June 25, 2024

Whole Family

Trailblazing Family Excellence

YWCA Halifax left hanging after pitch to build inclusive child-care centre

3 min read

The YWCA Halifax proposed building a child-care centre that would serve kids with disabilities last July, seeking $3 million in funding from the province after finding there was an acute need for such a facility. 

Almost a year later, the organization is still awaiting an answer.

Temi Abiagom, director of advocacy and community response for the YWCA, said the group has identified a space near Bayers Lake and has worked with a developer to create the design, ensuring the facility would be fully accessible. 

The centre would offer 80 spots, up to 27 of which would be reserved for kids with disabilities. There would also be specialized training for early childhood educators, a lower child-to-educator ratio with options for one-on-one support, and in-house specialists such as speech, physio and occupational therapists. 

The non-profit organization is asking for the departments of education, health and community services to collaborate on the project, with the department of education contributing the most funding. 

“We need a wrap-around [of] support to support families,” said Abiagom.

Temi Abiagom is the director of advocacy and community response with the YWCA Halifax. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

But the province hasn’t made any concrete commitments since the organization pitched the idea in July 2023, she said. CBC News reached out to the three provincial government departments for comment, but did not receive a response.

When asked about the proposed centre at an unrelated daycare announcement on Wednesday, Education Minister Becky Druhan couldn’t comment on the status of the proposal, but said the department is considering it. 

While daycare operators have said the child-care sector in Nova Scotia is in crisis because of staff shortages and increasing costs, securing care for kids with disabilities presents additional challenges for parents and guardians.

Before approaching the provincial government, the YWCA conducted a needs assessment of provincial inclusion requirements and inclusive child-care centres, comparing them to other areas in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

It found that inclusive child care is severely lacking in the province. There isn’t enough specialized training for early childhood educators, facilities are inaccessible and there is a lack of funding to meet the needs of children with disabilities, they found.

As part of the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement to make child care more accessible and affordable, the province is developing an early learning and child-care inclusion strategy, Department of Education spokesperson Krista Higdon told CBC News in late March.

“I think this is a project that would really put children with special needs in the centre of the Canada-Wide Early Learning Framework,” said Abiagom, “and I see it as an opportunity to really do the right thing for these kids.”

Lack of inclusive care providers

The Halifax Developmental Centre for Early Learning (HDCEL) is one of the few inclusive and accessible centres in the province. The YWCA looked at its model as part of the needs assessment. 

Jennifer Soloman, director of the HDCEL, contributed to the YWCA’s proposal. She said the HDCEL is at capacity, with 33 kids attending the centre. Nearly 70 per cent of them have complex developmental, behavioural or medical needs. There are 100 kids on the waitlist, and it’s growing every day, she said. 

Solomon said she knows a spot in the proposed YWCA facility would be highly sought after.

“Programs like this would also help create a more inclusive outlook in early child care, as children and families would have more opportunities to be in an inclusive environment, to see that people come in all shapes and sizes with different abilities,” she said. 

The YWCA also looked at Wee Care Developmental Centre’s model. It has over 500 kids on its waitlist, according to executive director Beth Towler. 

“We get at least six to eight calls per day … emails requesting spaces from many, many desperate families,” Towler told CBC News last month. 

Abiagom is unsure on a timeline for the project as she awaits word on financial support from the province. But she is hopeful and believes the facility would be a step in the right direction for improving the child-care sector in the Halifax area.

“I think it will give many families a rest of mind that there is a centre that can actually take on their kids and meet those needs,” she said.

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