Parents are struggling to find childcare after two daycare centers were lost in the wildfire near Halifax.
ForestKids Early Learning, also known as Hammonds Plains Children’s Center, and Giant Steps on Wyndham Drive in Upper Tantallon have both been destroyed. A number of other centers had to be evacuated.
Four-year-old Charlie Coffin is one of 82 children who used to attend ForestKids. Her family was also forced to leave their home due to evacuation orders.
Her mother, Stephanie Coffin, found solace in meeting other bereaved 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 breaks my heart.”
Without a place for Charlie during the day, Coffin and her husband can’t always get to work, but she said their workplaces were understanding.
Finding a daycare for Charlie during the pandemic has already been a struggle, Coffin said, due to the county’s shortage of daycare centers. She said they were lucky to get in because ForestKids was their first choice.
“Creche meant a lot,” she said. “It’s not a normal nursery. It’s not just a place where you drop off your child. This is a community. They can go out, they can explore and they can be children.”
Charlie misses her friends, the nursery staff and the dogs and chicks, who have also been evacuated.
“But she knows it’s not the end, they’re going to build it back. There will still be nurseries to go to,” Coffin said. “We still have each other and those are the really important things.”
Daphne Sleigh is another parent who has visited the park. She said her 11-year-old child, Jordan, has been attending ForestKids since age three and is now attending the after-school care program.
“They’re pretty upset about this. When we told them ForestKids had been burned, there was a little bit of shock and disbelief and then, of course, a lot of tears.”
The daycare is the community of the family and extended family, Sleigh said. She said Jordan is tense about the uncertainty of the situation.
“It’s so hard not being able to tell them what happens next,” she said. “We don’t know when this will be over. We don’t know how long it will 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 through Friday with these kids and they are part of our family. We are all part of the ForestKids family.”
Screen has an employer-specific work permit, she said, further complicating matters.
“I can’t look for a job with another employer right now. So until we know a little more about what’s going to happen, it’s a stressful situation,” Screen said.
But she’s more concerned about the families.
“Hopefully we will move elsewhere as soon as possible and we can start providing the care these children deserve.”
At a news conference on Thursday, Becky Druhan, Nova Scotia’s minister of education and early childhood development, said the province will pay the centers in lieu of day-to-day childcare costs.
She said the province is also working with the centers to possibly set up temporary facilities if necessary.
“We also have facilities to speed that up in emergency situations so the centers can get up and running very quickly,” she said.
Druhan said many parents are reaching out to centers to offer their help despite losing their home and child care.