It’s been a rocky year, but Children’s First centre hardly skipped a beat when Covid-19 restrictions were put in place in March, only closing its doors for a matter of weeks.
“We worked very closely with Environmental Health and looked for hot spots,” said executive director Patricia Davidson. “We’ve opened up to regular programming, but families are not all back at work yet and everybody’s a little cautious still, so it’s had an impact on what we’re able to do.
“Our outreach program has started doing some things in the home and out in the community as opposed to in the building.”
While still not back to full capacity, the centre has been bustling with activity all spring, though it’s taken some time to get all the programs back online.
Adult supervisors maintain physical distance and children avoid sensory play to keep in line with Covid-19 safety precautions.
However, attendance is still only 30 per cent of what it was. But the lower workload has allowed staff to pursue other objectives, including a July 7 meeting with Deputy Premier Diane Thom and Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler.
“We asked for the meeting and they were super-generous to come,” said co-chair Mike Harlow. “We wanted to talk about the future of early childhood education delivery in the territory.
“Given statements made by the premier in support of Universal Daycare and the recommendations coming out of the committee on Social Development — they’ve really highlighted the benefits to the territory.”
The discussion covered a variety of topics but strongly focused on the need for more early childhood care. Davidson noted research showed that every $1 spent in early childcare saves between $9 to $13 in health, education and justice down the line as children grow older.
“It’s facilities like this that give children that start,” she said. “I’m not talking A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s, I’m talking about the socialization — learning to share, using our manners. How we interact with people, how we be caring and empathetic. That kind of start is really important for children and it saves money down the road.”
Harlow said Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on early childcare and the beneficial role it plays in society.
“The single greatest investment a government can make for the future sustainability of its society is in children aged zero to 12,” he said. “It’s proven.”
Davidson added expanding accessibility to child care had many facets.
“We’re talking about cost, available spaces, hours of operation and service for families,” she said. “It’s about getting together with all the parties involved, so Early Childhood care and learning facilities, staff, directors, board members, the GNWT who licences and regulates it.”
Harlow said the Children First society was reaching out to other stakeholders to prepare a united front to approach the GNWT
“I think that the recognition of the challenges are pretty understood universally — high costs, low wages and limited availability. And it’s not just care, it’s learning,” he said. “So we’re going to reach out to other practitioners and decide what we do next.
“We need to make sure we’re presenting common concerns and questions, and figure out the best venue we can have a meaningful interaction with everyone who is necessary in that conversation to get to some kind of conclusion.
Inuvik Drum reached out to Thom for comment but did not receive a response.