NOTE: This story was updated Oct. 27 with new information from the school board meeting.
Long-awaited new child-care spaces are coming to two New Westminster schools next month.
Thirty new before- and after-school care spaces are set to open at Queensborough Middle School Nov. 1, with 15 opening at Richard McBride Elementary in mid-November - and a further 17 are on their way to Connaught Heights.
The spaces are the result of funding from the Ministry of Children and Families, and district partnerships with the City of New Westminster.
After ministry funding for new child-care spaces was announced in 2019, the district identified four school sites that could benefit from more child care: McBride, Queensborough, F.W. Howay Elementary and Connaught Heights Elementary.
In an update to the board at its operations committee meeting Oct. 13, associate superintendent Maryam Naser noted Queensborough has been the area of most need in the district. She said there are considerably fewer students than usual currently attending child care in Queensborough because of the realities around the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do have some families that are holding onto their spaces but not quite comfortable at this time attending the child care in Queensborough,” she said.
But she said the extra spaces will allow the district to help increase staff comfort levels, in terms of being able to spread students out, and will also allow the centre to accommodate more families.
The district is also continuing to partner with the city on even more spaces in Queensborough in the future. Naser noted the coming expansion at Queen Elizabeth Elementary will free up portables that are currently in use on the site, and the district is looking ahead at how it might use those portables for child care.
Meanwhile, at Richard McBride Elementary, Naser said the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused a reduction in child-care attendance.
Ideally, Naser said, the district had hoped to be opening 20 new spaces there, rather than just 15, but the COVID-19 protocols and staff comfort levels have meant a reduction in numbers.
“What we’re noticing is the number of students in each space is reduced at this time – some of this because families are opting not to take part in child care, and some element of not filling vacant spaces to keep the numbers deliberately low,” she said.
She said the district is working with the child-care provider to help increase staff comfort levels so they can use the spaces to full capacity. The new McBride spaces will be added in a shared portable with the StrongStart early education program.
The remaining two school sites, Connaught Heights and Howay, remain works in progress.
Naser told trustees the district is continuing to take part in the City of New Westminster’s working group on child care, and one of its tasks now is to get more accurate data about the need for care. She pointed out that families often find themselves on many child-care waitlists, and since there’s no centralized city waitlist, it’s very difficult to know how many people are actually waiting for care at any given site.
“It’s going to give us a lot of information on what the need is for child care, but at this time we see very extensive waitlists in the before- and after-school age group, and so we are very focused on that age group, first and foremost,” she said.
Naser said the district’s child-care provider is working through its waitlists to fill the new spaces.
“Some of the waitlists have 200 families on them,” she said. “That doesn’t mean there are 200 families actively looking for a child-care space starting next week or next month, so they are working systematically through their waitlists.”
The district is also working with the society to see how it can help automate some of the record-keeping so it’s easier to collect data, Naser said. For instance, she noted, some of the children on before- and after-school waitlists are actually preschoolers, as families have waitlisted them in anticipation of a long wait for care, and so they may not be in immediate need of an available space.
Naser said that, in the near future, the district is looking at a family survey to help assess the current need in the community for before- and after-school care.