The New Westminster school district is continuing its efforts to make more before- and after-school care available to local families.
Tanis Anderson, the district’s vice-principal for early learning, gave an update to the school board at its Jan. 12 operations committee meeting about the district’s ongoing effort to create more space for out-of-school care.
“We know this is a really big need for families, before- and after-school care,” she said. “It’s a need for me. I’m a working parent who has really struggled with getting care for my children, so I really relate to it.”
One of the district’s priorities has been to ensure more shared use of spaces, including using its StrongStart early learning centres for before- and after-school care.
At Richard McBride Elementary, the district has just licensed the StrongStart portable for child care, paving the way for 14 more spaces (open as of Feb. 1) in the on-site child care operated by Westminster Children’s After School Society.
Anderson noted the district is also working towards 17 more spaces at Connaught Heights, also through licensing the StrongStart centre. She said licensing there has run into a bit of a delay because the licensing officers, who work for Fraser Health, have been pulled in to COVID-19-related work that’s slowing down the licensing process.
But Anderson said the goal is to ensure that all three of the district’s StrongStart centres – the third is located at Queensborough Middle School – are shared with child-care centres.
COVID-19 has changed child-care needs
At Queensborough, Anderson noted, there are currently 80 child-care spaces available through WCASS – and 27 of those were open as of Jan. 11, even after WCASS staff worked through their whole waitlist.
“A lot of families are choosing to not opt in right now for child care because of COVID,” she said, noting the pandemic has changed employment situations for some families.
Anderson was getting the word out through the city’s child-care working group and through both Queensborough Middle and Queen Elizabeth Elementary schools to let families know about the openings.
“I do think sometimes families just say, ‘Well, I’ll never get in, so I won’t try,’” she said.
Anderson said the district will eventually be having conversations with schools around utilizing spaces such as gyms and multi-purpose rooms for child care as well. To that end, she’s applied for some new provincial “rapid renovation” grants that fund projects designed to help create more child-care space.
One is for extra storage in the StrongStart portable at Connaught Heights; another is for extra storage spaces off the gym at F.W. Howay.
“If we can get that going, we could have more kids using the gym there, too, so that could really add a lot of spaces to that school,” she said.
Anderson noted another big focus is a centralized registration system that will give WCASS a clearer picture of exactly how many children are waiting for care at each site. She pointed out that families may sometimes have their children on multiple waitlists, and they may also have their children on waitlists long before they ever hit school age.
“As it is right now, the waitlists look huge, but when we look at them, some families have their babies on those waitlists, and so we just need to make sure the numbers are really accurate so we’re meeting the needs of the families,” she said.
Having a clear picture of the needs will let the district know which schools to target for more child-care spaces in future years, she noted.