The provincial government's announcement that it is regulating child care fees through a grant program was met with appreciation from all corners of the province. Starting September 1, 2022, parent fees for regulated child care will be reduced by an average of 70 per cent compared to March 2021 levels.

The announcement brings a challenge faced by rural communities to the forefront. The fee reduction is welcomed, but if there are few licensed child care spaces to accommodate the demand, the fee reduction becomes somewhat a moot point. It’s a situation many rural communities face. It’s one that has parents, volunteers and local governments working hard to rectify.

In Humboldt, forty new child care spaces were announced in March to reduce waiting lists for full time care. The new ground up facility continues to be in development.

In neighbouring communities like Muenster and Bruno, the efforts continue to have designated child care spaces approved in proposed new facilities. Jodi Tremel is chair of the organizing committee for an emerging centre in Bruno. Like most parents, she’s glad that some of the cost burden will be lifted, but admits it makes little difference when there are few full-time child care spaces in the area to be had. 

“It’s fantastic for the families that are in those selected spots,” responds Tremel, “But the other side of the reaction is that it’s not great for the people who do not have spots. People who don’t have spots, like the whole community of Bruno, are forced to go to private institutions to have child care, and we are paying $35 plus per child. Sadly, there aren’t close to being enough spaces in Saskatchewan for children in need of child care.”

It’s why Tremel and a core of Bruno volunteers set about applying to the government to establish a licensed day care. The group has the backing of the town and has secured a building, a former poultry hatchery, that will be renovated to meet the stringent requirements for a licensed daycare. For the moment, their efforts have been halted as they await word on their proposal.

“Last December, we started a group of parents that all need child care,” says Tremel. “And we are unable to move forward because we don’t have the funds to make it possible. It’s a very hard trek forward. Without the government pitching in, we are forced to have private facilities, and those are very pricey.”

Tremel notes that some people in the community are under the misconception that all costs for a new licensed centre would be borne by the province. However, the group needs to be committed to fundraising the initial costs of development, architectural drawings, securing a site, among other costs.

That’s the situation for a similar effort happening in Muenster, where chairperson Jenna-Lee Novecosky and a group of Muenster parents continue to press for a day care centre. Novecosky has similar sentiments about the recent announcement regarding cost reduction and about the challenges ahead with the centre.  

“Everyone’s bills are going up with the cost of living, so the fact that child care costs are going down, it’s awesome,” Novecosky shares, enthusiastically. “With spaces, it all starts with the government approving spots for us and moving forward with the facility, hoping that they will approve us for as many spots as feasible. The fact that the cost of daycare is going down may increase the amount of parents that can go back to work.”

The “catch-22” for the government is that the child care cost strategy could lead to more employees in the labour stream, but the lack of child care spaces in rural Saskatchewan is a serious road block. Novecosky says once there’s a determination made on the number of spaces, there will be no trouble filling them. 

The Muenster Cooperative Childcare Centre group is working with an architect on developing plans for the proposed building to be built on Railway Ave. The group is planning on a community meeting to outline the drawings and provide updates on progress. As a non-profit cooperative, the group continues to try to meet its fundraising goals so the project can move forward. 

The additional challenge that both communities face is finding qualified early childhood educators. The field has been impacted by the labour shortage. The province has stepped in to sign agreements with three educational institutions, Collège Mathieu in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) and Saskatchewan Polytechnic (Sask Polytech). The initiative will provide no cost training for early childhood educators in an effort to meet anticipated demand. 

Parents with children in licensed daycare spots are revelling in the news about cost reduction. For those awaiting a spot, there is still much work to be done.