Queensborough facing a child-care crisis

City is making efforts to expand options for families in the ’Boro

Queensborough is often touted as an affordable option for families. But it’s not without its pitfalls.

The ’Boro lacks child-care spaces, which are desperately needed for the growing neighbourhood.

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“I actually didn’t expect it to be this bad,” Queensborough resident Jennifer Kerr told the Record.

Kerr’s son is in Grade 1 at Queen Elizabeth Elementary School. She and her family moved to the Lower Mainland a few years ago. They chose Queensborough because it was affordable.

But when they arrived, Kerr had a tough time finding care for her preschool-aged son. Eventually she lucked out and got him into three-to-five care at the Queensborough Community Centre, which is run by the Kolumbia Inn Daycare Society (KIDS).

But this year he was too old for the KIDS program, and Kerr was sent scrambling to find him care somewhere else.

“I had heard, through frantic searching, as most mothers do, that you need to get your name on a waitlist for the school’s before-and-after care that’s run by the (Westminster Children’s After School Society),” she said.

The waitlist, however, has 112 names on it and room for only 20 kids. By the time Kerr’s son started Grade 1 this fall, he was nowhere near the top of the list.

Kerr found an unlicensed, in-home child-care provider for the time being. While there’s nothing wrong with the care he’s receiving, Kerr said she would rather see him in a care program with more than a few kids.

Lack of suitable childcare spaces in Queensborough has become a major issue, according to the City of New Westminster.

Last year, staff conducted a child-care needs assessment, which indicated there was a growing crisis in Queensborough when it comes to available child care – both for the infant and toddler demographic and for kids needing before-and-after school care.

Between 2001 and 2011, the majority of the city’s population growth in children occurred in Queensborough (50.3 per cent). As of 2014, there were 108 child-care spaces available in Queensborough and 1,240 kids aged zero to 12. This is the widest divide in the city and equals only about eight spaces for every 100 kids in Queensborough.

The city has identified several reasons for the ’Boro’s child-care deficiency, including small-scale developments that often preclude discussions related to child-care space; the reluctance of some operators to open in the ’Boro because of limited transit options and traffic congestion; the limited number of churches to provide space for childcare; a lack of suitable commercial space; and the floodplain that restricts daycare and in-home care facilities in older dwellings.

But the city isn’t about to give up on the ’Boro, according to senior social planner John Stark.

This week, city council approved a staff recommendation to use $34,000 from the child care reserve and an additional $10,000 from the community amenity contributions to cover the costs of relocating and renovating a second portable for the Westminster Children’s After School Society. When complete, this will add another 20 before-and-after school care spaces, according to Stark.

Stark expects the second facility will open early in the new year. (It was already moved to the existing Westminster Children’s site at Queensborough Middle School.)

Council has also approved staff to move ahead on a plan to use city-owned land at 232 Lawrence St. for Queensborough’s first child-care centre for infants and toddlers.

“If the market cannot or will not respond, and given the housing that’s been built and the demand, which it is generating, there is a recognition that we will likely have to be a lot more involved,” Stark said, adding council’s approval this week is a good first step.

Meanwhile, Kerr is being realistic. While she’d love to see her son get a spot right away, she knows it’s a long shot.

“My expectation is I will never find before-and-after care for my son until he’s in Grade 5, when he doesn’t need it – he’ll age out before there’s any care available here,” Kerr said.

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