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'Stroller Brigade' marches for child care across Vancouver Island and BC

Vancouver Island Free Daily - 10/8/2019

Island parents, guardians and early childhood educators are joining others across British Columbia in a Stroller Brigade for Child Care.

Port Alberni and Courtenay were among 21 communities across the province taking part in the brigade on Saturday, bringing attention to the importance of maintaining current federal child care funding agreements—and growing them over time. The message is especially important to get out during a federal election, explained organizer and educator Carrie Nahorney.

"[Funding] is decided through the province, how it's going to be spent," she explained. "But a huge chunk of this money comes federally."

British Columbia, she said, currently receives $50 million annually from the federal government for child care. But educators are hoping to grow this in order to help B.C. fully implement the popular "$10 a Day" Child Care Plan.

"We want to bring it to everyone's attention," said Nahorney. "Because child care matters. Child care is important to the community, not just for families and children. It's essential for a society to be productive."

A survey organized by the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District has determined that there is a significant need in the community for infant and toddler care, as well as before and after school care. Most child care programs in the Alberni Valley are full—some with waitlists of 40-60 children.

Christina Dicks of the Alberni Valley Childcare Society says it has become "increasingly difficult" to fit parents into their programs due to a lack of space.

"Parents break down in tears on the phone sometimes because they don't know what to do," she said. "And we can't help them."

Marla Kjernisted is one of the parents currently on waitlists all over town for her one-year-old daughter. She has a nanny coming to the house to help out, but this option is costly.

"I'm lucky that I was able to pull in my resources and find somebody that I trust," she said. "But I think there needs to be more investment in Early Childhood Education. They're our future."

Port Alberni was one of the few communities in B.C. to be granted a $10 a Day Child Care pilot project by the province. Dicks has already seen the impact this prototype has had on families in the community.

"Parents can go back to work, they can do extra things with their families," she explained.

The project runs until March of 2020, but after that, there are only questions.

"Will it continue? Will it expand?" Dicks wondered out loud. "How will it impact those families if it doesn't continue? My fingers are crossed that it will continue."

"It depends on the election," Nahorney added.

All four major parties have committed to maintaining current federal child care funding, she explained. The NDP, Greens and Liberals have promised to go further, working with provinces, territories, Indigenous communities and others to advance what she calls the "three stool legs" of child care: quality, affordability and access.

Nahorney said she was pleased with the turnout on Saturday.

"I think everybody here understands that [child care] is the basis for our communities to thrive and to grow," she said. "There has been so much tremendous growth and we still have so much left to do over the next few years."

The Stroller Brigade continues today in Campbell River.