Fernwood NRG is part of the Mayor’s Child Care Solutions Working Group

›› Lee Herrin

In June, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps invited community, public sector, and business leaders across the City together to discuss a local response to the chronic shortage of child care in the City of Victoria.

The meeting was well attended. All of the Community Centre ­Executive ­Directors; the City Manager and the ­Directors of Parks, Recreation & ­Facilities and ­Sustainable Development & ­Community Planning; the ­Superintendent of School District 61; the Chief Medical Health Officer; and the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce came to brainstorm solutions. Everyone agreed that we have a significant problem, and everyone agreed that we need to work together to find solutions.

Fernwood NRG provides child care for 99 children (including our new spaces, see below), but we have waitlists in all age groups. Most acute is the shortage of spaces for children under three years old. Recent Census data shows there is only 1 licensed space for every 8 children under three in the City.

The Community Centres represented at the meeting provide more than 800 spaces in Victoria—many in publicly funded buildings. All of us would like to increase our child care offering; ­finding space and getting it licensed is the ­challenge. Even the schools no longer have as much ­surplus space as they once did. The population of children in the City is growing, and the implications of the Supreme Court decision regarding classroom size means the schools themselves are short of space. Higher levels of ­government have ­promised more ­investment in child care, but a ­systemic solution is still over the horizon. Meanwhile, the need continues to grow.

But where there is will, there is a way. All new child care spaces need local facilities and local approvals. From a June meeting of the working group, Fernwood NRG, with support from School District 61, the City of Victoria, and the Island Health Authority was able to open 24 new out of school care spaces last week in a ­repurposed classroom at George Jay Elementary. This does not meet all of the need, but it does alleviate significant pressure on our ­waitlists for school-age children.

Fernwood NRG is committed to ­creating new child care spaces, and we’re grateful to have the support of our partners in local government, the school ­district, and the health authority to make it ­happen.