City plans to form engagement group for early learning issues

After identifying gaps in local childcare, the city will create a new engagement group to tackle issues related to early learning.

The new community-based group was approved on Tuesday by city council and follows a report released in May that revealed a shortage of licensed and registered spaces in Kamloops, as well as underserved neighbourhoods and limited opportunity for flexible, extended and weekend care.

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City of Kamloops social development manager Barb Berger identified the group among short-term priorities for the city, as the province works toward overhauling B.C.’s daycare system.

The NDP made a campaign promise to deliver $10-per-day daycare, which has not come to fruition since it has been in power, propped up in a minority government by the Green Party.

Berger said the new engagement group will function similarly to the social planning council or arts commission and will include broad representation across governing bodies, as well from within the industry.

The new engagement group will work under council’s community services committee, which also tackles issues like housing. Terms of reference for the new group will go to that committee in July.

“I think that this advisory committee could really be helpful as the province does start to roll out, they have made a commitment that they are preparing to invest in childcare and we just want Kamloops to be really positioned well,” Berger told KTW.

The new group is identified among dozens of recommendations in a childcare gap report conducted by the city (but funded by the province).

Longer-term city initiatives include: prioritizing co-location of child care in schools, tax incentives and guides to help daycare providers better understand city processes, such as development applications, business licensing, new development and rezoning.

Coun. Dale Bass said on Tuesday she recently brought together 15 daycare managers to meet with local MLAs and the daycare managers brought to light need for improved communication.

Bass said the advisory group will help to address that issue. In addition, she said, it will help daycare providers to better understand the city’s planning department.

“We might see better daycares or we might see them built faster,” Bass said.

Some city councillors, meanwhile, expressed concern about the potential for taxing new units of construction. Coun. Mike O’Reilly cited input from the Canadian Home Builders Association.

“I think we need to be very careful going forward,” O’Reilly told council.

Meanwhile, recommendations under provincial jurisdiction largely focus on increased funding, including subsidy to address staffing shortages, funding to families for extended care, and opportunities to provide wraparound services. That will require advocacy from the new engagement group. Coun. Arjun Singh said on Tuesday he wants to explore with council advocacy around childcare worker wages. Singh called the wages of early childcare workers a “really big problem,” resulting in high staff turnover rates.

“Underpaying a childcare worker is underpaying the person who packs your parachute,” Singh said.

Recommendations also call on the province to allocate child care space in new schools, something Berger told could be included in talks about the new Parkcrest elementary. Brocklehurst is among neighbourhoods identified in the report as needing licensed and registered spaces.

The new group is the first step, with other recommendations ranging from short to long-range plans, with some requiring multiple levels of government.

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