There is a severe lack of available infant and toddler childcare spaces on the Coast - an issue that's not unique to our area.
Some are calling it a childcare crisis, pointing to statistics that show only about 20 per cent of children under the age of six are able to secure a spot in a regulated childcare facility in B.C.
Adding to the strain on limited services is the changing economic scene that is forcing many families to abandon traditional one-income households to see both parents enter the workforce.
The most recent Sunshine Coast Vital Signs report shows that parents with two children living on the Coast must work full-time jobs, each making $18.80 an hour, in order to earn a "livable wage."
Many parents don't succeed in reaching that mark, with about 20.4 per cent of Sunshine Coast families classified as low income, the report states.
But even if both parents can find good paying jobs, the cost of childcare for kids who aren't in school adds up quickly. Most childcare providers locally charge between $30 and $40 a day per child for full-time care.
There are varying government subsidies available, but full subsidies apply only to those families that make less than $33,000 combined a year.
The Coalition of Childcare Advocates of B.C. (CCABC) reported last year that childcare fees now account for the second highest family expense in the province. The first is housing.
The problem has been studied and analyzed with papers and books written on the subject affecting thousands of families throughout Canada, each report signalling the need for change so
Why hasn't anyone fixed the problem?
"One of the issues with childcare is that it's this major issue in your life for three years and then you feel like, 'whew, I got through that one,' and it falls off all our plates," said Sunshine Coast Success By Six co-ordinator Pam Richmond.
"So you have this ever-evolving group of people that it's a really important issue to, but once their children are in school, it's like, 'oh, thank God that's over.' I think that's part of why it has been difficult in this country to keep that momentum going," she said.
Richmond is connected to the Sunshine Coast Early Childhood Development Planning Table, which brings together up to 30 parents and professionals monthly who share a commitment to help young children and their families.
One of their goals is to champion the establishment of a new childcare centre devoted to infants and toddlers - something they have heard time and again is needed locally.
"We know there is a need because we're turning people away almost daily at certain times of the year who are looking for childcare for infants under the age of three," said Hilary Griffiths, co-ordinator for the Sunshine Coast Childcare Resource and Referral Program and a member of the planning table. "It's usually between April and October and then there seems to be a little bit of a lull and then it starts up again, so we think it might be something to do with seasonal work."
In order to pinpoint the problem and make a case to seek funding for the proposed new toddler and infant childcare centre, the planning table is conducting a survey of local parents.
The survey asks parents to identify their childcare needs and share what they are doing to cope.
Planning table members have heard that kids are being juggled between parents working different shifts, grandparents, friends and childcare providers, but they need some solid statistical evidence to back up those informal conversations.
"We hope everyone will take the survey so we can have the up-to-date statistics to back up what we're hearing," Richmond said.
You can fill out the survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/SCchildcaresurvey2012 or email email@example.com to obtain a hard copy.
What's available now for children under three?
The province regulates childcare providers, and although there are different types of care configurations, such as group care and preschool programs, typically each configuration allows space for no more than two children under the age of three.
If childcare providers want to have more infants and toddlers, they need to increase their staffing to be able to handle the unique needs of the younger children.
Currently on the childcare resource and referral website, there are a total of 35 preschools, daycares and childcare centres listed as serving the Sunshine Coast; however, not all of them choose to provide infant and toddler care.
Kinder Place Daycare in Gibsons is one family daycare facility that offers care for infants. They get calls regularly from people desperate to find space for their young children.
"We often get calls from parents who have already called every other childcare provider on the list," said Scott Davis, who helps his wife May run Kinder Place.
He said the pair have seen the need for infant care increase over the years, but notes the number of childcare providers willing to care for infants is dwindling.
"We know of other childcare providers who can legally take infants and choose not to," he said, adding it's much easier to care for children who are mobile and out of diapers.
He said government cutbacks and changes to regulations over the years have made it more and more difficult for childcare providers to make a profit, forcing some centres to close and discouraging others from opening.
Little Flower Childcare is a group childcare facility in West Sechelt that's licensed to provide care for up to two children aged two and a half. Although the group facility can't take infants and toddlers below that age, there's always demand for the two younger spaces they have available.
"I'd say the phone rings probably every day with people who are looking for care for children under the age of three," said Little Flower Childcare manager Lori-Ann Casey. "We have a long waiting list."
While some parents are waiting for space and putting off work, others are piecing together what care they can get, Casey commented, adding that it's difficult for childcare providers to accommodate the changing schedules and needs of many working parents.
Adding to the problem for childcare providers are the relatively low wages they are often paid in order for daycares to make a profit. The most recent statistics from 2009 peg the average wage for full-time early childhood educators and assistants in B.C. at $16.46 an hour.
Some big picture answers
While those at the planning table are pursuing the idea of an infant and toddler care centre to meet local needs, provincially many are pushing for policy reforms that would see parents pay just $10 a day for full-time care and $7 a day for part-time care, while caregivers would make an average of $25 an hour plus benefits.
The details are contained in the Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care and Learning put forward last year by the CCABC and the Early Childhood Educators of B.C.
"The plan offers a concrete, innovative, made-in-B.C. solution to the childcare crisis facing families with young children," the fact sheet on the plan for parents states.
The plan calls for an additional gross public investment of $1.5 billion annually, which is a huge increase from the roughly $300 million the B.C. government currently invests in childcare for children from birth to age 12.
Proponents of the plan justify the expenditure by saying it would reduce the stress experienced by parents dealing with "work-life conflicts" which are estimated to cost the Canadian health care system $2.5 billion annually and the child welfare system another $1.2 billion per year.
There has definitely been some support for the idea as evidenced on the plan's "supporters and endorsers" web page, although the B.C. government is not one of those public supporters.
"They have made no commitments," said CCABC representative Sharon Gregson.
Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil told Coast Reporter that the government is aware of the childcare issue facing B.C. communities and that "we recognize the need to do more," she said.
"That's why we are continuing to collaborate with our many valued partners, to explore new and innovative opportunities to continue to improve the accessibility and affordability of childcare for families," she said, noting her ministry is working with the Ministry of Education to "look at ways to further integrate and enhance childcare and early learning services for families.
"In regards to the Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care and Learning, government has reviewed and will take the plan under consideration as part of future planning."
Gregson notes support for the plan is likely to increase in the next few months when her group starts several different campaigns to highlight what she calls the "$10-a-day solution to the childcare crisis."
"Our work over the next 12 months is to assure those running for election in 2013 that supporting the plan will garner them votes and that as elected officials we will expect and hold them accountable to implement the plan," she said.
To view the plan in its entirety, go to www.cccabc.bc.ca/plan.
To find out more about what childcare options are available on the Coast or how to start a childcare facility, see www.coastccrr.ca.