The pressing need for child care in Yellowknife is exemplified by the 138 children on a wait list for YWCA after-school programming as of Aug. 19.

There are 230 child care spots already filled — leaving no vacancies — according to Alayna Ward, the YWCA NWT’s director of community relations.

Yellowknife parent Shannon Allerston doesn’t know what her next step will be if one of her two kids can’t get into YWCA after-school programming.

Her son is a returning student. His application was submitted on April 12 and he was accepted. Her daughter’s application went in on May 3, but there’s been no confirmation of her status, according to Allerston.

“Now I am not sure what to do — wait and see if she gets in if they open more space or pull them both and reduce my hours at work,” she said of her predicament. “We hesitate to pull our son out altogether because we’re afraid he won’t get in next year.”

Also, she said her son is happy to be with his friends when he goes to the program.

“That’s all that matters to him,” she laughed.

Although there are home-based daycares opening up, “I’m also not super keen on leaving my kids at someone’s house I don’t know,” said Allerston.

Hawa Dumbuya-Sesay, executive director of the YWCA NWT said the issue isn’t that there isn’t enough spaces for kids, it’s that YWCA doesn’t have enough staff to supervise more children, she explained.

“We are a licensed childcare provider, we have guidelines that we have to follow and work through,” said Dumbuya-Sesay.

The organization can only have one staff member take care of 10 kids at a time.

“Given the incidence of COVID-19 as it is right now, it’s making it really difficult for us like in terms of staffing and enough spaces for the children that we take in the program. This is an ongoing problem,”

Ward added that “finding and retaining a sufficient number of qualified child-care staff is always challenging in Yellowknife and is challenging across the country.”

The YWCA continues to look to hire more part-time junior and senior leaders for its after-school child-care program.

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Nicole Loubert, a Yellowknifer who runs a daycare out of her home, spoke glowingly of the YWCA.

“I truly believe that the YWCA programs are amazingly helping in offering so much more help for parents than I am allowed to do,” she said, noting that she can only accommodate six children and she had availability for two spaces as of Aug. 24.

Because the YWCA is a non-profit organization, governments must play a leadership role to ensure that NWT children and families have access to affordable, high-quality child-care, Ward contended.

On Aug. 19, the GNWT and the Government of Canada agreed to fund more than $10 million over the next four years to the NWT to help improve access to more inclusive early-learning and child-care programs and services.

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Rachel Riffel, whose daughter with special needs is entering junior kindergarten, said it’s even more challenging to find daycare in Yellowknife for children with special needs.

Her daughter requires one-on-one accommodations, which means a hand to hold leaving the classroom to get out of the school in a timely fashion.

“She has sensory-processing disorder, so sometimes transitions — for example from school to day-home — can been a challenge.” Riffel said. “She gets upset and just flops to the group and can be a little aggressive as a result.”

Riffel is starting a new job on Sept. 1, “and if I am unable to find after-school care, I’m going to ask my boss to adjust my hours.”

“Yellowknife needs more programs for kids with disabilities,” she said.

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