Lack of before and after-school care put families on a hustle

V.K. Greer families are scrambling just days before the start of school.

On Tuesday, Aug. 22, V.K. Greer Memorial Public School announced through a newsletter the before and after school care program has been pulled by the provider, putting parents in a hard situation.

"In recent weeks, we have become aware of the withdrawal of services of before and after school care at V.K. Greer Memorial Public School from the previous provider due to the inability to staff the service. For those of you who accessed this service, we understand how frustrating this news may have been," the letter reads.

Providers across Ontario are struggling with staffing problems, said director of programs with the District of Muskoka, Heather Elliott.

“Workforce shortages in the sector are contributing to reduced licensed spaces in all age groups, not just in Muskoka but across the province,” Elliot wrote in an email. “The factors contributing to these workforce challenges include low wages, lack of benefits and pensions, and demanding working conditions. Additionally, school-age programs are impacted due to work hours. Part-time 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.”

With the school year approaching, this announcement means trouble for many parents, like Huntsville resident Dee Allinson.

"I have three children who attend school, and we require the before and after-school care program. They'd go there at 7:30 a.m. and be picked up at 4:45 p.m.," said Allinson. "I got to work at 8 a.m., and my husband goes to work much earlier than that. Without the program, we've been screwed."

Allinson said her family is lucky, as her mother-in-law can drop her children off at the bus in the morning and pick them up on the way back home in the afternoon. Nevertheless, other parents are in a hustle.

According to Elliott, only 54 per cent of Registered Early Childhood Educators are working in the field and staffing levels are at 67 per cent of what is required for all licensed child care spaces for children aged 0-12.

She said the District of Muskoka is working toward a solution by regularly meeting with operators to discuss operational issues and providing professional development and training to assist the sector.

Elliot also said Trillium Lakelands District School Board is working through the process of finding an operator for V.K. Greer.

Despite the letter announcing the nixing of the before and after school care program, many parents knew the service was at risk for this year.

"I went around all the parents, and everybody knew about this. A week later, the provider sent out their email saying they were withdrawing their contract," she said. " I emailed the principal because I was waiting for proof. I didn't want to believe it was true."

The board has this recommendation for parents: "Since this is all taking place so soon before the start of the school year, it is recommended that alternative arrangements for child care are made, and we will communicate any information we have as soon as possible," the newsletter reads.

For more information about the news on before and after school care, or about V.K. Greer Memorial Public School, visit the official website.

Julian Orlando Chaves is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Julian Orlando Chaves, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Huntsville Forester