Students on waiting list for college daycare care

inding daycare in Whitehorse can be a tough slog. This is true even for Yukon College students, despite its on-campus daycare.

inding daycare in Whitehorse can be a tough slog.

This is true even for Yukon College students, despite its on-campus daycare.

“I know that there are students who are having to find daycare spots in places downtown,” said Colleen Wirth from student services.

“That, of course, is a concern for them in that they’re needing to get their children downtown and then get back up here for classes.”

The problem has been exacerbated by the opening of another 24 family residences on site — a legacy of the Canada Winter Games.

“The reality is that as we have more families coming here, we of course have more children,” said Wirth.

“That’s going to mean that, if it’s not already an issue, there’s going to be a need for increasing spots. And, ideally, there would be more spots here on site.”

However, solving the problem of childcare for college students may be far more difficult than just adding extra spots.

“Increasing spaces isn’t the best way to go because we just don’t have the staff,” said Val Henderson, the director of the college’s Nakwaye Ku Day Care.

“Right now, qualified staff is very difficult to find.”

“That’s certainly been our biggest challenge when I joined the board — finding qualified staff,” agreed Amos Westropp from the board of directors of the non-profit organization that runs the daycare.

“It’s not just us, it’s other daycares as well.”

The low pay for child-care professionals compared to work requiring similar training has led to a Canada-wide shortage in daycare staff.

Henderson hopes new government subsidies and direct operating grants will help attract and retain staff, she said.

“Right now I’d say we lose at least two staff members a year.”

The daycare is currently running with four full-time staff and one part-time worker in a space with the capacity for 36 kids.

“The problem isn’t whether there’s enough space — it’s finding workers,” said Henderson.

“We can’t go above our staff ratios.”

According to regulations, one daycare worker can care for no more than six toddlers or eight preschoolers at any one time.

With two workers on either end of the daycare, that means Nakwaye Ku is limited to a maximum of 28 kids.

Meanwhile, Henderson estimates the daycare normally has an average of 60 names on its waiting list.

“It varies,” said Henderson.

“The wait is so long that the children may have found another daycare, left the territory or have already moved onto kindergarten.”

Acceptance to the daycare is not done on a first-come, first-serve basis.

First priority goes to siblings of children already attending the daycare.

This ensures that kids do not have to be separated.

Children of students and college staff receive second priority and make up roughly 25 per cent of the daycare’s pint-sized clients.

Students who want to retain spaces for their children over the college’s summer break have to continue to pay.

Otherwise, the space will be filled by someone else from the waiting list.

Henderson attributes the daycare’s popularity to the fact that the space was built to be a daycare.

This means miniature sinks and toilets for the kids and one-way mirrors to allow parents to watch their children play.

The children are also able to utilize the college’s gym to run around, dance, and play games.

The daycare also has a large outdoor play area, which was going largely unused in last week’s minus-40-degree weather.

Instead, the children were busily pasting together Valentine’s Day crafts.

The daycare was built along with the college 20 years ago.

However, the two have always been separate entities.

“I don’t know exactly what the agreement is between us and the college,” said Westropp, who’s relatively new to the Nakwaye Ku board.

“Obviously, it’s a great benefit being here, but we have broader goals than just providing child care to staff and students.”

Even though it is a non-profit, the daycare still needs to make ends meet and can’t afford to leave spaces open for students.

So it remains to be seen how the college will deal with the children of its 24 new, family residences.

“We’re working with the daycare to see how we can address this because we know that childcare spots in the Yukon are a concern and most daycares have a long wait list,” said Wirth.

“Collectively, we definitely want to provide the students with the opportunity to have their daycare spots here at Yukon College.”

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com