Labrador City and Wabush have witnessed great change the past few years. But amidst the change and growth one problem has consistently reared its ugly head as parents and guardians search in vain for childcare.
Last Friday, Aug. 19, Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced funding for a community daycare. IOC announced a private daycare for its employees the previous Monday.
“It’s been a long time coming, but we’re here,” Labrador City Mayor Janice Barnes said.
“We’ve been able to secure space, we have the funding, and we have the community partners. And we have a group of volunteers who have been working tirelessly to make it happen,” she said.
Krista Norman, communications director for IOC, said the company’s $100,000 sponsorship toward the community daycare, and its own private daycare is a step in the right direction.
“Even then we probably won’t come close to meeting the needs of the community, but it’s a great start.”
The IOC daycare facility will be in the former college building in Labrador City after extensive renovations.
“At this point we’re working on a complete project which is a renovation of the former college building. That’s going to become new office space, renovations and expansion to the community gym and daycare.”
The project is slated to be done in 18 months, Norman said.
“Whether the daycare will be done in that 18 months is still uncertain.”
Noreen Careen, executive director of Labrador West Status of Women, said she has been working to see a daycare long before the 12 years she held her title.
“We’re excited. It’s groundbreaking. Every corner of the world I’ve travelled, and that’s been a lot, I’ve seen a childcare centre. We’ve been working on this one for a long time.” Careen also sees the daycare facility as a victory for her organization, she said.
“As a woman’s center we try to promote status of women in families and this is such a great need. On any given week for the past year I have moms and even dads come in, asking for help with childcare. I know moms who are nurses off on leave. Some dads from the mines are on leave because they couldn’t get childcare.”
The majority of daycare is private and the rates have become very high in recent years, she said. “I’ve had moms come in and say ‘my job is so good and I want to hold onto it while my children grow, but I’m not making anything right now because I pay so much for childcare.’”
Careen can relate.
“I’ve been there. It was no different. I’ve been through the down times, the lengthy strikes, walkouts, shutdowns. The only other thing is there were more possibilities of getting somebody private. But when Wal-Mart came in and opened, many women that were stay at home went out to work, so that dynamic changed.”
It’s a bittersweet change, Careen said.
“That’s what we’re all about. We’re trying to knock down the barriers and challenges so women can get out into the work force to work. I love prosperity, but we have to be geared and ready, and we have to work together. Organizations like ours get the spin off from prosperity, like increases in domestic violence and addictions.”
The first goal of community childcare was to make it reasonably priced, Careen said.
“Our idea of wanting to do childcare is it has to be affordable; I have no doubt that if we wanted put in private daycares we could have, but most parents wouldn’t be able to afford it. And that wasn’t something we were ready to sanction.” It was a tough goal. A space had to be affordable for everyone involved, Careen said.
“Anything we sign on for is passed onto the parents.” And Careen has seen many setbacks in finding a location.
“We tried for space in Lab West. We had our proposal ready to go in the mailbox, but we were notified it had been bought and IOC would put apartments in it; we had engineering and everything done to it, so that was a huge loss.”
As the committee pressed on, they continued to hit setbacks. “We scouted to look for space again. But the government told us they would fund renovations, but they would not fund a new building. So we went back to the drawing board.” Due largely in large part to the support from the businesses, organizations and municipalities involved, the daycare will be in JRS Middle School in Wabush.
“We’ve talked about it many times; something of this magnitude could not take place without a very dedicated steering committee, along with the funding from the Department of Childhood and Family Services. Of course, the government only funds to a certain tune, but we have had collective community. We have had awesome partnerships.”
“We’ve had phone calls every day of people saying ‘we’ve been offered the job to relocate to Lab West. Can you tell me, will I get a place to live and will I get childcare for my children?’ For the first time in years of working here, I feel like my hands are tied and I don’t have a lot to offer them. Until now.”
The community daycare will be able to accommodate 60 children and will require eight staff with a Level I in Early Childhood Education when maximum occupancy is reached.
But a daycare isn’t the only need between the two communities, Barnes said. “The after-school problem is a very important piece of programming as well. This is something people really, really want.”
Children over the age of six were having problems finding after school child care, Careen said. “So we did a separate proposal for an after-school program. And we were funded for that, and we were lucky to be able to lease space at the Catholic church in Lab City.”
The after school program will have 57 spaces for children between six and 12. Agreements have been made with busing companies and the school board to transport the children directly from school to the after-school program.
The registration will be announced publicly and will be on a first come, first served basis. Careen said it may be like when she signed her children up for swimming, with parents camping in line.
“I can remember Saturday morning at 4:30 sitting on steps of the Rec centre, waiting until 0 to register my son. But you suck it up and do what you have to do. We talked many times about how we can do this fair to everybody, and that’s the only way we can come up with.”
Although the two daycares and after-school program are great victories, there will still be a great need for more child care, Careen said.
“If everything goes along, they will do another needs assessments I’m sure and see where it puts them, and who knows, we may be gutsy enough. Getting the first one is the most difficult, and the rest should be easier.”