Fort Smith and Norman Wells will be priorities for a new program designed to increase numbers of childcare spaces, the NWT’s education minister said.
Speaking in the legislature last week, RJ Simpson said $1.1 million in new funding would be used to help build new facilities or retrofit existing buildings to accommodate more children.
Those two communities had been identified as areas “of great need,” Simpson said.
“It is a very new program. There are some places that need childcare – that we have known for a long time need childcare – and we know infrastructure is the issue,” the minister told colleagues.
“We have identified those places and are working to identify others and are targeting those. I want to make sure we get some things done. I want to make sure we get some childcare spaces that are going to be sustainable in place, especially where there isn’t licensed childcare currently, or not a lot of it.”
A lack of childcare space has long been a concern in some NWT communities.
The Covid-19 pandemic increased financial pressure on some childcare providers, with parents temporarily dropping out and suspending payments while more stringent health measures come into effect.
The NWT government in April devoted $5 million to the sector, including wage top-ups for staff and a subsidy for parents.
Fort Smith residents, in particular, have expressed concern in recent years at the lack of available childcare in the community.
Data from the most recent census suggested Fort Smith is home to around 385 children aged nine or younger, 170 of whom are four or younger. However, in 2018, fewer than 20 daycare places were available.
The new funding, agreed as part of a supplementary appropriation passed in the legislature last week, will let daycare groups offset the cost of acquiring space or renovations and repairs.
Simpson said his department’s childcare coordinators in each NWT region would work with organizations who have existing programs or are looking to start one.
“Right now, we have identified criteria,” he said last week. “There needs to be demonstrated need for physical space that will result in additional new licensed early learning and childcare spaces. The applicant must be able to provide a portion of the cost.
“Funding can be used to build new buildings or retrofit existing buildings, including both non-GNWT and GNWT assets, and projects will be prioritized to meet demands in areas of greatest need.”