Waterloo Regional Council’s short-sighted decision to close five children’s centres, that provided care to more than 250 families in the region and employed more than 50 child care and early learning workers, may leave some families and frontline workers without access to emergency child care as the Omicron surge proliferates the child care worker shortage in Ontario.

“Waterloo Regional Council could have avoided a staffing shortage by keeping precious child care spaces open, especially during the pandemic,” says Noelle Fletcher, President of CUPE 1883. “Child care and early learning workers stepped up to provide emergency care during the initial waves of the pandemic only to have their jobs terminated. The region has critically underestimated the value of child care and the workers who provide it. Now, the municipality needs those same workers to come back to ensure emergency care is provided to frontline workers. One minute they’re heralded as frontline heroes, the next they’re jobless.”

Faced with new challenges including widespread COVID-19 outbreaks in child care centres; lack of access to PCR testing, N-95 masks, and HEPA filters; new isolation requirements; and a significant, rising staffing shortage, workers and families may soon find that the region is unable to meet child care needs, reports CUPE.

“Workers and families hope that this staffing shortage is a sobering wake-up call for the Waterloo Regional Council. With changes to the region’s senior management and a municipal election around the corner, this is a perfect opportunity for the Region of Waterloo to be a child care leader, as they once were, and re-open the closed centres to flexibly meet the needs of families and workers who urgently need access to affordable, high-quality care,” says Carolyn Ferns, Policy Coordinator at the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (OCBCC).

Before Council decided to close the centres in December 2020, dozens of families deputed with a plea to save the region’s municipally operated children’s centres, to no avail.