North Huron to investigate need for child care in Blyth
BY DENNY SCOTT
North Huron Township Council has approved a resident survey to determine whether the municipality should extend its childcare services to Blyth.
In her last presentation to council before retirement, Manager of Children’s Services Valerie Watson said, at council’s Monday night meeting, that the resident survey was the most important step in the process before considering anything else.
She said that, with childcare options in Walton, Wingham, Clinton, Goderich and Seaforth, there might be a need for such a service in Blyth, though there are only four users of the childcare service in Wingham from Blyth.
Watson said there would need to be at least 16 users to break even under existing rules, but did say there were opportunities for smaller groups through modified provincial guidelines called “family grouping”.
Before deciding a model, however, council needs to know if there is a need for the service, she said.
As part of her report, she did propose a site for childcare at the Blyth and District Community Centre, suggesting the under-utilized second-floor auditorium could house the service. She estimated it would cost a minimum of $150,000 to prepare the space, as well as a connected outdoor playground, for a childcare service. That would include installing exterior windows, dividing the space into rooms and creating an outdoor play area for the children that, by law, has to be connected to the building, eliminating the possibility of using nearby Blyth Lions Park. She said the space was ideal as it already has washrooms, a kitchen and ample space, however the fact that it was on a second floor wasn’t desirable.
When asked how many children the space could accommodate, she said between 32 and 45 children could be cared for in the space, giving significant room for expansion over the base 16 users.
She added there was $368,921 in the childcare service reserve, though some of that may be needed to cover costs this year due to COVID-19. In addition, Watson said council didn’t need to move ahead with the project immediately because the need for childcare had waned due to COVID-19.
Normally, she said, there are two full programs in Wingham at the North Huron Daycare Centre and Sacred Heart School and a waiting list of over 80. Right now, the daycare centre was the only site in operation due to reduced demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip countered saying that, if the economy is to recover, childcare will be one of the first necessary services.
The waiting list still exists, Watson said, as many parents on it have infants who can only be cared for in limited numbers. She said some people are getting on the list when their baby is born to get a jump on the process.
Watson said council could proceed with the project, given sufficient demand, or wait, as it is an “excellent shovel-ready project” if funding were to be made available.
Councillor Kevin Falconer said he believed the need was there, given the feedback he had heard from ratepayers, and said he felt it was an excellent idea for an under-utilized space in the building.
Council gave direction to staff to proceed with a resident survey to assess childcare interest and need, which Clerk Carson Lamb explained would involve contacting residents through the mail.