WHYCOCOMAGH: The director of a local daycare says shortages of qualified Early Childhood Educators (ECE) have put a serious strain on them and it simply can’t function the way it once did.

In September, the Whycocomagh Child Development Centre had to change its hours of operation, opening one hour later at 8 a.m., and closing a half-hour earlier at 5 p.m., along with cancelling the pre-Primary wraparound program due to the loss of another trained staff member to the government-run Pre-Primary Program.

“We’re a small daycare so if we lose one person it even has more of an effect. The reaction hasn’t been good, because we’re not able to provide the services families are looking for,” Monica Boyd told The Reporter. “It could mean last-minute cancellations depending if the 2:1 ratio of trained to untrained employees is in place or not, so it creates a lot of chaos for parents and what they’re going to do for childcare.”

The daycare used to be able to offer in-service days, but with the shortage of staff, they’re not able to offer in-service days for families now either.

According to provincial regulations, Boyd said two-thirds of ECEs must be designated Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3, having graduated from the Nova Scotia Community College, or a private career college.

Currently the Whycocomagh Child Development Centre has only one additional qualified ECE beside Boyd, and in order to open or close the daycare, you need to be director or designate – meaning you need to be either a Level 2 or Level 3.

“What we’re facing in particular as a rural daycare, or a daycare in a rural area, is that we have even less access to qualified educators,” Boyd suggested. “We still cannot find anybody qualified in order to offer the wraparound – we still don’t even have anyone that’s applying for the position.”

Recently, two additional people joined the staff but they’re only available at certain times on certain days and it isn’t easy finding more people to work their hours at that salary.

“People want to be done when school is done, that’s one of the issues,” Boyd said. “That’s why people are going to pre-Primary; the hours are better, the days, their time – it really boils down to the pay and the benefits.”

The daycare also has recently been approved for a temporary staffing plan – where in a crisis situation untrained employees can be treated as a staff member with Level 1 acredditation – so now they’re considered Level 1 for ratio purposes only.

This temporarily relieves the issue of having to close the daycare for the day if one of the employees calls in sick, but they still don’t have the extra staff as five people are needed in the daycare for just basic operations and that’s what they have right now. With 18 children in the daycare, they are required three minimum qualified ECEs to keep ratio; then they’re supposed to have an enhanced support worker in the room to help with inclusion, and also the cook.

“If myself or the Level 2 leaves, it’s going to come down to what programs are being cut, and or the daycare is going to close,” Boyd said. “Since I’ve been here for two-years, we’ve looked for a Level 2 and nobody has applied.”

She said she believes the main cause of this and for all the programs from pre-Primary or other daycares is there is no training program in our area – the closest is in Truro and then there’s nothing in between until Sydney.

“I don’t know what to do,” Boyd said. “I know they opened the 60 spaces in Dartmouth at the NSCC campus there, but I’m not sure why they’re not addressing the shortages for rural daycares.”

She suggested with campuses in Pictou and Port Hawkesbury, offering ECE programming would help Antigonish, Port Hawkesbury, SAREC, Chéticamp and everywhere in between.

“The rural daycares are facing more of a challenge because we still don’t have the same access as other services in urban areas,” Boyd said. “We’ll try to keep the daycare going.”