Parent of kids who go to Lynnmour Elementary in North Vancouver say they’ve been left in a lurch by a lengthy and unexpected closure of the longtime after-school care on the Lynnmour school property.
Families have been scrambling to plan for childcare since June, parents say, when the non-profit BGC (formerly known as the Boys and Girls Club) suddenly announced it was cancelling the summer day camps for kids because of a staffing shortage.
Camps on the North Shore effectively function as childcare for working parents during summer months and most fill up quickly. The sudden change meant, “Those parents had to scramble for summer activities for their kids,” said Dan Rankin, chair of the Lynnmour parent advisory council.
But worse news was coming. Shortly before the start of school in September, the non-profit organization told parents they wouldn’t be able to offer the usual after-school childcare from their portable at the school – for the same reason.
For the families of about 50 kids who regularly used the childcare, that’s been tough, with parents stringing together childcare from other families, trying to work from home and in some cases just having to leave their kids to play unsupervised or scale down their own working hours.
“So many of us rely on it,” said Analise Saely, a mom of two kids who attend Lynnmour. “We don’t work 8:40 to 2:40. That’s many hours we don’t have childcare.”
The one other childcare option in the neighbourhood has quickly filled up, she added, leaving local families with few options.
Parents scramble for childcare
Some parents have had to beg neighbours to babysit while others swap off caring for each other’s kids. “Some days I have 12 kids at my house,” said Saely.
Another mom of three, Canan Duru, who works shifts as a nurse, said the only reason her situation hasn’t come unravelled is she’s currently off work with an injury.
Families at Lynnmour have high praise for the BGC which has run the after-school care, as well as other community programs for children and families, for many years in the neighbourhood.
“Boys and Girls Club is incredible,” said Saely, whose daughter has attended the program since she was in Grade 1. Kids did art projects and “it taught them how to cook,” she said.
As a non-profit organization with a mission of supporting families, BGC has provided childcare and other community programs, including hockey and baseball outings and teen nights in the past, at very affordable rates.
Lynnmour’s school community is very diverse, added Rankin, with “a lot of diverse demographics within our school. Having access to care is vitally important from an equity perspective.”
So far, however, the temporary closure of the after-school program has stretched into months, with no end in sight.
Staffing shortage to blame
Carolyn Tuckwell, CEO of BGC South Coast B.C., said the organization would like nothing better than to restart the after-school care at Lynnmour. But so far, she said, the organization hasn’t been able to hire anyone for a key coordinator role “despite our best efforts”. Usually, the childcare operates with a coordinator and an assistant, as well as five to 10 childcare staff, she said.
The situation isn’t unique to BGC in the current labour shortage, said Tuckwell.
The organization has even looked at pulling staff from other locations in the Lower Mainland. But “like virtually every business we have shortages across the board,” she said. “There are fewer people putting in applications.”
Another of BGC’s childcare programs in Richmond also had to close temporarily this fall, for the same reason, she said.
Being on the North Shore doesn’t help, she acknowledged. “People aren’t always willing to travel.”
But Tuckwell said the non-profit is keen to restart, just as it can hire someone.
“We know families need us,” she said. “We’re very committed to getting back as soon as we can.”
BGC has provided childcare on Lynnmour Elementary school property out of a portable on site under a five-year agreement with the school district in effect until the end of July 2025.
Families at Lynnmour said they’ve received minimal communication from the school district about the situation.
School district spokesperson Lisa Dalla Vecchia said the school district empathizes with families impacted by the closure. Dalla Vecchia added the school district supports the club’s efforts to hire staff as soon as possible.
There currently after-school childcare programs operating from 16 school properties in North Vancouver. Last year, the school district identified seven more schools as having potential to add after-school childcare on site in future.
But Rankin said many parents feel it’s time school districts – their own in particular – took a much more active role in understanding the needs of working parents, instead of turning a blind eye to the fact parents’ workdays rarely coincide with school hours.
“Care is a key need for many families,” he said.