Our children are important. Our early child care providers understand that care, consistency, support, nurturing, teaching and love are all crucial to healthy development. From this solid foundation, our children thrive and grow. The same holds true for any program developed to support families and the healthy development of children. It requires a strong foundation.
The government has plans to roll out a universal preschool for four-year olds in the fall of 2020. I am concerned it is attempting to build on shaky and unstable ground. Child care providers and staff have been sounding the alarm already about serious issues affecting our current childcare system and the ability to provide a solid foundation from which to improve child development. For some time, these professionals have been asking for help. Has the government been paying attention? Or are they simply ignoring those cries?
Cracks in the foundation
Caring people who work in many different roles in early childcare have been reaching out to me. They have told me about the factors that are contributing to the stresses they are under and the apprehension that arises around plans to roll out a universal preschool program for four-year olds. After many meetings it is clear to me that we have a compromised system of childcare on Prince Edward Island that requires clear and significant investment and action from the government.
First of all, the wages being paid to child care professionals are insufficient. This has led to high turnover rates and difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified employees. As a result, the ability to provide adequate child care while ensuring proper ratios of care providers to children has been challenging. These challenges often lead to safety concerns and undue stress on care providers.
Professionals in the field also speak of staff burnout both related to wait times for government support when they are caring for children with special needs and in relation to above mentioned childcare provider to child ratios. There are legitimate concerns around the vulnerability of our special needs children in particular in these situations. There are also concerns with the lack of training required for childcare providers working with children with special needs.
Our early childhood education system is stressed. Implementing a universal preschool program for four-year olds by fall 2020 without addressing these cracks will only make this situation much worse.
Repair the foundation
Government must address the deficiencies noted above before it adds to the stress that is already compromising our childcare programs. If it does not, the government will fail in meeting the needs of Island families and children. Rushing the delivery of a poorly laid out plan will do more harm to an already overburdened system. Our children and childcare providers are too valuable and too important for such a careless risk.
Karla Bernard (MLA for District 12 Charlottetown-Victoria Park) is the Official Opposition Critic for Education and Lifelong Learning.