A new action plan focuses on increasing child care spaces in the Regional District of Nanaimo by 2030. (PQB News file photo)

A new action plan focuses on increasing child care spaces in the Regional District of Nanaimo by 2030. (PQB News file photo)

Action plan targets significant increase in mid-Island child care spaces by 2030

Consultant says accessible and affordable child care is essential

A regional child care action plan has established targets for increasing the number of child care spaces in the Regional District of Nanaimo by 2030.

The RDN’s committee of the whole on March 9 endorsed the plan’s 10-year targets which include 50 spaces for every 100 children under three years old, 75 spaces for every 100 children aged 3-5 not yet in school, and 50 spaces for every 100 children under 10 years old in school.

The plan, which focused on licensed child care, was initiated in late 2019 by the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. in partnership with the City of Nanaimo, the RDN, City of Parksville, Town of Qualicum Beach and District of Lantzville. It outlines the current child care situation in the regional district, which it found to be lacking, limited in the hours of operations and already underserved.

“All of the partners really understand that high-quality, accessible and affordable child care is essential to the well-being of children, their families and the broader community,” said Sandra Menzer, lead consultant.

The data collected shows that the region has 29 spaces per 100 children, slightly more than the provincial average of 20 spaces and a point less than the national average of 30 spaces. The lack of space is one of the key challenges in the region as 82 per cent of child care programs have wait lists with 73 per cent of the children waiting for more than six months.

There are currently 3,309 child care spaces for children in the RDN. Based on projected population growth, an additional 4,872 spaces need to be created by 2030 to meet the target coverage rate. Of the new spaces to be created, 1,559 should be in the electoral areas and 3,313 in the municipalities, the plan suggests.

The City of Nanaimo currently has 2,335 child care spaces with a goal of adding an additional 3,410 additional spaces by 2030.

Electoral areas surrounding Nanaimo (Cedar-Yellowpoint, Gabriola and surrounding islands, Extension-East Wellington areas) have 140 total spaces currently, with a target of 443 additional spaces to meet the 2030 target.

In the District 69 areas, Electoral Areas E (Nanoose Bay), F (Coombs, Hilliers, Errington, Whiskey Creek, Meadowood), G (French Creek, San Pareil, Little Qualicum, Englishman River), and H (Bowser, Qualicum Bay, Deep Bay) currently have a total of 312 child care spaces available. There is a need to create 673 more spaces by 2030.

In the City of Parksville, there are 195 spaces available and that needs to go up by 237, while the Town of Qualicum Beach has 147 spaces and requires creation of 66 spaces.

“The good news is, there’s already 500 new spaces already in development,” said Menzer.

The provincial government has made a commitment to establish universal child care with families paying no more than $10 per day. It has also introduced new funding initiatives and will move child care to the Ministry of Education by 2023.

The federal government already funds programs for specific populations that include First Nations communities. It has also flowed funds to the B.C. government to support lower-income families and also made a commitment to develop a national child care system.

The action plan made 32 recommendations for the regional district and member municipalities and 21 specific recommendations for the partners. They are organized into four key strategic goals – to increase access, improve affordability, focus on quality and strengthen partnerships.

Some of the key actions include developing a mid-Island child care policy, establish an ongoing child care action group, access provincial funds to build local government-owned child care facilities, link child care to affordable housing and explore and pilot child care that offers non-traditional hours.

Michael.Briones@pqbnews.com

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