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Parents ponder where to turn for child care after daycares destroyed in wildfires

Parents are struggling to find child care after two daycare centres were lost in the wildfire near Halifax.

ForestKids Early Learning, also known as Hammonds Plains Children’s Centre, and Giant Steps on Wyndham Drive in Upper Tantallon have both been destroyed. A number of other centres had to be evacuated. 

Four-year-old Charlie Coffin is one of the 82 children who used to attend ForestKids. Her family also had to leave their home due to evacuation orders. 

Her mother, Stephanie Coffin, has been finding comfort by meeting up with other affected families at a park in Bedford.

“I definitely cried, like right away,” Coffin said, “It was just so devastating because I know they love that space. It just completely breaks my heart.”

Without a place for Charlie during the day, Coffin and her husband can’t always go to work, but she said their workplaces have been understanding. 

Finding a daycare for Charlie during the pandemic was already a struggle, Coffin said, because of the province’s shortage of child-care centres. She said they were fortunate to get in because ForestKids was their first pick. 

“The daycare meant a lot,” she said. “It’s not a normal daycare. It’s not just somewhere that you drop your kid off. This is a community. They get to go outside, they get to explore and they get to be kids.”

Charlie misses her friends, the daycare employees, and the dogs and baby chicks, which were also evacuated. 

Daphne and Jordan Sleigh at playground
Daphne Sleigh’s child, Jordan, has been part of the ForestKids program for eight years. Sleigh said losing the daycare is heartbreaking. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

“But she knows that it’s not the end, that they’re going to build it back. There are still going to be daycares to go to,” Coffin said. “We still have each other and those are the really important things.”

Daphne Sleigh is another parent who visited the park. She said her 11-year-old child, Jordan, has been going to ForestKids since the age of three and now attends the after-school care program. 

“They’re pretty torn up about this. When we told them that ForestKids had burned, there was a little shock and disbelief and then a lot of tears, obviously.”

The daycare is the family’s community and extended family, Sleigh said. She said Jordan is on edge about the uncertainty of the situation. 

“It’s so hard to not be able to tell them what’s happening next,” she said. “We don’t know when this is going to be over. We don’t know how long it’s going to take to rebuild.”

Claire Screen moved from Scotland two years ago to work at ForestKids as an early childhood educator. She misses the children and her colleagues. 

“It’s absolutely devastating,” she said. “We spend all day Monday to Friday with these children and they are like part of our family. We’re all part of the ForestKids family.”

Claire Screen at playground
Claire Screen moved to Nova Scotia from Scotland to work for ForestKids Early Learning. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Screen is on an employer-specific work permit, she said, which further complicates things. 

“I can’t go and seek out employment for any other employer right now. So until we know a little bit more about what’s going to happen, it’s a stressful situation,” Screen said.

But she is more concerned for the families. 

“Hopefully, we’ll get somewhere else as soon as possible and we’ll be able to start providing the care for these children that they deserve.”

At a news conference on Thursday, Becky Druhan, the minister of education and early childhood development in Nova Scotia, said the province will pay the centres in lieu of daily child-care fees.

She said the province is also working with the centres to potentially set up temporary facilities, if necessary.

“We also have provisions for expediting that in emergency circumstances to get centres up and running very quickly,” she said. 

Druhan said many parents are reaching out to centres to offer their help despite losing their homes and child care.

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