The New Westminster school district is taking a closer look at a plan that would see “seamless” child care integrated into local schools.
CUPE, the union that represents support staff in schools, made a presentation to trustees about the plan at the school board’s Jan. 12 operations committee meeting. The union wants to see New Westminster participate as a pilot site, joining five school districts around B.C. that are already trying out the plan.
Under the seamless child-care model, before- and after-school care for school-aged children would be offered at their own school. Early childhood educators would lead the before- and after-school programs and also partner with teachers in the classroom throughout the school day.
Steven Beasley, a national representative with CUPE, noted the idea is being promoted by the B.C. Coalition of Child Care Advocates as part of an effort to make affordable, quality child care accessible to more families throughout B.C.
As it stands now, he said, B.C. only has enough child-care spaces for one in five children in the province.
“That leaves a number of families on waitlists or without any options at all,” he said, noting that impacts the labour force when parents are unable to work if they can’t find child care. “Child care remains out of reach for a number of families.”
Market-based child care doesn't work
Beasley said the current system shows market-based child care does not work.
“We’ve tried this model, and it has not produced results for B.C. families, for kids, for school districts, for all the important players in the marketplace, because it’s based on sort of a flawed understanding of how the market works and how it works in relation to educational models,” he said.
“Integration into the school system is a better model for kids and families.”
Beasley said integrating child care into schools provides cost-effective spaces, because infrastructure already exists in the form of school classrooms and facilities. Moreover, he said, it offers high-quality care, with before- and after-school care that ties into what the children have learned in the classroom throughout the day.
“Not only are we delivering efficiency in cost per space, but we’re delivering efficiency while also delivering incredibly high quality when compared to other models of child care,” he said.
On-site child-care programs would still charge fees in line with other non-profits in the area, he said, meaning they wouldn’t undercut existing operators, and there would also be an extra revenue stream for the school district.
Beasley said a seamless child-care model also stands to benefit employees. Existing education assistants in B.C. schools work less than full-time; under this plan, they would be able to pick up additional work before and after school. It would also offer full-time employment for the anchor early childhood educators in the program.
New West needs more child-care spaces
He told trustees that adopting a seamless child-care plan would not displace the work already being done by the Westminster Children’s After-School Society in New Westminster schools.
“We need all the hands that we have at the table to be able to deliver what is required to meet the needs of kids and parents. So we’re not looking to undermine any of the existing operations,” he said. “Our goal is to add spaces.”
From a district perspective, Beasley said, moving child care into the Ministry of Education – a plan British Columbia is moving towards – would also help streamline the system. Currently, child care is divided up between three ministries (Health, Education, and Children and Family Development), which can complicate issues such as licensing and funding.
Trustee Maya Russell said the seamless child-care model seems to make “an awful lot of sense.”
“I am very intrigued by the model because we just know that accessing secure, safe, affordable child care for families remains a horror show, outside of the COVID scenario,” she said.
“It is a very interesting way to look at fully meeting the needs of our families, ensuring that everyone can be working who wants to be working, and making the best use of these public spaces that so many millions of dollars are put into building and sustaining and cleaning and heating and all of that.”
But she cautioned the district has already taken on a lot of work and she would need to see more details as to what would be involved.
School district secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham told trustees the senior management team will take a closer look at the proposal and return to a future meeting with a report.
Associate superintendent Maryam Naser said the school district did, in fact, put out an “expression of interest” to the Ministry of Education when it put out a call in July for districts to take part in the pilot. Naser said the board can expect to hear more when the district gets a response.