Many years ago I worked for a child care society that ran multiple child care programs in Northern BC and learned firsthand about the struggles small communities face in developing and maintaining trained Early Childhood Educators.
Post-secondary institutions were making strides to have high quality Early Childhood Education programs, but these programs generally still required people to leave their small communities to train and many did not return. Those who did return were working in low paying, high stress jobs.
In my program, we couldn’t afford to provide benefits for staff. The wages were starting to improve but were nowhere near a living wage for most of the staff. At the same time, some parents were having a hard time paying the fees.
The crisis was real for me and my coworkers. I think back to a time when one particular Early Childhood Educator gave her notice. She was highly qualified and came with tons of personal experience in supporting children who had additional support needs. But she simply couldn’t afford to stay and raise her own family. She ended up finding a job working in trades.
This left a huge hole within the program. The remaining staff were left to fill in the gaps while still fulfilling our licensing obligations.
And it’s not the only example. We were not the only program in the North that saw staff leave due to the low wages and lack of benefits. Today the turnover of staff continues in every region throughout the province. That is if the program can find a qualified ECE to begin with.
Some of the best Early Childhood Educators, the ones that don’t want to leave this profession, do because they need to support their families. As children develop attachments to those in the programs they are attending, adult consistency is important and a marker of quality.
The province’s increase in the number of ECE Assistant Certificates to Practice has helped, although slightly, the demand for educators. Someone can take one ECE course every five years to maintain ECEA status. Such lowered qualifications aimed at increasing the available staff pool don’t work because it affects program quality. The increase of Assistants means there are less mentors for students and more stress on fully certified Early Childhood Educators as they pick up the pieces for those with less training.
However, in a positive example, Northwest Community College ran a program where an instructor went out into a number of Villages to train ECEs. Students there were more likely to stay and work, providing high quality care for those children and families. NWCC also offers a First Nations perspective in ECE education, this is a key component of the $10aDay Child Care plan and a perspective that all Early Childhood Educators need to develop and explore.
Children deserve to have educated people working with them, regardless of whether they are in rural communities or large urban centres. ECEs deserve a living wage that recognizes their education and experience. I imagine a profession where the people who take this on as a career can stay in it as long as they want and do not leave because they have no other choice. The $10aDay Child Care Plan gets this.