Feasibility study unlikely to curb crisis

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Shoddy wages, biting kids, and staff “off the street” all contributed to Watson Lake’s daycare crisis, says Vanessa Law.

And throwing thousands of government dollars at feasibility studies isn’t helping, said the Watson Lake Daycare Society president.

On Wednesday, the Yukon government announced $19,294 in Community Development Funding to “detail options for success,” for Watson Lake’s daycare, according to a government release.

The daycare’s last feasibility study, in March, cost $11,000.

“We thought that feasibility study would point out the problems, give us a magic solution, show us how to do it, show us where we were spending too much — and it didn’t,” said Law.

“It was a different type of feasibility, I guess.”

The study didn’t come up with a solution — it came up with “a proposed idea for a solution,” she said.

It suggested the daycare could reopen as a multicultural centre.

So the society applied to the Community Development Fund again.

The $19,294 is supposed to help the daycare establish an action plan, but after the last study, Law isn’t holding her breath.

“Right now, I’m not very hopeful anything will be any better,” she said.

“So, I don’t even know if I want to utilize the CDF dollars.”

The daycare needs secure funding.

“And if the Yukon government’s not (funding it), and the First Nation can’t or won’t, then we’re still where we were,” she said.

After 20 years in operation, the community’s daycare shut down in August 2008.

It didn’t have enough money to continue operating.

“Our numbers had been low because people lost faith in us,” said Law.

“People could see some of the workers that have been in there, and maybe know them in the community, and know they’re not the nicest, most respectable people.

“Because when you’re only paying minimum wage, you’re getting the people off the street, basically.”

The daycare was licensed for 64 kids, and five years ago had about 40, said Law.

But when it closed down, there were only 15 to 20 kids registered.

When two workers quit at the same time, that drove the final nail in the coffin.

“We deal with a lot of behavioural children, and we feel we don’t get adequate support from the Child Development Centre and child services,” said Law.

“We had children in there that were biting all the time, and kids that were almost two but couldn’t say anything, so you couldn’t understand what they needed or wanted.”

It put too much stress on the workers.

“And you don’t know how to deal with it, especially if you haven’t been trained to deal with that stuff,” she said.

When the daycare closed, it left a lot of parents in the lurch.

It’s the low-income, single parents that need to work the most, but without a daycare, that’s next to impossible, said Law.

Some people, including Law, have kids staying with extended family or babysitters.

But that’s less than ideal, said Law. These caregivers are probably not being paid enough, she said.

“And the good thing about daycares is they have to follow the rules of child-care services. They have to have programs in place, and schedules and routines, so you always know your kid is going to have his snack time, then

it’s playtime and he’s going to make a craft.

“Is that happening when you get other people?

“There’s probably a lot of cartoon-watching, because I know I don’t do all that good stuff when I’m at home.”

After the daycare closed down, Law’s two children started staying with her sister-in-law.

But when her sister-in-law’s kids go back to school in the fall, she plans to get a day job, and Law will be out of luck.

“I have a 20-month-old and a child who’s almost five,” said Law, who works at property management.

Her work as daycare society president is volunteer.

To reopen, the daycare needs to form a partnership, said Law. Most daycares in the communities have partnered with local First Nations.

“But maybe it’s a difficult situation here because Liard has not settled its land claim,” she said.

A stable partnership would give the daycare secure funding.

“The key issue is we need good wages for everybody who’s a child-care worker, so they’ll stay there and work hard and get some great programming in place — and they’ll be there every day and it’ll be open every day, and

people will bring their kids and see they are learning things and they’ll feel good about leaving their kids there.”

The last feasibility study suggested the daycare reopen as a multicultural centre with other programming, like a teen-parents program.

“And that would be good, because there are lots of 15- and 16-year-old girls with babies, who haven’t finished school here — lots,” said Law.

The study also suggested the daycare get agricultural dollars to grow a garden, and maybe have the Child Development Centre move into the building. Seniors already rent space upstairs.

“The idea is to get more overhead funding so we all pitch in for heat and electricity, and then more of our money can go towards wages,” said Law.

If the daycare reopens, it also plans to raise its rates.

“We were charging $585 for a toddler, which is what the (child-care) subsidy is,” said Law.

But if it reopens, that rate will go up to at least $650.

“But that means low-income families will have to come up with an extra $100, and those are the people we don’t want to hurt,” she said.

Child-care services is going to be involved in the daycare’s new $19,294 study, according to a letter from Premier Dennis Fentie.

“We want to make sure we get a product,” said Law.

“Because this is our last kick at the can.

“If we can’t open, then we have to make some big decisions — are we dissolving our society? Is the building for sale? Are we selling all the children’s toys and assets we have?

“We don’t even know how to do this, if it doesn’t go well.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com