Working parents in Magnetawan are facing a big problem when the only licensed daycare facility closes at the end of the month. Amanda Munn says she and many other parents are scrambling to find an alternative daycare facility because the person she and her husband currently use is retiring June 30. Munn, who has a 19-month-old son, says with no other facility, parents have to either rely on friends or families to look after their children or drive to daycare centres in Sundridge or Burk's Falls. “Are people going to want to drive their child to another town for daycare and then drive back to their job?” Munn asked. She has a full-time job in Parry Sound but because of COVID has been working from home. When Munn became aware of the pending closure of the existing facility, on behalf of herself and other parents in the community she wrote to Magnetawan council explaining parents were in desperate need of childcare and a solution had to be found. She also told the District of Parry Sound Social Services Administration Board, which oversees child care in the Parry Sound District, about the looming crisis. Munn says while it's comforting that family and friends can step up to look after a child, the bricks and mortar daycare facility is much better for everyone. “For the children, they can interact and socialize and it's amazing for parents who work full time in or out of town without having to do the extra drive,” Munn said. The existing facility operates from a home which is approved by the DSSAB. Under the Child Care and Early Years Act, all Home Child Care providers can care for up to six children in their homes. The retiring Magnetawan woman is at capacity in her home. At a first glance, the child care issue would appear to be capped at only a handful of families since the home in question only has six children. But Munn told The Nugget she knows of 15 children in the community “in need of some form of daycare.” However, the number of children requiring daycare is well above 15 because just a short time ago a post was put on local social media asking who needs child care and Munn learned there were 51 children who needed full or part-time daycare. “It blew my mind and I was shocked at the number because I don't know where these children are going,” Munn said. “I believe people are making sacrifices to make things work.” The number was also a big surprise to members of town council. Deputy Mayor Tim Brunton said he would never have guessed there were 51 children in need of daycare in the community. Brunton believed the number of children needing daycare before the results of the social media post became public was easily under 25. And Munn expects the number to grow beyond 51. “There are some people who are expecting and are in a complete panic because they don't know what to do,” she said. “I'd also like to have more children but the fact that I have to think about daycare before even thinking about having more children is a little stressful. And I'm not alone in that. There are people in the same situation.” Munn says Magnetawan used to be a community of older people but in recent years a string of young families have moved in. The community, she says, needs full and part-time daycare as well as after school daycare. She and her husband, who is a business owner, have their son in daycare for nine to 10 hours a day. Munn says on the positive side, some building owners have indicated their willingness to turn their properties into a daycare facility. This is something also recognized by council in a resolution it passed to shed light on the crisis. Munn said one person even offered to build from the ground up if he knows there's a commitment to use a new site. Additionally, a church has indicated to Munn it may also be able to provide space. If renovations are needed for a building, Munn says the community is fortunate in this instance because a number of carpenters, plumbers and electricians have said they are willing to donate time to make a daycare happen. Munn says the best scenario is to have a single building that can provide full and part-time daycare as well as after school daycare on a large scale. The council resolution also urged the DSSAB to “proactively put forward a resolution to the daycare crisis” and the agency told The Nugget it's ready to help. First, though, it needs to officially be able to determine what child care programs are viable in Magnetawan. Parents can help the DSSAB with this by going online to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MagnetawanCCNeedsSurvey and complete the survey by June 23. DSSAB says it is possible to house all the daycare needs under one roof, as long as the space requirements for licensing are met. DSSAB could enter into a purchase of service agreement with any operator who has obtained a license to operate daycare services in the facility. Asked if it would pay the rent on a building and also hire the daycare providers, DSSAB told The Nugget it's looking at all options. DSSAB says there may be funding available to support an operator who wants to start up a child care centre that could include rental costs. But before that stage is reached, DSSAB says a needs assessment has to first be completed and that helps determine if there's a critical need for support. It would then work with service providers on finding a solution which could involve both home-based and centre-based providers. DSSAB says on a larger scale, the District of Parry Sound needs more Home Child Care providers especially along the Highway 124 corridor and on the west side of the district. Meanwhile, with June 30 just around the corner, Munn knows the existing daycare will close its doors before a solution is at hand. She hopes one is found soon and says Magnetawan could see some new jobs if more daycare providers can become licensed to operate. In the meantime, for some people who have nothing to fall back on “they may have to leave town because of a lack of daycare,” Munn says. “The other option is making employment changes to care for (your) kids and that's not really a viable option.”
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget