There may be no firm answers yet, but child-care challenges are very much on the radar for the City of New Westminster during the COVID-19 crisis.
The issue arose during a discussion at a special council meeting held March 23, when city councillors heard presentations about the six special working groups that have been set up to help the city deal with the pandemic.
Coun. Mary Trentadue, who attended the meeting by phone, questioned whether a working group set up to address the needs of at-risk and vulnerable populations would also be overseeing the issue of child care.
John Stark, the city’s supervisor of community planning, is heading up that working group. He said they’ve had discussions about whether child care would in fact fall under that group, noting it is an essential issue but somewhat different than the issues the working group is set up to cover.
But he assured council he has already been having discussions about child-care challenges facing people such as health-care workers who can’t work from home or take time off.
He cited the example of a conversation he had with a couple who are both health-care workers but who don’t have child care since the Westminster Children’s After School Society has shut down its school-based centres in the city.
Stark said the city is examining ways to provide care for health-care workers – eyeing a facility such as, perhaps, Sapperton Pensioners’ Hall or another facility close to Royal Columbian Hospital.
Stark noted the need for staff could possibly be filled by rehiring currently out-of-work child-care workers or by otherwise deploying city staff.
All of those discussions are in the preliminary stages, but Stark assured council that child care is very much on the minds of the city as it deals with the pandemic.
“It will be an important piece,” he said.
Trentadue suggested child care may well require its own working group consisting of people with specific professional experience in the field.
Coun. Chinu Das questioned whether there may be an opportunity to use school facilities for some of the ongoing needs in the city, including child care.
Stark told council he has had some preliminary conversations with the school district’s associate superintendent, who is part of the working group on at-risk and vulnerable populations.
Discussions on all of these issues will continue as the city moves forward in its COVID-19 response. Watch www.newwestrecord.ca for continued updates as they are available.