Despite government’s creation of more infant daycare spaces and a new provincial waiting list registry for these spots, many parents returning to work face an acute shortage of licensed infant spaces and much confusion regarding waiting lists.
Last year, the province launched a new preschool strategy that promised sweeping changes to the early learning system on P.E.I.
A number of private daycares transitioned to provincially funded centres. They charge regulated fees, have certified staff and offer an approved, standardized curriculum.
They are also larger and take in more children than most private centres.
Over the past year, about 102 new spaces for babies under two years old were created as a result of these changes.
That brings the total number if infant spaces in licensed centres on P.E.I. to 210 -- not close to a high enough number for parents looking for spots.
Government also launched a provincial child-care registry to allow parents to get detailed information about centres and put their child's name on waiting lists for those much-coveted spaces. It went live online last spring.
But some parents are finding the registry has not helped in their quest for licensed care for their little ones.
Leanne Mutch of Mount Herbert put her name on a daycare waiting list before her baby was even born and before the registry existed. After the registry was created, she went online and added her name to several more lists.
Despite all her planning, when the time came for her to return to her studies almost a year after she had begun her search, she still had not heard from any centres.
“I felt at one point that I was just going to have to put him wherever,” Mutch said.
“And that was such a horrible feeling. Because there was one place I was not comfortable with at all, but I thought, ‘What are my choices?’”
She later discovered at least one centre she applied to somehow lost her name from their list.
Many other parents have experienced similar problems with the registry and the significant demand for infant spaces.
One mother told The Guardian she too put her name on multiple waiting lists through the registry, but has received messages saying her application to some centres has been withdrawn because they would be 'uunable to meet her needs.'
Another mother said she did finally get an email from a daycare after several months of being on the registry, but it was for someone else’s child.
Several parents also told The Guardian some centres informed them they have two waiting lists — one from both before and after the registry.
Carolyn Simpson, early childhood development and kindergarten manager for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, admits there are issues with the way centres are handling the registry.
“It was never the intent for the centres to have two operational lists. It was to combine them into one and to try and make it as seamless as possible for families,” Simpson said.
She said the registry is still in its infancy and that a lot more work will be done to improve access to licensed infant spaces as the province’s early years strategy continues to roll out.
Sonya Corrigan, executive director of the Early Childhood Development Association, said the problem isn’t the registry. It’s the extreme shortage of infant spaces on P.E.I.
“The registry doesn’t create spaces,” she said. “Really the bottom line issue is the inavailability of enough spaces for people who are wanting child care.”
The province needs to work harder to create more licensed child care options for parents with babies, Corrigan said.
“The new spaces that have been created over the past year — that’s fantastic. But there’s still a huge void.”