The P.E.I. government is being asked to look at schools and other buildings it operates across the province to determine whether any of them have vacant space that might be appropriate for early learning programs.
Staff with the non-profit Chances Family Centre, which runs early learning centres as well as before- and after-school programs, told MLAs at a legislative committee Tuesday that the biggest challenge facing those delivering services is lack of space.
"There has definitely been an increase of families moving to P.E.I., which is really positive for the economy, but the need is growing," executive director Nathalie Nadeau told the standing committee on education and economic growth, adding that she speaks from her organization's perspective and not for the entire sector.
Some areas of the Island are seeing more demand than others, Nadeau pointed out.
The town of Cornwall has the greatest need for more spaces, she said, though Stratford is also growing rapidly and there is demand in that town too.
Chances staff presented a five-page report with several recommendations for government to improve access to child care. (Tony Davis/CBC)
In a five-page report it created, Chances makes seven recommendations. To improve access to both early learning programs and school-aged childcare, it urges the province to:
Identify and evaluate unused space that could be used for early years centres (EYCs);
Create a provincial government entity to act as a liaison for early years centres;
Revise the EYC funding formula to provide increased support;
Increase the volume and scope of grants for program materials and groceries;
Expand EYC funding to include managerial roles;
Overhaul the early learning child-care centres registry; and
Implement a funding model similar to the EYC system subsidizing staff wages in school-age programs.
Nadeau thanked the government for recognizing the importance of child care by offering salary increases and expanding a low-interest loan pilot program for added space — but she said there are still issues with finding locations for child-care centres.
"The key issue is physical space," she said. "There are mortgage rates at low interest and a loan provided by the province, but if you don't own the land or have access to the land, it is very costly. That's a significant barrier."
One of Chances' programs is run out of a school with a low number of students, and Nadeau wonders if more schools could be used to run child-care programs.
"We are able to provide 110 child-care spaces there and it is low rent. There is great collaboration with the school system," she said.
"The recommendation that we are making is the province look strategically at what space they have available that could be used as a child-care space."
Liberal MLA Rob Henderson wanted to know about training opportunities in rural areas of the province. (Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island)
Chances also wants to see the province restructure the EYC funding formula that was put into place in 2018, said Lucas Currie, the organization's chief financial officer.
"The wages are essentially funded and it creates a buffer of profit at the top. Then it's that buffer of profit that covers operational expenses like rent, program materials and groceries," Currie said.
"As those expenses just increase due to inflation and [with the] formula largely staying the same, that level of profit just shrinks over time."
He said the formula should be adjusted to create a bigger profit buffer to cover the rising costs of goods and still let owners make some money.
When it comes to school-aged care such as before- and after-school programs, there is no provincial funding. Nadeau said that should change.
"Since school started, I think I had seven communities reach out to Chances to open an after-school program. It's very, very hard to operate within the situation we are in [with] high rent costs and no financial aid from government," she said.
Chances tries to keep child-care costs low for vulnerable populations, with its workers making about $17 an hour, she said.
"One of the key things that we are recommending is implementing a funding model similar to the early years centres. I know that is something the government is complementing. It will increase the capacity to have qualified staff, but also qualified programs."
Marianne Ellis, program co-ordinator with Chances, says there isn't an online option right now, but she knows staff are trying to build an online course in partnership with Holland College. (Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island)
Liberal MLA Rob Henderson, a member of the committee to which Chances was presenting, wanted to know about training opportunities.
Charlottetown and Summerside have training programs that rural areas like O'Leary lack. Adding programs in those communities would allow workers to receive higher wages, Henderson said.
"Is there any online options for them?" he asked.
Marianne Ellis, program co-ordinator with Chances, said staff are working to build an online course with Holland College that could be taken at a location in western P.E.I.
"It is definitely in the talks," Ellis said. "I am not privy to all the conversation so I don't know where that is at."
Chances will also send workers to an area where training is taking place, but it is difficult to find backfill, she said.