Dal childcare resources fail to meet demand

Two years after Dal acknowledges need for expansion of childcare services, more than 300 families still await support

Staff and students are lining up for the limited spaces in Dal’s childcare centres. (Photo: Laurel Walsh)

Dawna MacIvor is an expectant mother and a Dalhousie staff member. She and her healthy belly are working hard in the Faculty of Science, where she is an alumni officer.

To place her soon-to-be baby on the waitlist for Dalhousie’s childcare centre, MacIvor registered when her pregnancy was in its first trimester.

“I heard the waiting list is about a year and a half long,” she said, “with no guarantee of a spot.”

Though it varies by age group and season, Dalhousie’s University Children’s Centre often sees children bounce through several age categories before availability opens up for them, if it ever does. Unfortunately for baby MacIvor, they say the younger the child, the longer the wait.

According to their expansion fundraising website, the current waitlist for their services is more than 300 applicants long, with more than 100 being students with children.

“Demand far exceeds availability of space,” its website advises. “We typically have only a few vacancies in any given year.”

In September 2010, Dalhousie published a report identifying “current childcare provisions as inadequate” for the campus community. The Campus Master Plan Framework indicated that a new child-care facility should be built in addition to the centre’s two existing Children’s Centre locations.

Documents from the centre say this idea is a “guiding framework, rather than a concrete plan.” Even so, the centre’s board of directors estimated a need for $5,000 in funding over five years, plus construction and outfitting costs, upon the framework’s release.

The University Children’s Centre has a South Street and a Life Sciences location, both steps away from Dal’s Studley campus. (Photo: Laurel Walsh)

Now at the halfway point of its five-year fundraising timeline, the  centre has set plans to accommodate 60 new children, through profits from craft sales, donations, sponsorships, auctions and other community events.

Besides the Dalplex’s Funzone (which requires guardian supervision) the Children’s Centre facilities are the only child-care spaces on Dalhousie campus. Applications for enrolment come in equal numbers from community members, Dal staff and students with children. Some air their grievances with the congested childcare system on the Centre’s expansion project website.

When parents can’t afford to wait for childcare, many turn to South House (formerly the Dalhousie Women’s Centre) for support and referrals.

Though its volunteers and board members have expressed interest in providing childcare, South House isn’t permitted to do so by the university. South House volunteer co-ordinator Jean Ketterling says this is for liability reasons.

She says that for now, staff direct parents seeking childcare from South House to non-affiliated babysitters, or invite them to mixers and socials organized by South House where parents can connect and share resources. South House also has a bursary fund for parents in need.

Ketterling believes more work is needed to improve Dalhousie’s child-care community.

“To truly support parents there must be a much larger effort at the university level, to make childcare and other resources more accessible to the students who need them.”