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Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

Downtown Babies On The Move

The Yellowknife Day Care Association has expansive new plans, but needs more time.

Yellowknife’s largest daycare provider is eyeing up a new home and a significant expansion several months after receiving an eviction notice for their current location.

The Yellowknife Day Care Association, which holds 45 child care licenses, including half of Yellowknife’s infant care licenses, recently entered into a conditional land-purchase agreement for several empty downtown lots on 52 Street, on which they plan to erect a new building.

Although the move presents the opportunity for a much-needed expansion of child care spaces in Yellowknife, it did not come about voluntarily. Last fall, the GNWT gave the association until the end of July to be out of their current, government-owned building.

“Its life expectancy is pretty much done and they were not willing to retrofit it,” Shannon Diemert, president of the association’s board, told EDGE.

Now the association has the ball rolling on a new location, Diemert is hoping that the GNWT will be more flexible with its original move-out date:  “The government is not going to put their foot down and say, ‘You have three of five steps completed, but it’s not enough, you and your children have to hit the highway.’”

With a larger building, the association is planning to double the number of infant-care spaces, hopefully cutting down wait-times for new parents trying to find professional childcare in order to get back to work. “We already have a 2017 list started for infants. As soon as people find out they’re pregnant they put their names down,” says Diemert.

It’s also an occasion to raise the issue of child care funding with the GNWT, an especially relevant topic, says Diemert, given the current issues surrounding funding for Inuvik’s daycare.

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment hasn’t “done a CPI increase or cost-of-living increase on how they fund daycares [in years,]” says Diemert. “So Inuvik is hoping to go to them to say, look, let’s really look at the way you fund things, which would change things for us as well.”

Enough funding?

Child care in the territory is extraordinarily expensive, with the GNWT only pitching in about $15 a day for infants and even less for preschool-age children.

A recent study commissioned by the GNWT found that "Among Canadian jurisdictions, the N.W.T. spends below the Canadian average,” with parents shelling out between $45 and $62 a day per child compared to Quebec, which has the best-funded system in the country, where child care costs an average of $7 a day.

There are GNWT subsidies available for low-income families, but in 2014-15 only 51 people in the territory qualified for a government subsidy. And there is a serious lack of spaces overall, with between 718 and 1,415 more spaces needed if every child in the territory is to have access to daycare.

In Yellowknife, the Day Care Association charges $940 a month for infant care, which is far from the most expensive care in town; some spaces in privately run day homes cost up to $1200 a month, says Diemert.

“We’re not bad, all things considered. That being said, if you do combine our cost of living with one or two kids, it takes a big chunk or your budget.”

Why bring down the cost?

With the expense of financing a new building, it’s unlikely the Day Care Association’s fees are going to drop anytime soon. “At the end of the day, the goal is not to increase our fees as much as possible,” says Diemert.

But more affordable childcare is something we should all be pushing for, she adds.

“We have to look at this as a community as a whole, and say, ‘What do you want from a workforce? Do you want people to stay in the N.W.T.? What sort of things do you have to provide? Child care is one of them.’”

“In regards to affordability and cost of living… for a lot of families, having a parent stay home here in Yellowknife is not an option, [with the] cost of housing, fuel etc... Having access to affordable child care allows people to stay here … [and] keeps them in decent housing because they are able to bring home a paycheck.”