Lack Of Daycare Forces Families To Leave NWT Or Not Work

Yellowknife daycares are struggling to stay open with rising costs and shortages of qualified staff,

Daycare is one of those make-or-break issues that can force families to make hard choices – leave or give up a job. I know this personally, having raised five children in Yellowknife. It was always difficult to find spaces, but not impossible. Now it’s getting close to impossible. Cost is a factor for many families but availability is the big one for all families.

According to the website finding quality childcare in the Northwest Territories:

  • THERE IS A REGULATED SPACE FOR 23.3% OF CHILDREN AGED 0 – 12 YRS. (2019)
  • THERE IS A REGULATED FULL OR PART-TIME CENTRE-BASED SPACE FOR 21% OF CHILDREN AGED 0 – 5 YRS. (2019)
Number of regulated spaces (March 31, 2021)

Governments know how important daycare is. The Liberal federal government has come a long way in bringing the cost down. There is no reason to believe a new government, Liberal, Conservative or NDP would reverse that. 

The problem for the NWT, is that while the lower cost makes it more affordable for more families, it also grows the waiting lists, increasing demand already far greater than the supply.

You can see the full report Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada 2021 here.

AGENUMBER
0531
1555
2549
3577
4582
5550
6625
7635
8582
9600
10597
12621
Source: NWT Bureau of Statistics Statistics Canada revised population estimates for 2021 and 2022 resulting in a slight change to the age, sex and ethnicity estimates for Yellowknife.

GNWT Lowballs Cost of Northern Daycare

The average cost of a daycare space in the Northwest Territories.

The dollar figure pictured – $38 – was what the GNWT  supplied to the feds for negotiations on the national daycare subsidy, representing it as the average childcare fees in 2019.

I asked Patricia Davison, chair of the NWT Early Childhood Association, how the GNWT came up with that figure. Ms. Davison says she has no idea, only that it is too low. Daycare operators, profit and non-profits, may close unless the true costs of daycare spaces are covered. In 2006, my partner and I were paying $47 per day, 17 years ago.

Footnote on Daycare Fees in agrrement between GNWT and federal government on daycare subsidy.
Agreement Footnote Sets NWT Daycare Fees Very Low​

Rollout of Daycare Subsidies Mishandled From the Start

After setting average daycare fees to low at $38 daily, daycare operators were told GNWT funding would stay as it was, then it was tied to operators accepting the federal subsidy.

Then operators were told not to raise fees ahead of the subsidy because there was a cap coming. Then the minister jumped in publicly accusing operators of scamming the system. It was a mess. The news headlines tell the story.

There are so few operators, so few daycare spaces, the GNWT should have been in the operators’ corner fighting to get them what they need to survive. The guise of ‘spending public money wisely’  does not excuse failure to achieve what Northern families need – affordable, accessible daycare.

Northern News Outlets stories on Northern day-care subsidies.

The Solution​

Daycare operators, either for-profit or not-for-profit, are not the enemy. Not having enough of them is a problem for parents. We need a new committed approach from our leadership, a willingness to take direction from the operators themselves and work for solutions. We have to top up GNWT grants to compensate for the low $38 average daily cost which doesn’t reflect the true costs of daycare spaces in the North. We have to let day home operators determine the wage levels of their staff based on comparable wages for the same skills available in the job market. Staff retention will be a determining factor for wage levels. We also have to create a regulatory environment that will encourage more day-home operators to start up.   

Most of all, we must understand we stand to lose families in the NWT. Lack of daycare can drive willing workers, workers we need,  away from our workplaces, both in and out of government. There is such as thing as ‘teaching hospitals’. Why not have ‘teaching daycares’ which could help build a Northern workforce? We can offer people from the communities training and work experience. With NWT Housing permitting daycares in public housing units, it’s a good opportunity for a home-based business, enabling other moms and dads an option to work.   

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