After 20 years in operation, Waterside Child Development Centre in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside announced on Tuesday that it will be shutting down as of May 31, 2017.
"There are so few child-care spaces in downtown Vancouver as is, so it was a bit shocking to hear that more are disappearing," said Chessa Osburn, whose three-year-old daughter is one of two children with special needs that attend the centre.
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The toddler centre is run by the not-for-profit Developmental Disabilities Association and is an inclusive child-care program for children with or without developmental disabilities.
"Stand-alone toddler centres are very hard to make ends meet. That particular program ran a very large deficit for the association each year," said Andrew Roets, director of child and youth services.
The centre had been incurring a deficit of nearly $80,000 a year from the day it opened, said Roets. But he said it was kept open because toddler centres in the province are so hard to come by.
Roets said for years, they balanced the budget from other areas, but the increased cost of running the program and increased staffing wages made it difficult to continue.
The five staff members at the centre will be relocated to the organization's other child-care centres.
As for the 15 families who've currently enrolled their children at the centre, they've been given wait-list priority at the organization's other child-care centres.
"It would be great, but that still leaves me on the hook for child care for June, July and August — if I even get a space at this other centre," said Dawn Hoogeveen, whose 20-month-old daughter is currently enrolled at the centre.
"This other centre is where I was told my son was like 300th on the list a few years ago when I was looking for care for him," she said.
Hoogeveen said while the uncertainty is stressful, it is the loss of the centre which is most upsetting.
"I just felt privileged to have my kids so close to home and the staff have been really, really good," she said.
Laura Kozak, whose daughter is also enrolled at the centre, echoed that sentiment.
"The staff know the neighbourhood, they know different walks they can take them on, that kind of stability and continuity is really important to our neighbourhood," said Kozak.
Child care crunch
Due to its location in the Downtown Eastside, the centre charged $1,000 a month per child. Stephanie Doerksen, who is self-employed and has no maternity benefits, calls that an affordable rate.
"It is tough. It is tough for working parents," said Doerksen.
"Waterside was pretty affordable as far as child care goes, compared to hiring a nanny privately or a privately-run child-care situation. And the fact that there is going to be one fewer affordable option in the city is really depressing," said Doerksen, whose two-year-old daughter attends Waterside.
Sharon Gregson, who is an advocate for the $10-a-day child-care program, said the news isn't shocking, but indicative of the province's current child-care model.
"Offering toddler care is the most challenging kind of care to offer because of staffing ratio, one to four," said Gregson with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C.
Over the past five years, provincial funding for the centre hasn't increased or decreased, and Gregson said that is part of the problem.
"Operating funding has not increased in forever and costs keep going up like they do in any other sector. There is no way for child-care operators to continue to be able to offer child care that is affordable and pay their staff half decent wages," she said.
The B.C. government recently awarded $11.3-million in capital funding to create child-care spaces across the province