Some Options for Childcare at UVic
by Lynne Marks, Academic Women’s Caucus Chair, September, 2008
Childcare is currently a major issue for many faculty, staff and students at the University of Victoria. The waiting list for UVic childcare is over two years, and is particularly long for infants and toddlers. There has always been a waiting list for the UVic childcare, but in the last two years things have become worse, in part because of developments beyond UVic. The Harper government’s cancellation of the Liberals’ new childcare policy resulted in significant cuts to childcare funding in British Columbia. This has reduced the number of childcare spots available in Victoria, which has made it much more difficult for UVic faculty, staff and students to find daycare beyond the UVic centres. There is currently a waiting time of at least one year and often over two years to get into any of the quality group centres in Victoria.
The fact that UVic has recently been hiring a significant number of young faculty, many with children, has further exacerbated this problem. I have heard from a number of faculty (both male and female) who are very frustrated with the current childcare situation at UVic. Many are told when they are recruited that UVic has an excellent childcare facility. However, after they arrive they are told that the waiting list will be at least two years. Many feel that they have been misled. Many face the stress and anxiety of finding adequate daycare, which certainly increasing the already major stresses involved in the early career stages of an academic position.
The majority of university daycares across Canada also have long waiting lists, often of two years or more. However the situation in British Columbia (outside of UVic) is much better. Both SFU and UBC provide much better access to childcare than does UVic.
SFU has 184 spaces for children from 4 months to 5 years, and an additional 50 spaces for afterschool care (for a total of 234 spaces). This compares very well to UVic, which has only 88 spaces for children from 4 months to 5 years, with an additional 50 spaces for afterschool care. The serious demand and the longest waiting lists are found for the younger children. SFU has 84 spaces for infants and toddlers, (4 months to 3 years) and UVic has only 38.
SFU is slighly larger than UVic, but is quite comparable. SFU has 25,000 students, as compared to about 19,000 at UVic. Both universities have over 700 faculty members.
UBC also looks much better than UVic in terms of childcare. UBC includes over 43,000 students and 4,5000 faculty (faculty include numbers for UBC Okanagan), but they currently have spaces for 350 children in their daycares. Even more interesting they are currently building five new daycare centres, which will provide over 100 additional spaces, all for children from 0-5 years of age. The building of the new daycares apparently resulted from concentrated pressure from a range of UBC groups. They were led by daycare parents, but included campus unions, HR, department heads and the AMS student organization.
UVic looks very bad in either of these comparisons. There is clearly a major need for more daycare spaces at UVic, and a number of ways to increase them, some of which are discussed below.
Building New Group Centres
New group centres are obviously needed at UVic, to deal with the very limited number of spaces currently available. Some relatively low cost options for providing such spaces emerged from the Neilson recommendations that came out of the earlier letter of understanding between the Faculty association and the university. The least expensive option that they proposed was to move Centre 5 (the 4-5 year olds centre) into Centre 6 (the out of school care centre). This would free up Centre 5 to add an additional 25 children from ages 3-5, with no need for renovations to Centre 5. Centre 6 would need minimal renovations to make it work for 4-5 year olds. This recommendation also involved moving the out of school care program to Uplands school, which would require no renovations. If this option was not considered viable due to the need for renovations (to deal with asbestos) at Uplands, another way this very inexpensive option could work would be to lease space elsewhere for the out of school program – possibly at the Henderson Centre, or even elsewhere at UVic – since out of school care does not require the kind of specialized facilities that childcare for younger children does require.
Given the current financial situation it may not be viable to suggest other more costly options to increase the space available for daycare. However, in the longer term the Neilson recommendation of doubling the size of Centre 6, which would provide an additional 25 spaces for children from 3-5 (assuming that the other half of the Centre continued to be for afterschool care) would be a good option.
More Efficient Use of Existing UVic Daycare
As a parent with a child in UVic childcare, I am well aware that the existing centres have strong programs and excellent, caring staff. However, policies of the UVic daycare do not permit the maximization of the spaces that do exist. Changes in policy could significantly reduce waiting lists. A minor issue is that children are not permitted to move to Centre 5 (which offers pre-school and kindergarten care) until they are four and a half. Rather than move younger four year olds from Centre 4 into Centre 5 (thus freeing up spaces on the waiting list), spaces are left empty or offered to non-UVic parents. Another issue is that UVic daycare does not permit the sharing of daycare spots (eg one child comes Monday and Wednesday, the other Tuesday, Thursday and Friday).
As a result, some parents are forced to take a full-time space, even though they only need a part-time one. If they were able to share spaces, again, more spaces would be freed up for those on the waiting list. Many other university daycares (including SFU and eastern universities) permit the sharing of daycare spaces.
Another option is to maximize the use of Centre 6. Centre 6 is currently not used except after 3 pm (or 2 pm on Wednesdays), for afterschool care. It is used full days in July and August for 6-12 year olds, but UVic offers an impressive range of summer camps for school age children, so that this is not a major unfilled need, as daycare is. A part-time childcare that ran from 8 to 2:30 would fill a major unmet need on campus. If this part-time childcare was only available to 3-5 year olds it would only require minor renovations to Centre 6. While students would be the most likely to use a part-time childcare, I have also heard from a number of faculty members and sessional instructors that a part-time childcare centre would be preferable for them as well. And if students took up most of the spaces at a part-time childcare, this would free up more full-time spaces in the other centres. It is my understanding that discussions are currently underway to look into the possibility of maximizing the use of Centre 6. It is to be hoped that this process will be expedited, to provide increased spaces as soon as possible.
A very positive development is the fact that the administration is currently undertaking efforts to develop a network of family daycares that can provide spaces for some UVic parents. It is hoped that it will provide a significant number of much needed new full and part-time spaces. A small amount of funding for this program (for an ECE to supervise and some money for incentives for participating daycares to only accept UVic children) can reap major benefits for UVic parents.
While the current fiscal climate is not a positive one for major childcare building initiatives, it is hoped that with UVic development funds and support from provincial government childcare funding, that UVic will ultimately be able to significantly expand its daycare facilities. But in the short term, other much less expensive options can provide some much needed spaces.