New child care option considered in Petrolia

Meadowview Villa, Petrolia

Meadowview could be home to future child care centre

Petrolia child care advocates are watching closely as Lambton considers building a county-run child care center at Meadowview Villa.

That’s despite a report from a consultant which says the province wants charities or non-profit organizations to provide child care services instead of government-run facilities.

Consultant Wraychel Gilmore told Lambton County councillors Feb. 7, only 25 per cent of the children in Lambton have access to licensed child care. That’s expected to increase to 37 per cent by the end of 2026 as the federal government provides cash to provinces and municipalities for affordable day care. Lambton has been approved for 573 new spaces.

While there will be more spaces available, only 77 per cent of the 2,004 spaces are used. Gilmore says there simply isn’t early childhood educators to staff them all.

Since the federal funding was announced, Gilmore says there has been progress on the staffing issue including hiring 124 ECEs in licensed spaces and 21 students enrolled in a new fast-track program at Lambton College.

The Petrolia Childcare Advocacy Group has been asking for government-run child care for nearly a year. It first asked the Town of Petrolia to build and run a day care centre in March 2023. The municipality concluded the start up and operating costs would be too great.

Instead, it offered free business licenses to new licensed home day care operators and lobbied the province for more cash for child care, particularly before and after school care.

The group also took its concerns to the county, which was undertaking a review of where Lambton was going in the next five years as the federal governments encouraged low-cost, accessible child care. But the consultant for the county said that’s not the direction the province is going.

Gilmore says Lambton is a “service manager” which needs to have a plan reflecting provincial legislation. “There is a preference from the provincial legislation to have community based not-for-profit or charitable organization run childcare services, rather than municipal government. …that is the direction that is being rolled out at levels across all of Ontario.”

The report estimated building an 88-space child care facility would cost over $4 million, with only half of the money being covered by grants. The county would also foot the bill for over $1.6 million a year in operating costs, they estimated.

But Melissa Fitzpatrick, the manager of child services, wrote in a report to council there is large shortage of child care in Petrolia and Enniskillen and the population is growing rapidly. And she said, with the construction of a new wing for people with dementia at Lambton Meadowview Villa, there is a unique opportunity to reduce construction costs for a child care centre.

“Co-planning may result in cost savings and opportunities to share costs across program areas related to such things as site studies and architectural services,” she wrote adding some operational costs, like maintenance, may also be reduced.

“Enniskillen and the Town of Petrolia remains the greatest wait list, highest need…we would co locate with Lambton Meadowview Villa, the land is at no charge, so it’d be the cost of the capital, versus if we went with other locations that we have to purchase the land.”

County council agreed to provide funds to have an architect look at what a child care centre might cost at Meadowview Villa built in conjunction with the new dementia unit.

Jenna Simpson, one of the members of the Petrolia Advocacy Group, is watching the proposal closely.

“We’re glad and it’s come to their attention – that they’re like taking some steps to address the problem,” she tells The Independent.

“We’re also happy that there’s a brick and mortar solution because there is a growing need and their demographics look like there’s going to be a lot of growth for Petrolia and the surrounding areas.

“It does stop short of solving the operational problems that we’re hearing from operators.”That includes staffing, says Simpson. She believes much of that issue could be cleared up if Early Childhood Educators wages increased.

“If you compensate people properly, you don’t typically run into problems with staff.”It’s not clear how long the study on the Meadowview centre will take.