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Tag: Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre

Sophie Shackel – young girl with long light-brown hair.

Pincher Creek’s ELC closes Sage child-care facility

A group of parents whose children attended Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre’s Sage program are asking why they weren’t given more advanced notice of the immediate closure of the facility last week.

Citing chronically inadequate staffing levels, PCCELC chairwoman Christy Gustavison, in an Oct. 25 letter to parents and staff, said the decision wasn’t made lightly.

“We know this announcement has a tremendous impact on all of you, as well as on the community,” she wrote. 

“It’s something we’ve been dealing with for a while, trying to keep staff, and keep things going,” Mayor Don Anderberg, a member of the board, told Shootin’ the Breeze, a day after the announcement. 

“It’s a highly regulated situation by the province and Children’s Services, and trying to operate at required staff levels has been difficult. It got to the point where it was undoable.”

Kyla Shackel, whose daughter, Sophie, had been attending the daycare program, said it has left her and other parents scrambling to find alternatives. “We just got an email late Wednesday and that was it. No calls. No nothing. And staff, the same thing,” she said. 

“We did reach out a few times to the board, to management, but were never brought into the loop. We even asked if we could have a parent on the board but were told that would be a conflict of interest.” 

Kyla says requests to attend board meetings and ask questions were also turned down. There were even appeals made, she said, of parents putting on a fundraiser, in light of rumoured struggles.

“We’ve had chronic inadequate staffing levels and, at the same time, the licensing body [Ministry of Children and Family Services] has flagged us because of those inadequate staffing levels,” the board’s chairwoman pointed out in a followup interview with Shootin’ the Breeze. 

“It’s been a struggle for us to recruit and maintain a level of supervision required by the licensing body. In the end, it was a very difficult decision to make, and our hearts are with our families and staff.”

Likewise, the mayor said he understands the impact the closure will have on nearly 40 families who use the facility.

“We’re probably running at about 65 per cent capacity because we don’t have enough people [staff] to operate the facility,” he said. 

“I don’t understand why they didn’t bring this forth with parents,” Kyla questioned.

“Why they couldn’t have pared down with the last children they accepted, have said, ‘I’m sorry we don’t have room for you right now,’ as opposed to letting everybody go.”

Sonja Rowland, another parent, has a three-year-old son who also went to the Sage facility.

“Both my husband and I work full time and, like most of the parents [who use the centre], we’re a dual-income family,” she said.

“It really throws a wrench into us really being able to go to work every day. Luckily, we were able to find a day home for the time being.” 

However, with limited options, many families may not have the same success, Sonja acknowledged.

“Other parents, I’ve heard, are using their sick days and vacation time in the short term,” she said.

“We moved here in 2017,  had our son in 2020, and at that time, we were thinking this is amazing — they have a maternity ward at the hospital, amazing nurses and doctors here, and they just opened up these brand new daycare centres. How perfect for a young family.” 

As families struggle to make ends meet, she wonders if that might be a game changer that prompts young families in the community to want to leave or that prevents new families from coming.

Staff members, whose futures are also in limbo with this decision, have contacted Shootin’ the Breeze, concerned not only with the loss of their jobs, but also with the future direction of the daycare, were it to reopen. They wished to remain anonymous, concerned that speaking out may result in not being hired back.

In an email to publisher Shannon Peace, they wrote: “[The staff] do not want to appear ungrateful towards Sage, the board, and our community. We enjoy this job and the phenomenal opportunity we have to raise up the next generation. However, the direction we have been steered towards, obviously, has not led to a fruitful path.”

In one situation, employees said, management was urged repeatedly to train new staff members, with two educators returning to college in the fall, to have replacements in place and trained for a smooth transition.

“Instead of bringing in new hires to get acquainted with the children, routines, and best practices, and allow for a smooth transition for departing staff, the centre was left in quite a bit of chaos going into the school year,” the email said.

Staff contend that prior to the closure, Sage had enough staff for the number of children enrolled.

“Of the eight educators, five had their Level 1 [allowing them to be left alone with children], three were not levelled, two of these being part time, and the other, a one-on-one. Of the five levelled staff, two were considered part time or rarely came in,” the email went on to say.

“We hope the closure leads to a greener pasture, one of longevity and joy for the families. We hope to be welcomed back and we can pick up where we left off! We love our community and the families we serve!”

Indications are the closure is only temporary, described by Mayor Anderberg as a way for the board to step back and reset.

While no timeline has been given for a possible reopening of the McDougall Street location, the partner site next to Canyon School remains open. The Canyon Creek location is at capacity, however, and had a long waiting list even before last week’s closure at Sage.

Child-care worker, a dark-haired woman wearing glasses and a blue shirt, talks to three preschoolers

Child-care crunch looms amid staffing shortage

 

Pincher Creek’s child-care facilities are operating well below capacity due to a persistent shortage of qualified staff, according to La Vonne Rideout, municipal director of community services. 

