Unless enough children are registered by the fall to fill six fulltime positions, Gabriola’s only licensed all-day child care centre will be forced to close its doors.
But Alice Verstraete, executive director of the Hope Centre – the agency which runs the program – would be thrilled to work with parents to keep the program going if a need for it still exists.
Verstraete said Thursday that their after-school program will continue. She said the pre-school program will also be maintained if at least six positions are filled in one of the program’s two timeslots (9 to 11:30 and 12:30 to 3).
It was a hard decision to close the program, Verstraete said in a phone interview, but when their numbers fell to two children attending part-time and filling one full-time position, she thought she didn’t have any choice. “It’s been challenging the last two years”, which she said is when the numbers at the full-time daycare centre started to decline. “In the last six months”, she said, “it’s been a real struggle just to pay the salaries of my staff”.
Verstraete had some “educated guesses” why enrollment has declined from the 14 to 16 children that attended when the centre first got their license in 2007. She said the numbers dropped two years ago when an all-day kindergarten opened on the island. She added that a number of young families have moved off the island in search of work, and while other young families have moved onto the island, many of them are doing so as part of a lifestyle choice which includes having one of the parents stay home with their children.
Matt Scott, a parent who relies on the centre, phoned The Shingle Tuesday to express his dismay about the possibility the daycare centre would be closed. As a social worker, he said, he is very aware of how difficult it is to attain a day care license. He said having that license guarantees a high quality of child care, and the centre on Gabriola is “a bit of a gem”. “It’s horrific” that such a service could be closed, he said.
Noting that the Hope Centre’s Peer Helping Program has also stopped running due to lack of funding, Scott was concerned that the infrastructure necessary to support young families on the island seems to be diminishing. While it’s wonderful that the community is taking care of its older demographic through a number of initiatives, he said, Gabriolans at the other end of the age continuum also need support if the community is to be healthy.
He acknowledged that part of the problem in keeping the daycare operating has to do with whether there are enough kids on the island using it. However, he said, if there is infrastructure to support young families here, young families will come to the island.
Scott also said there are parents who don’t need fulltime daycare but who appreciate the socialisation provided for children through a daycare program. He thought maybe more parents would make more use of the program if they were aware of how close Gabriola is to losing it.
Open to suggestions
Verstraete said the all-day portion of their centre is licensed to care for up to 16 children from the ages of 30 months to five years. She said the pre-school program has 15 spaces, and the after-school program has 20. She said the all day program opens at 8 am, although if parents need it to, it can open earlier.
It costs $33 per day for a 3:30 pick up, she said, and $38 for a 5:30 pickup. She added that while her program does not expect that parents be involved in the pre-school program, the Co-op pre-school program does. She said the Hope Centre refers parents who want to go that route to the Co-op program, and vice versa.
Noting that she has been flooded with calls since she decided she would close the daycare centre, Verstraete said, with the agreement of the licensing agent, the Hope Centre is holding onto their license for now. She said they can’t open the doors with only two part time positions registered, but if parents call or email “to tell me what they need, I can start working with people to meet their needs”. She said if either the all-day or the pre-school programs are to open in the fall, by the end of the summer she will need to have enough children registered to fill six positions.
Verstraete may be reached at 250-247-8730, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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