In late November UMGSA forwarded a message to all U of M grad students regarding a growing provincial need for increased child care spaces. In light of what was considered a shortfall of licensed child care spaces, the student association decided to take action in the form of an awareness campaign.
Partnering with the Manitoba Child Care Association (MCCA) and the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba (CCCM), the GSA have officially backed an open letter written on behalf of the MCCA and CCCM meant to raise awareness of this issue and potentially provide the catalyst for change in the ways child care is approached in Manitoba.
According to former UMGSA president E. RoTimi Ojo, the issue originally came to the association’s attention during an informal discussion with students at an open house event.
“Two grad students from engineering [ . . . ] who had kids had complained about how things have been difficult in terms of finding a day care center for their kids,” said Ojo. “I told them about the [Campus Day Care Centre] and was informed that they had tried everywhere including the university day care.”
“It became an issue to UMGSA because as executives, we saw how inaccessibility to daycare facilities can affect graduate students that have kids. There are pressures from research, course work, funding, etc. We don’t want them to face additional pressures from not having an accessible child care facility.”
This past fall, in effort to move the initiative forward, UMGSA invited Susan Prentice and Brandy Usick of the Child Care Working Group on campus to a council meeting in order to inquire how students could possibly contribute to such a project. Soon afterwards, on the suggestion of Prentice and Usick, the GSA council voted in favour of an open letter campaign that would provide graduate students the opportunity to contribute their name to a movement towards increasing child care spaces on campus and beyond.
“The Child Care Coalition of Manitoba and the Manitoba Child Care Association drafted [the] letter, making it easy for us to sign-on as an association as well as collect individual signatures from students and their family or friends,” said current UMGSA president Monika Wetzel.
The letter—co-signed by Jodie Kehl and Susan Prentice of MCCA and CCCM, respectively—is addressed to Kerri Irvin-Ross, Kevin Chief, and Deanne Crothers and has been circulated amongst students and others within Manitoba who may be affected by the current state of child care availability in the province. While all three addressees are members of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Irvin-Ross is Manitoba’s Minister of Healthy Living and Chief is Manitoba’s Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities.
The co-signed document references a perceived divide between the early learning and child care system and the public education system. In response to this, the letter also calls for the creation of an integrated public system of early learning and child care as well as a commission on integrated early learning and child care for Manitoba.
As for why such a response is necessary, those behind the campaign suggest the current system for child care is outdated and that at present the province simply does not have enough child care spaces to account for those in need. It is estimated that only 16.6 per cent of children aged 0-12 can be accommodated in Manitoba by the licensed system. The waiting list for child care services in the province currently stands at over 11,000 names.
The effort, GSA members believe, is worthy of attention because of how much potential it has to directly and positively affect the lives of U of M grad students.
“Child care is as important as a library to graduate students,” said Calistus Ekenna, a U of M grad student and UMGSA senator. “Personally, I have missed several meetings, classes and deadlines due to lack of child care spaces. My academics have been affected due to lack of child care spaces.”
Prentice of the CCCM shares the same sentiment regarding the importance of child care availability for grad students.
“Many students—particularly grad students—are already parents, and know first-hand how hard it is to juggle school and family responsibilities,” said Prentice. “Whether or not students are parents today, the availability, quality, and cost of child care is likely to be an issue for them, their friends, their co-workers, and their community in the future.”
The GSA is encouraging students to not only provide signatures of support but also to forward the letter along to friends and colleagues who may have interest in the initiative. Those who wish to support the letter are requested to send their full name to firstname.lastname@example.org to join the list of signatories included in the final submission of the letter.
Among the organizations who have pledged their endorsement for the initiative include: CUPE Manitoba, the Manitoba Federation of Labour, the faculty of social work, the United Nations Platform for Action, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba, the Manitoba Federation of Union Retirees, the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, and, of course, the University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association.
As for what students should expect to see moving forward with this campaign, UMGSA senator Ekenna was confident about the positive impact such a movement will create within the province.
“Students will begin to see changes on how the child care issue is handled within Manitoba, which will guarantee more spaces, fairness, social justice and productivity within the economy, education and society at large.”