning. Workers say they are tired of being viewed as babysitters. They're calling on the territory for a funding hike.

Many daycares across the territory are planning to shut down on Friday morning.

Workers say they are tired of being viewed as babysitters. They’re calling on the territory for a funding hike.

At a minimum, early childhood educators have a diploma, which they earn after at least two years in college, said Cyndi Desharnais, chair of the Yukon Child Care Association.

“We should be recognized as professionals,” she said. “We’re far from babysitters. We do go to school for what we do. It’s a chosen profession and most of us that do it, love it, but we also want to be respected. A lot of other people out there, who do two years in school, make double the amount of money most of us do.”

Level-three childcare workers, who possess a two-year diploma, earn around $20 per hour in the territory. But the government’s grants to most of the territory’s licensed daycares, preschools and dayhomes, only afford $9 for every level-three worker, said Desharnais.

The association is asking for that to be boosted to $15.

It also wants the department to rethink how families are subsidized for childcare across Yukon.

Costs to run childcare programs, including everything from equipment and wages to utilities and rent, continue to increase while the government’s grants haven’t changed since 2007, said Desharnais.

“It’s going to fall back on somebody,” she said. “Parent fees are getting higher and higher and there comes a point where parents can’t afford it.”

The association wants to see other changes as well. It wants childcare workers to receive health benefits, a neutral body to represent the industry and the term “childcare workers” officially changed to “early childhood educators.”

“Across North America, I think it’s fair to say that childcare workers tend to be seen as babysitters more than educational specialists,” said Deb Bartlette with Yukon College. “In some other countries, in Europe and Australia and New Zealand for example, early childhood educators are seen in a similar way to classroom teachers and they’re compensated in that way. We don’t do that in North America. We probably should. It’s not the highest paying of fields at all. It’s an issue.”

The early childhood educator program is one of the college’s core courses and has been running for more than 20 years. A “fairly significant percentage” of the students that take the course are from rural Yukon and work in their home communities after they graduate, said Bartlette.

Daycares also want to see more money for childhood special needs programming.

“We have what we call supportive childcare funding,” said Desharnais. “That’s regarding children with special needs. Every program in Yukon has children that may have a special need. We work directly with them and implement individual program plans that are written for these children (by places like the Yukon Child Development Centre). There may be a child that has sufficient needs, that needs an extra program support person, but there may be no money to allow that.”

Doug Graham, the minister of health and social services, is aware of the industry’s concerns, said Pat Living, spokesperson for the department.

“He has directed his departmental officials to research and assess the options related to both increasing funding for childcare centres and providers as well as changes to the subsidy program,” she said.

Improving the industry was an election promise and remains a priority, she added. A proposal regarding the association’s requests should be ready soon and the deputy minister has invited industry representatives to speak with him and senior officials, said Living.

As of Wednesday morning, Desharnais had not received any such invitation, she said. But working with government is a major goal for the industry, she added.

“There’s a large percentage of children under the age of five that are not in licensed childcare,” said Desharnais. “The research consistently shows that every dollar spent in quality childcare has an overwhelming return … a minimum of a $4 return down the road, whether that is in social issues or mental health issues.

“Children learn all their main foundations in the first five years of their life. That’s the most crucial part. That sets the tone for the rest of their life.”

Friday’s rally will take place from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. In Whitehorse, demonstrators will meet at Shipyards Park and march to the territorial government’s legislative building on Second Avenue.

Rallies will also take place in communities across the territory. Many daycares will be closed until 10 a.m. on Friday.

The industry last lobbied the government for an increase in wages in 2006.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at