There are 159 child-care spots available at the Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre between the town’s Canyon Creek and Sage facilities, whose combined staff looks after around 95 children. The facilities are running at 60 per cent of total capacity, leaving about 50 kids on each waitlist, Rideout told Shootin’ the Breeze, Thursday, Jan. 5.

 

Nellie Maund-Stephens, smiling woman with scarf covering head, is a parent with concerns about child care in Pincher Creek.
Nellie Maund-Stephens and her husband waited nine months to get their young son into Pincher Creek’s Canyon Creek early learning centre. Photo by Laurie Tritschler

 

Caught in the middle are parents like Nellie Maund-Stephens, whose three-year-old son Kaysen started at Canyon Creek Friday morning — nine months after he was waitlisted at Sage. 

“I can finally breathe a huge sigh of relief, knowing that I have consistent and good child care,” Maund-Stephens said Friday afternoon.

She and her husband Mark are both shift workers. Nellie is a veteran firefighter/paramedic at Pincher Creek Emergency Services, Mark the newest doctor at the town hospital, and the last nine months have been “a scheduling nightmare” for both parents. 

“It was very hard trying to juggle our schedules,” Maund-Stephens recalled Friday.  “We had to call on friends and family a lot — often at the last minute.” 

Maund-Stephens hopes to ramp back up to full-time at PCES now that Kaysen is at Canyon Creek. 

“Childcare is something that seems to fall on women. It makes it incredibly hard for a woman to advance her career when she has to take time off to take care of her kids,” she said, qualifying that it’s just as hard for single dads. 

 

 

Rideout agrees. 

“The reality is that child-care is an essential service,” she told Shootin’ the Breeze. Town hall realized as much when Children’s World Daycare, which had been a mainstay in the community for decades, closed down in 2018. Child care became vital to Pincher Creek’s economic development when families started turning down jobs in town Creek for lack of child-care options. 

The town purpose-built Canyon Creek and Sage next to Canyon Elementary and St. Michael’s schools, leasing the facilities to the Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre when construction finished in the summer of 2020. 

PCCELC has been up against a staffing crunch from the start, despite the federal government’s initiative to reign in child-care costs. 

The Government of Alberta was one of the last provinces to sign on to Ottawa’s affordability grant, which seeks to deliver child-care at $10 per day. 

“The (provincial) government recognizes the need, but they’re not doing what they need to do for service providers to recruit and retain staff,” Rideout explained. 

 

La Vonne Rideout – a smiling woman with long blonde hair – is director of community services for the Town of Pincher Creek
As director of community services for the Town of Pincher Creek, La Vonne Rideout oversees both sites of the Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre. Photo by Laurie Tritschler

 

Child-care programs in Alberta are licensed by the ministry of children’s services, which sets certification requirements for child-care workers and minimum staff-to-children ratios at licensed facilities. 

The ministry puts child-care workers through three certification levels: Level 1 workers need to complete an online orientation course that runs between 60-70 hours. Level 2 workers have to finish a one-year program at an accredited post-secondary institution, while Level 3 workers need a two-year diploma or higher.  

Rideout said staffing shortages are the norm when the industry rewards extensive training with perennially low wages. Level 1 workers made $16.75 per hour last January, with roughly $18 and $20 hourly wages for Level 2 and 3 staff, according to recent statistics posted to the Government of Alberta’s website. 

The United Conservatives’ Child Care Grant Funding Program supplements employer-paid wages based on certification levels. At most, these “top-ups” add around $8.50 per hour for Level 3 employees, amounting to an average wage of $28.50 per hour starting this new year. 

PCCELC pays better than the provincial average, but Rideout said child-care workers aren’t making a living wage even after the government top-ups. 

“Child-care has always been provided on the backs of people who enter the field. And it’s mostly women who do the work,” Rideout said. 

 

Ad for Ascent Dental in Pincher Creek

 

At a broader level, Rideout said the federal child-care initiative is filtered through a provincial framework that undermines child-care programs. 

In order to receive affordability grant funding, child-care facilities must agree to cap fee increases at three per cent per year. For comparison, the national consumer price index rose by around 5.5 per cent, excluding food and gas, according to a December 2022 report by Statistics Canada. 

“It’s always been about making child-care more affordable, which I get,” Rideout said. The problem is that the province’s user-pay model can’t sustain the child-care industry over the long-term. Public schools and hospitals don’t run on a user-pay model, because education and health care are essential services rather than money-making businesses.  

“[The UCP] is all about supporting business in this province, but they’ve tied childcare’s hands. I’d love for them to tell dentists that they can’t charge more money,” Rideout said. 

In the meantime, Rideout said the PCCELC would probably need to hire the equivalent of four to five full-time staff at Canyon Creek and Sage in order to clear their waitlists. 

Rideout then thanked the staff that have stayed on throughout the pandemic. 

“It’s a hard job. It’s a really hard job. My hat’s off to our team: They do amazing work.”

 

Three preschoolers gaze out a window
Photo by Laurie Tritschler

 

 

Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion

 

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Laurie Tritschler author information. Photo of red-haired man with moustache, beard and glasses, wearing a light blue shirt in a circle over a purple accent line with text details