When Minister of State for Childcare Linda Reid announced her decision late February to partially restore funding to the Child Care Resource Referral (CCRR) program, there was some relief for child care providers. But last week when the regional budgets were handed down, it became apparent that services would still be compromised. Last Friday in a conference call with the province's CCRR directors, the Ministry of Children and Family Development announced plans to close three CCRR centres (in Gibsons, Kitimat and Walnut Grove) by the end of April. In February when directors were told funding was going to stay at $9 million, their excitement was met with skepticism. In an interview with Coast Reporter at the time, Jan Miettinen-Hart, director of Sechelt's CCRR said, "The restoration of funding is great, but we're still $5 million short of the original $14 million. Once we get our budget from the ministry we will have a better idea of what's going on - we're still keeping a close watch on Gibsons."
In an interview with Coast Reporter Tuesday morning, Reid said the decision to close the Gibsons facility was based on making the $9 million budget work for all communities. "The CCRR centres being closed are satellite centres. There are other centres within an hour drive that can provide the necessary services," Reid said. Both Gibsons and Pender Harbor are satellite centres, which means the services offered are less extensive, with restricted hours, fewer resources and educational training programs.
According to families and child caregivers, these services are essential to ensuring safe and accessible care for their children.
Vicki Dobbyn, executive director of Sunshine Coast Community Services, says the resource library is an invaluable resource for a variety of people, from daycare providers to grandparents. "We might have to relocate and scale back, but we are going to do everything possible to keep services available in Gibsons," Dobbyn said.
Currently there are 45 CCRR centres throughout the province, which assist families in their search for child care, as well as assist child care providers with the B.C. child care subsidy application process. Thousands of child care providers have also been educated through the program's development and training seminars. Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons says the last-minute efforts to try to keep the Gibsons centre open are critical.
"People rely on these services. They provide safe spaces for parents and caregivers to take their children," Simons said. Local CCRR directors from Gibsons, Pender Harbour and Sechelt will be meeting over the next couple of weeks to discuss ideas and come up with a plan to keep the centre open.
"It's still too early to know exactly how we are going to approach this. We just finished figuring out the regional budget yesterday [Wednesday]. Now that we know how much money we have, we can start to plan," Dobbyn said.
When Coast Reporter asked Reid if she would consider keeping the Gibsons centre open, she replied, "I am not aware of any plans to keep it open." Directors are aiming to have a plan completed in the next two weeks. The plan would then be sent to Reid's office for approval.