A new child care centre in Queenston is adding a much-needed service to Niagara-on-the-Lake and its adjoining cities.
The newly-opened child care centre in Queenston, Sweet Love Childcare Centre, is one of six licensed centres in town.
“We knew that (in) Niagara-on-the-Lake, there’s not many daycares, that’s why we decided to open here,” said Flora Duenas Lozano the centre’s co-owner.
Duenas Lozano said they decided on Queenston as the location for its new centre after hearing from friends how much parents and guardians need child care support in NOTL. She said she also liked how quiet and safe the area is.
Duenas Lozano, a registered nurse and registered early childhood educator, operates the new centre with Kamal Preet at the old Laura Secord Elementary School on Walnut Street, which closed down in 2010.
She said her facility is lucky to be able to accommodate 64 children in three large classrooms. Currently, they have a little more than 30 kids registered.
Parents in the Queenston area were very happy to learn of the new space, Duenas Lozano said, since it meant they wouldn’t have to worry about driving to other cities like St. Catharines or Niagara Falls for the service.
“This is a very good opportunity for everybody who lives here in (the) Niagara-on-the-Lake area to have something near to them,” she said.
There are an estimated 10,000 kids across the region waiting for daycare by the end of 2023, said Satinder Klair, the director of child services with the Niagara Region.
Candice Penny, the executive director at Niagara Nursery School in NOTL, said in an email to The Lake Report that there are 242 kids on its waitlist.
“Parents are frustrated and stressed with how long it is taking to get a child care spot, even though they are on multiple wait lists,” she said.
Christine Lett, supervisor at Childcare Central, said there are more than 400 kids on the waitlist at the centre.
Lett recommends parents put their children on the waitlist even before they’re born.
“You want to put your child on the waitlist pretty much the moment you start telling people you are expecting — and even then there’s still no guarantee,” she said.
Some families who just got a spot this year were on the waitlist for about a year and a half, she said.
One of the major issues daycare facilities in the province are dealing with is staffing.
“There’s a shortage of registered early childhood educators,” said Klair.
He said the region’s licensed capacity is currently operating at 64 per cent rather than 100 per cent.
“So if a childcare centre could serve 100 kids, they’re only serving about 64 kids. And the primary reason is around labour shortage,” he said.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is doing a bit better than the region as a whole, he said, operating at 74 per cent.
“Even if we were to bring Niagara-on-the-Lakes operating capacity to 90 per cent, it would require an additional 32 registered early childhood educators and 12 educational assistants,” said Klair.
Lett said Childcare Central is operating at about 80 per cent capacity with staffing problems standing in the way of it reaching full capacity.
Many people have also left the field, which makes it harder to find qualified workers, said Penny.
However, Niagara Nursery has been fortunate, she said, and is still able to operate at full capacity.
Klair said that the target from the province is to build 591 child care centres across the region that are eligible for the new 10 dollar a day daycare program — an initiative that is supposed to help lower the cost of child care for families.
He agreed that more centres are needed across the province due to its increasing population, however more centres can’t run if there’s no staff to run it.
“We need spaces to accommodate our growth, but then we also need staff to be able to operationalize what we have,” he said.
“The shortage of workforce is just insane,” he added.
He said the province has addressed this issue and committed to releasing a provincial workforce strategy this year.
“I do believe that we need a provincial wide strategy that really speaks to the wages of the sector,” he said.
The job of an early childhood educator holds a lot of responsibilities for little pay, which makes it hard to retain staff, he said.
He added that students come out of a two year early childhood educator diploma program to a job that pays between $19 and $22 dollars an hour.
“But for that same amount of wage, you could work at a different job, potentially make much higher wages or have less responsibility,” he said.
“It’s about recognizing the profession from a compensation perspective,” he added.
Lett said an increase of pay is important, but it also comes down to workplace conditions and environments and “being able to support staff and whatever their needs are in the classroom.”
Klair hopes there’s something relating to compensation for workers in the provincial workforce strategy.
“We can’t keep waiting, so when is that workforce strategy coming? Can we make a commitment to our educators that yes, your wages are going to go up?” he said.
The region has done a lot of work to strengthen the workforce at a regional level, said Klair, like putting together a recruitment table at the region and launching new programs with different institutions, such as Niagara College.
“What we hear from our recruitment table is it comes down to wages and level of responsibility that the staff are taking on,” he said.
The region has also been piloting a program in Grimsby that would allow workforce sharing among the different municipalities in the region.
Instead of each centre having its own roster of supply staff on call, there would be a pool of supply staff that the centres share.
“So they get more shifts, get more hours, they get more flexibility,” he said.
Whatever happens, Lett hopes the sector gets the assistance they’ve all been waiting for.
“As much as the province wants to include more spaces, until there’s more staff, they’re not going to be able to do that.”