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Newcomer families face anxiety when searching for child care: They can’t wait too long for a daycare spot

Child care is likely to be the top concern for newcomers with kids.

Finding the right child care arrangement can be challenging at times, particularly for newcomer parents seeking a balance between cost, quality, convenience, and availability. Families often have a limited budget that leaves them only a little bit of room before their resources run out. Thus, they need access to their most basic needs, such as housing, employment, and education, as soon as possible.

Most newcomers arrive with a work permit or study permit. Getting a degree from a Canadian college or university is typically the easiest way to immigrate to Canada. One parent in this family is a student, and the other is the breadwinner. While this dynamic works very well for childless couples, it becomes problematic for growing families eager to enroll in daycare but facing one too many rejections. Their only option is to use local daycares because they lack extended family support.

In August, Daniella Grano arrived in Winnipeg with her family of five and only had one month to settle her children before classes at the University of Manitoba began. As a student in a pandemic year, Grano is attending classes remotely in the morning while her husband works full-time. She said her search for a daycare for her daughter Livia started months before she arrived.

“I can tell you that 90 per cent of the emails I sent, the reply was ‘We don’t have space for your daughter. We don’t have a spot, and we don’t know when we will have a spot. So you have to put your name on a waitlist,'” she continued. “But I knew that it would take time for them to call us if we were on the wait list. I got a reply from one daycare that said they had a spot and would try to hold it for my daughter until we arrived, but when we got here, that spot had been filled.”

Daniella Grano and her three-year-old daughter Livia
Daniella Grano and her three-year-old daughter Livia who attends daycare part-time while Grano attends virtual classes from the University of Manitoba. (Photo by Ligia Braidotti)

Only a newly opened, far-away daycare offered a spot to her. When she visited, a staff member told her they had an opening at their other location, closer to Grano’s home, but she had to accept the opportunity immediately. Unfortunately, they could not hold the spot for her.

“I felt pressured because I wanted to search a little bit more. I was happy that I had been offered a spot, but I was disappointed because it wasn’t exactly what I wanted for my daughter. But I had to guarantee it, because if I couldn’t find another spot, how would I attend my classes? It’s difficult when you have a little one. They need a lot of attention. I wouldn’t be able to watch classes with her, and I wanted to dedicate myself to my studies, at least in the beginning.”

Mariana Sferelli started contacting daycares shortly after her daughter was born. It was essential to her that the daycare was on the way to her work or her husband’s. Finally, after seven months of searching, her daughter was accepted into a daycare near Sferelli’s workplace. She says she is pleased with how everything turned out and strongly felt families should start developing relationships with their preferred daycares before they need them.

“I called, and I literally opened my heart to them. I would explain that I am an immigrant mother and that I don’t have anyone to take care of my daughter while I’m at work and that I needed to go back to work. It was not an option for me to stay home, and I needed a daycare,” she explained. “I told them, ‘I know there’s a shortage of spots throughout the whole city, but how can I be remembered by you without being inconvenient?’ and the lady said, ‘Call us once a month and tell us which date you need.’ And so I did. I would call them once a month and ask a few questions like, when it was getting cold, I would ask what kind of clothes I should buy, for example.”

During her visit to the daycare, she was offered a spot. Her daughter started attending daycare when she was ten months old. When asked what would happen if Sferelli failed to find a place for the baby, she said either she or her husband would have to stay at home. The pandemic has made it clear that providing access to child care is crucial to keeping the workforce active. Many parents had no choice but to quit their jobs or reduce their hours to care for their children when schools closed.

“Without access to child care, parents cannot fully participate in our economy,” reads a statement on the Government of Canada’s website.
Not only is child care hard to find, but it is also expensive. She currently pays $ 600 per month for her daughter to attend part-time. Yet, it was the most affordable daycare she found.

“I felt a little desperate. So I started contacting a bunch of other day cares in the city. The ones that told me they had a spot were super expensive; it was like $1,000 and part-time. $900 and part-time. For us as newcomers, having to bring money from Brazil, it was unpayable.”
Diane Bergmann, who owns Prairie Relocation, a company that provides settlement services for people moving to Winnipeg, has helped many newcomer families find child care for their children. She said finding daycare is “probably the most difficult piece, compared to schooling, which is very easy.”

While she performs extensive research before taking parents to visit daycare facilities, most child care searches are done through word-of-mouth and connections.

“Sometimes, when people are new, they don’t have those connections. It’s really important that we go around and actually tour and kind of interview the facilities and the leaders. Sometimes, daycare has to be a process,” Bergmann explained. There is a lot of anxiety for families when they cannot find child care right away. “You can see the stress mounting… because they need to work and they need to start their studies for all of their immigration programs to be fulfilled,” she commented.

This issue is not exclusive to newcomers. In June, the Manitoba Child Care Association published an article stating that child care waitlists continue to grow. In June of 2017, there were more than 16,800 children on the online child care registry. However, the Online Child Care Registry was replaced by the Manitoba Child Care Search. This tool connects families with licensed child care facilities and lists up-to-date information on vacancies, hours of operation, and locations.

“This new process is a lot more helpful,” said Bergmann. “The old process was almost useless. It was something that even people who live in Winnipeg would put their babies’ names before they were even born and would get an answer when they were three or four.”

The tool can be found at https://www.gov.mb.ca/fs/childcare/occr/index.html

– Ligia Braidotti, U Multicultural

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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