A playground rocker wrapped in caution tape at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when playgrounds were closed to the public, in April 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Daycare staff say children walking to play in front of a Yellowknife school on Wednesday were followed by a man in a truck, yelling that they were violating distancing rules.
The incident was “troubling and was completely unexpected,” wrote Hawa Dumbuya-Sesay, director of the YWCA NWT’s child programs, in a letter sent home to parents. There were 17 children in the group, accompanied by staff.
According to the letter, staff tried to explain to the man that they were operating “under the authority of Education, Culture, and Employment” (ECE) and had consulted environmental health officers to ensure they took proper precautions.
Despite this, said Dumbuya-Sesay, the man continued to follow them and began taking pictures of the children on his phone. After staff insisted he delete them, he drove off before they could take down his licence plate.
Dumbuya-Sesay said the incident frightened many of the children and made them wary of being outside for the rest of the day.
“When [the kids] were going back to the program, they were looking around to see if someone would approach them again,” she said. “It was just really anxiety for the kids.”
In early April, the YWCA expanded its regular after-school care program to provide options for essential workers.
That included opening 120 full-day spots for families in Yellowknife, with rules based on guidelines set out by ECE. Measures include taking the children’s temperature each morning, regularly sanitizing facilities, and sending kids home at the first sign of symptoms.
Though behaviour like that experienced on Wednesday is unacceptable, the YWCA said, it had anticipated some reaction as people adjusted to Covid-19’s “new normal.”
“But we never predicted someone to be yelling and screaming,” said Dumbuya-Sesay. “To me, it’s just totally inappropriate and immature of this person to do that.”
Pandemic ‘stressful enough’ for children
After reading the letter about the incident, one parent – who asked to remain unnamed due to concerns for her job – said she was worried.
“My concern is that certain people in the community are taking this out on children, who have no control,” she said.
The parent and her husband are essential workers. They send their three children to the YWCA’s daycare so they can continue on the front lines.
She said she doesn’t want interactions like this to make what is already a scary time for children even worse.
“They don’t need to see, hear, or be involved in any sort of thing like that,” she said. “It’s stressful enough for them as it is.”
‘I hope you get reported’
The YWCA isn’t the only childcare operator facing hostility.
After posting to Facebook about its continuation of services during Covid-19, the Yellowknife Day Care Association got some not-so-happy responses.
One comment read, “So not right.” Another raged, “This is a joke and I hope you get reported for trying to run this business during a lockdown.”
That kind of response is out of character for the association’s social media, said Ryan Fequet, the daycare’s president. With schools closed, he said a lot of people simply don’t understand why daycares remain open as an essential service.
“ECE and the GNWT have been very clear about that, that it’s critical for essential workers so they can continue to provide their services so that our community gets through this public health emergency,” Fequet said.
“It’s an essential service for the community to get back on its feet.”
Dumbuya-Sesay said she thinks this is a time of high anxiety for a lot of people, which might explain these negative interactions.
Either way, she encourages NWT residents to educate themselves on why daycares are open during this time. She has instructed staff to ignore those who try to confront them.
The parent told Cabin Radio she hopes people won’t make negative assumptions about childcare services. She wants her kids to feel safe and happy and doesn’t want situations like this to deter other daycares from remaining open.
“It’s hard enough for front-line workers to find childcare as it is,” she said. “It’s hard when you’re mandated to be at work.”