County eyes community hubs as it works to enhance childcare services

Adam Bramburger
Beaver Staff

Lennox and Addington County officials are hoping to create more equitable access to programming for children 12 and under and the establishment of community hubs figure prominently in their plan.

At last week’s regular meeting of council, Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Social Services children’s services manager Pam Kent outlined her department’s caseload and opportunities.

Pam told council the department generally serves children aged 0-12 through its services. In Lennox and Addington County, that is 5,560 children. Some 41 per cent of those children are in Loyalist Township, 36 per cent in Greater Napanee, 19 per cent in Stone Mills, and four per cent in Addington Highlands.

Kent said Greater Napanee has the strongest level of service among local municipalities with five licensed childcare centres with 121 spaces, four before- and after-school programs that serve 176 children, six home childcare providers, and 12 hours per week of Ontario Early Years programming.

Loyalist has two licensed childcare centres with 68 spaces, five before- and after-school programs that serve 332 children, a home childcare program, and four hours of Early Years programming per week. Stone Mills has just one licensed childcare centre with 21 spaces. It has no before- or after-school programming and six hours of Early years programming a week. Addington Highlands has no licensed childcare centres, no before- and after-school programs or licensed at-home childcare providers, and just four Early Years hours.

“Our vision is that all children have access and equitable access to services across our region,” Kent said. “We’re trying to identify opportunities to create more equitable access. There are opportunities in Addington Highlands, Stone Mills, and Loyalist Township before us.”

Kent stressed there are opportunities for more care in Greater Napanee also, but given the numbers, PELASS is focusing specifically on other parts of the county to try to boost their offerings.

In Addington Highlands, PELASS has received funding to build a childcare centre within North Addington Education Centre, taking advantage of space that wasn’t occupied for student needs. Kent said construction is already under way to convert the current Kindergarten classrooms into a daycare area. The project will create 49 childcare spaces north of Hwy 7. Kent said it’s not likely all of those spaces are filled, so that might provide an opportunity for more diverse programming in the space. With Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health located just across the road, there may be opportunity for a services hub to be formed in Cloyne that would allow further collaboration.

In Stone Mills, community hub considerations are already in progress. The County is planning to work with Stone Mills Township on a bid to acquire Yarker Public School for a one-stop services shop. Kent said there could be childcare and Early Years programming alongside the library branch at the school that closed its doors to students  last week.

Currently, Kent said the existing licensed daycare facility in Camden East is on the top floor of a building shared with a library branch destined for closure in December. By moving that program to Yarker, there would be a more suitable space with fewer stairs, a playground, and an opportunity to expand.

With 41 children on a waitlist, that could be quite ideal for the provider. Kent said PELASS is eager to discover its next steps.

“There’s a process we have to go through first with them deeming it surplus, then applying in co-operation with Stone Mills Township to see if we can acquire that building,” she said.

In Amherstview, there’s an expectation a community hub project will proceed. Loyalist Township is looking for a way to provide more services in a central location close to population growth. The County also knows its library branch at the W.J. Henderson Recreation Centre fails to meet accepted standards for space and has had a 35-per-cent increase in use since 2012.

Beyond that, PELASS has its own schedule to keep.

It successfully received $1.5 million in capital funding from the provincial and federal governments for a new custom-built daycare facility to replace one Lennox and Addington Resources For Children operates on the Fairfield Public School site. As a condition of the funding, the space must be opened by Dec. 31, 2020.

The project would add an additional 10 spaces in a market with high demand.

Kent said she’d like to see the daycare centre as part of a community hub — a model County council supported at its June 13 working session.

“Though there hasn’t been a decision about where it will be located, we have an opportunity to join with Loyalist Township to create a really great, vibrant hub, especially if it happens to be at the W.J. Henderson with the library, having recreation access, and potentially social services. It will be a great one-stop shop for our residents.”

According to Kent, there are numerous benefits to the community hub model including seamless support, tailored services to meet community needs, and the reduction of stigma for clients who are accessing social services. There are also benefits of shared utility costs and possibly shared office expenses.

Speaking specifically to children, Kent said the access to the pool, arena, and sports fields at the recreation centre could be beneficial. She told councillors that an indicator of childhood development is the Early Development Instrument, which Kindergarten teachers in local schools administer to measure students’ communications and language skills, emotional maturity, physical health and wellbeing and general knowledge. Trends arising from the completed questionnaires are analyzed by researchers at McMaster University’s Offord Centre for Child Studies.

According to Kent, Lennox and Addington County children are more vulnerable to not meeting age-appropriate expectations than the provincial average and a great percentage are vulnerable in at least one area of testing. In Loyalist Township, she said the highest vulnerability involved physical health and motor skills development. With a partnership with the township’s recreation department, that issue could be addressed, Kent said.

“In a hub, we’re all working together to serve families,” she concluded.

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