A recently-closed North Saanich after-school program is being looked into by the provincial minister of state for childcare.
Speaking with the Peninsula News Review, Katrina Chen said she is not familiar with the details behind the closure of Beacon’s Nature Club in North late last year, but promised to look into the situation.
“Happy to look into the situation that you just brought up,” she said. “We are trying everything we can. We are also working with the ministry of education for some long-term solutions in the meantime.”
She had also said earlier she was sorry about the closure, adding that her office has been working with municipalities as well as the ministry of education to find alternatives in acknowledging the struggles of parents to find appropriate programming. “It is definitely a huge need, and the crisis has been going on for many years,” said Chen. “You hear a lot of heart-breaking stories about parents not being able to return to work full-time even after their kids are in [Kindergarten to Grade 12].”
Beacon’s Nature Club closed on Dec. 20, 2019 after Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church had reclaimed the space out of which the program had operated, affecting two dozen families. According to available information, some but not all families have found alternatives. Notably, the program had closed its doors just months after opening as a replacement for an after-school program at KELSET Elementary School. The school had closed that program to reclaim the space to meet growing demand for students.
So why is it so difficult for parents to find this type of programming? Chen blamed the previous government and geography for the lack of before and after-school care.
“When we started the work in 2017 [following the change in government], when you talk about child care, before and after-school care, or children who require extra support or inclusive child care, it [was] just a chaos,” said Chen. “We are trying our best to fix that chaos as soon as we can.”
The available data suggests some additional spaces are available, but not always where needed, she added.
“The challenge is a lot of providers are not close to school,” she said. “So transportation becomes an issue.” Accordingly, Chen said her office is working closely with the ministry of education to offer before and after-school care on school grounds.
“We are building a plan, you may hear more news in the coming months,” she said. “The key is to make sure that the services are close to where people need them. So in terms of before and after school care, there may be services available, but we need to make sure that they are as close to schools as possible and working with school districts is definitely our priority at this moment.”
When asked for a more concrete timeline, Chen said that the public might hear an announcement in the upcoming legislative session about closer cooperation with the ministry of education. “I think it’s important to note that there are a lot of systematic challenges, and we are trying to fix everything we can. We do everything as fast as we can, but I can assure that we have some really good applications from the Island that are still in the queue and we are hoping to continue to fund more creation of spaces in local communities.”
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