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the rainbow logo for the Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre over a background of an early learning educator with children
Pincher Creek Childcare | TheRockies.Life Staff

Local Childcare Centre Under Pressure

Finding qualified staff is proving difficult, despite the government's pledge to create 250,000 new childcare spaces

The Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre (PCCELC) is a childcare centre that offers services through two facilities in Pincher Creek. Childcare centres like the PCCELC are a lifesaver for working parents that need a place to keep their kids during the workday.

Between its two facilities, there are 159 childcare spots available at PCCELC. But a recent surge in childcare demand across Canada has the PCCELC scrambling to find the staffing it needs to look after these children.

So, what’s with the sudden popularity?

Since April 2021, Canada’s federal government has invested $7.5 billion toward cutting childcare costs by 50% in most regions across the country, including Alberta. This investment is part of Canada’s long-term goal to bring childcare costs down to $10 a day by 2026.

“As a result of these incredible fee reductions, where parents who have access to licensed childcare are paying half what they paid more than a year ago, there is huge demand,” Morna Ballantyne, executive director of Child Care Now, told CBC News.

In addition to making childcare more affordable for parents, the federal government pledged to create 250,000 new childcare spaces like those offered at PCCELC.

But there is one big issue. Each province sets the minimum wage for its Early Childhood Educators (ECEs), not the federal government.

In Alberta, the government raised the wage of ECEs by two dollars an hour. But Alberta is still experiencing childcare staff shortages across the province.

This is because an extra two dollars an hour isn’t nearly enough. Considering how qualified you must be to become an ECE, this isn’t surprising.

The Ministry of Children’s Services requires childcare workers to complete three certification levels to become a certified ECE. Level 1 workers have to complete an online orientation that can run between 60-70 hours.

Level 2 workers must complete a one-year course at an authorized post-secondary school. Finally, Level 3 workers need to obtain a two-year diploma or higher.

Last January, Level 1 workers got paid as little as $16.75 per hour, while Level 2 and Level 3 staff made between $18 and $20 an hour.

The PCCELC pays its ECEs more than the provincial average, but the centre’s employees aren’t making a living wage even with the wage increase. As a result, the PCCELC is short-staffed.

Why would anyone want to jump into the middle of a crisis for such a low wage? This is likely a question many ECEs in the province are asking themselves.

A lack of staff has forced the PCCELC to run at 60% capacity and put children on waitlists. It has been a nightmare for both staff and parents living in Pincher Creek.

For example, Nellie Maund-Stephens and her husband, Mark, are both shift workers. Nellie works as a veteran firefighter and paramedic. On the other hand, Mark recently came on as the town’s newest doctor.

Nellie and Mark are the proud parents of their three-year-old son Kaysen. But with Kaysen’s parents’ busy schedules, the family has been in desperate need of the PCCELC’s services.

Finally, after nine whole months on a waitlist, Kaysen started at one of PCCELC’s facilities in Canyon Creek on January 6, 2023.

“I can finally breathe a huge sigh of relief, knowing that I have consistent and good childcare. It was very hard trying to juggle our schedules. We had to call on friends and family a lot — often at the last minute,” Nellie told Shootin’ the Breeze.  

The PCCELC and its employees want nothing more than to end their waitlists. But without the staff to do so, children like Kaysen will have to wait months.

According to La Vonne Rideout, Pincher Creek’s Municipal Director of Community Services, to clear its waitlist, the PCCELC will need to hire as many as five full-time staff at its facilities.

This is a lot easier said than done. Until Alberta raises the wage for its ECEs, childcare centres like the PCCELC will continue to suffer staff shortages. Without the money to support themselves, how can ECEs in Alberta help others?

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