A report from Burnaby's Child Care Resource Group says child care centres found communications with the province and public health "a challenge" during the pandemic. Shutterstock

COVID communications were ‘challenging’ for Burnaby child care centres: city report

Child care service providers also had large problems with staffing during the pandemic, with many workers off sick.

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March 25, 2022 | 5:00 am

Child care providers in Burnaby found communications with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) and with health agencies “challenging” during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey of 20 non-profit childcare organizations in the city.

The survey was conducted by the city’s Child Care Resource Group in December 2021 and summarized in a recent report to the social planning committee.

The report noted that while the K-12 system moved online at the onset of the pandemic and remained virtual at various times over the last two years, childcare services were encouraged to stay open so essential workers could continue to access them.

Centres received additional funding from the province to help them stay open, and the report noted that as a helpful factor that allowed them to top up staff wages and more easily replace those who became sick.

However, many centres still did experience challenges with staffing.

Some found it difficult to stay open because “some staff felt the risk level was not worth the compensation (pay) and stress of working,” for instance; others saw part-time staff leave because the money they received at that time from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program (CERB), which has since ended, was a larger amount than their regular wages.

Nika Lakhani, who operates the Language Arts Early Learning Academy on 10th Ave in Burnaby along with her sister Anushka Lakhani, agreed that staffing was definitely the most stressful part of her day-to-day during the pandemic.

“Because a lot of early childhood educators felt that their life was not as important, or they felt like their safety was not considered. And of course, we did have things like the masks and sanitization, extra sanitization. And parents not coming into the center, things like that. But they were still feeling like they were not being heard, I guess, or appreciated, or considered,” Lakhani told the Beacon.

“[Actually], a lot of early childhood educators maybe left the industry too. This was really, really tricky, because we wanted to keep our staff safe and happy. But at the same time, from the childcare centre side, we have to make sure that we’re meeting all of the regulations.”

Substitute workers were difficult to come by, meanwhile, with many staff off sick, which contributed to burnout—some of which was felt by Lakhani and her sister.

“I think it was more of being exhausted mentally and physically from dealing with all of this. If one teacher for example, has, you know, any feeling—even if they were saying, ‘I’m feeling just a little bit tired today; I can’t come in’—then we’re left to deal with finding the coverage,” she said.

“And thankfully, we both are qualified, so we could step in, but having that pressure of having to deal with that every day—that was just mentally exhausting.”

And another challenge was the fact that childcare workers were not prioritized for vaccination against COVID.

“Priority access would allow for childcare providers to plan for staff vaccinations (time off for staff to get vaccinated, logistics of vaccination booking, vaccination recovery),” the report reads.

While providers found the temporary emergency funding itself mostly helpful in remaining open and providing PPE for staff, a “challenge” was that health and safety grants could not be used for training staff on health protocols.

Finally, the report noted that while centres appreciated regular email bulletins and conference calls with MCFD and health agency staff, they felt that they were updated on changing health protocols in the K-12 system “long after schools receive the information and, as a result, having to modify childcare services with very short notice.”

“Delays mean that childcare providers do not always have sufficient time to communicate with parents, resulting in frustration and parents questioning the operations and practices of childcare providers,” the report reads.

Centres also felt that they often received conflicting information from MCFD and health agencies, and felt that guidance and notifications from health agencies were limited in the event that a COVID exposure occurred in a childcare centre.

That’s something Lakhani experienced as well—particularly at the peak of the pandemic in BC, when the healthcare system was under the most pressure.

Her facility experienced two COVID exposures around that time period, and Lakhani described those experiences as frustrating for the families affected.

In one situation, a family was told their child needed to isolate—but childcare centres at that time had been told by public health that children exposed to COVID did not need to isolate.

“This was so stressful for us, because we’re kind of here in the middle, now, trying to follow the guidelines that were set out for us, but at the same time, totally understanding where this parent is coming from,” Lakhani said.

Lakhani said communication with provincial authorities or with nurses was often unclear, and that they were sometimes left without answers to questions.

“I feel we would just be waiting and waiting—waiting for some direction, for some response. So that was really difficult too,” she said.

“And of course, from the childcare centre’s side you have parents asking you—‘Well, what are you going to do there? So, how are you going to do this? How are you going to deal with this? What happens in this kind of a situation?’ But if you don’t have the information, then it’s hard to help everyone feel comfortable and safe.”

Lakhani felt that was especially true for families with siblings in both the K-12 system and in childcare, because they would hear one thing from their kids’ schools and another from childcare.

In future waves or pandemic, Lakhani said she hopes for better communication and clearer guidelines from the province and public health to take some of the pressure off of operators like herself and her sister.

The Child Care Resource Group plans to invite MCFD and health agency staff to meet to discuss the survey’s findings “with a view to supporting mutual learning from these experiences and improving services and communications going forward.”

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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