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Lending a hand to student parents

by Nathalie Laflamme November 18, 2014
Lending a hand to student parents

CSU initiative aiming for affordable, flexible daycare with students in mind

Back in 2010 a study commissioned by the Concordia University Dean of Students Office and Student Parents Centre outlined a lack of support for student parents at the University. Four years later, the situation has not improved—something the Concordia Student Union (CSU) is trying to change.

The study stated that many student parents did not have access to “flexible, affordable childcare that would allow them to attend classes, given that subsidized daycare waiting lists can be up to four years, and that private child care can cost upwards of $30 a day.”

Another issue cited in the study, entitled “Student parents and their children: how can we help them?” was that not a lot of childcare is available in the evenings, when many student parents take classes—all this on top of a lack of financial resources.

Over the summer, Terry Wilkings, CSU VP Academic & Advocacy, met with the director of the Concordia Student Parents Centre, where he came across the aforementioned study. “After reading the recommendations and realizing that the university hasn’t taken any concrete steps to support student parents in providing childcare services, the decision was made that the CSU must take action,” said Wilkings. “I believe it’s the role of the CSU to support students in achieving academic success; clearly, a lack of accessible childcare services is a major barrier that contributes to the difficulties student parents face while studying Concordia. Also, student unions at McGill, U de M and Laval already provide these services for their student parents.”

Back in September, CSU Council put through funding to determine whether or not opening a daycare would be possible. Wilkings explained that the research looked at “logistical, policy and budgetary needs for grants, subsidies, and government permits to operate.” The research also looked at how many children could be taken per year (there are three different proposals, one with 24 children, one with 50, and one with 80—this will all depend on startup and annual costs, as well as the physical space available); whether it would be possible to support children until they are 12 years old;  and what process would have to be followed so that the daycare could qualify as a CPE (centre de la petite enfance—roughly, early childhood centres). The scenarios all included evening care.

According to CUSP, about 10 per cent of Concordia’s students are also parents. Malene Bodington, who authored the study, works for the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and is a former student parent at Concordia, was surprised to find out that other students were dealing with the same difficulties she was. “I guess I thought my experiences were unique. To find that they were so common among student parents, and to see that for many it was much worse, was an eye opener,” she said.

When Bodington was a student, she and her husband had no family around to help take care of their son, and finding an affordable daycare turned out to be quite the challenge, despite tax deductions. “It was a mouthful to find $225 every week. It also took a long time to find a spot, so I was home with him for longer than we had anticipated,” she said.

The study also pointed out some of the issues with Concordia’s current daycare system. At Les P’tits profs, the Loyola campus’ daycare, only staff, students, and faculty who are at Concordia full-time can apply. The daycare takes 12 to 14 children a year (aged between three months and five years), and the waiting period is about two years. Evening daycare is not offered.  This is also the issue at the downtown daycare, the Centre de la Petite Enfance. “Considering the life-cycle of students, and the fact that children require supervision until they are much older than 5, these bureaucratic and practical hurdles are significant issues with Concordia current childcare services,” Wilkings said.

The CSU now finds itself at the point where they must discuss this project with the university. Wilkings is also waiting on the student body’s consultation via referendum before any moves are made.

Concordia President Alan Shepard would love to see more daycares for student parents. “I’m thinking about a drop-in day care. I’m not talking about a daycare where you can bring in [the children] … while you attend a class or go to the lab and so on. We’re talking about a much more episodic daycare. I think that would keep students, particularly part-time students, accelerate their progress towards their degree. It must be the case that if you have a young kid, or kids, at home, they come first,” Shepard said.

On Nov. 25 to 27, undergraduate students will be able to vote on whether or not to approve “the continued prioritization and active support of the establishment of a Daycare Centre as an initiative to improve student space on campus through the student space, accessible education and legal contingency fund.”

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