A busy Yellowknife daycare is to close its doors, angering parents by providing only two weeks’ notice of its demise.

Kids Corner, operated from the premises of the Cornerstone Pentecostal Church, employs eight people and can care for up to 40 children according to its website.

On Friday afternoon, the church’s board of directors emailed parents to announce “financial strain and staffing problems” meant the daycare would close on Friday, December 7.

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“We know how this will impact you as parents and the decision has not been made lightly,” the email read.

One parent said closing down at such short notice, leaving parents scrambling and staff out of work just before Christmas, was “disgusting.”

Problems ‘insurmountable’

Cabin Radio understands the closure follows exchanges between parents and the church’s board regarding the suitability of one member of staff and how children were fed.

The daycare is believed to have lost, or been threatened with the loss of, a number of staff in recent weeks. In an email, a second parent claimed they had seen staff in tears on more than one occasion, adding employees had described to them a difficult working environment.

Kids Corner did not grant Cabin Radio’s interview request, citing reasons of confidentiality, but Jim Gardiner – the church’s pastor – replied by email: “It was not an easy decision, nor taken lightly to close the daycare at this time. However, it has reached a place where the problems have become insurmountable.”

Gardiner did not explain the nature of those problems, and did not provide further clarity when asked why only two weeks’ notice had been provided.

However, Gardiner is understood to have privately acknowledged receiving a significant number of complaints – from both parents and staff – about the way in which some aspects of the daycare were being run.

One such complaint alleges a staff member ‘rationed’ food at certain times, without consulting parents, to prevent children overeating – a practice the church’s board moved to stop as soon as it became aware of the allegation.

In an email seen by Cabin Radio, one staff member appears to suggest children were at one point receiving only a quarter of the food they had previously been served at the daycare.

Conditions at the daycare could not be independently corroborated. Two parents spoke with Cabin Radio on condition of anonymity, fearing repercussions during the daycare’s remaining weeks of operation should they be named.

Staff crying, parents stressed

Few of the above issues were mentioned in the church board’s letter to parents on Friday, and it is not clear what role the complaints played in the board’s decision to close the facility.

Christina Leeson, whose two-year-old attends the daycare, said she was dismayed at the church’s handling of the closure.

“They mentioned financial and staffing reasons. They weren’t super-clear on why this was happening. They didn’t really tell us anything,” said Leeson.

“Usually, when daycares start to shut down, they give notice – at least a month to figure something out.

“The staff are crying because they are out of work, and the parents are all stressed out. There are other implications, too – the parents all paid a deposit as they are required to give a month’s notice, and now they may lose money too. I don’t know if there is a plan to give that money back.”

Childcare in Yellowknife can cost around $1,000 per month or more, depending on the age of the child.

The Yellowknife Day Care Association – the city’s biggest daycare provider – told Cabin Radio it currently has more than 170 children on its waitlist.

“It is very unfortunate that Kids Corner is closing down. I can only imagine how incredibly hard it is now for all parents involved,” wrote Marine Voskanyan, the Yellowknife Day Care Association’s executive director. “I feel for the workers, too, who are going to lose their job there.”

“There are not a lot of options,” said Leeson. “The Day Care Association is completely booked.

“I’m seven months pregnant. I was already putting my new baby on the waitlist for this daycare, but now I have to find another. This town, for kids under two, it’s so hard to find daycare. Once you find out you’re pregnant, you go on a waitlist, otherwise you’re not going to get daycare.

“I feel like I’m being put in a … desperate situation, and I’m going to end up in [a] bad daycare where my daughter is treated poorly. There is not enough time to do research.”

‘Countless hours’

The Cornerstone Pentecostal Church’s board appeared to direct blame at the territorial government’s junior kindergarten program in its short email to parents.

The board said enrolment at the decade-old Kids Corner “was impacted in a significant way” by the rollout of junior kindergarten, a free service for children aged four and five.

“As a result, the daycare has since struggled financially to operate,” the board wrote. “In addition, there have been many challenges finding qualified staff with ECE certification.

“The board of Cornerstone Pentecostal Church has devoted countless hours to find ways to meet these challenges,” the email continued.

“With the financial strain and staffing problems along with many other challenges, the board of directors has decided to consider other ways of serving the community. This means that Kids Corner Childcare will cease operations on Friday, December 7, 2018.”

Leeson said staff – some of whom had been at the daycare for eight years – and parents had begun discussing ways to maintain childcare arrangements beyond the collapse of Kids Corner.

“The staff and the kids have a relationship with each other,” she said.