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Wanted: Masset’s next daycare champion

North-end parents are looking for a new champion after the recent closure Masset’s only daycare.

North-end parents are looking for a new champion after the recent closure Masset’s only daycare.

Started in 2013 by parents who faced an earlier daycare shortage, Little Doves daycare was housed in a renovated home across from the Masset library and owned by the Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace.

Brenda Byberg, the society’s executive director, said they can wait approximately five months to see if someone else is keen to restart Little Doves as a private business. Previously, the daycare was run by its own society, and offered unionized positions.

“We would love for it to be used as we had intended,” said Byberg, noting that while the society is unable to run a daycare itself, she would be happy to sit down with someone interested in taking over the space and speak about the likely challenges.

“They would just need to have a good business plan, and I would think that someone could do this very well, and make a good living,” she said.

A good candidate would also need a lot of stamina, or find a way to offer before- and after-school programs together with a part-time colleague.

“It’s not easy taking care of eight children,” said Byberg. “I couldn’t do it myself, to be honest with you!”

Still, Byberg said it can be done. Joan Neely ran a successful daycare in Masset by herself for several years before moving off-island around 2012.

With an outdoor playground and an indoor space renovated to meet B.C.’s daycare standards, Little Doves can be licensed for up to eight children.

Exceptions can be granted, but generally the licence allows one child from birth to one, a pair of two- or three-year-olds, and five spots for children three and older.

“It’s tricky with a small community,” said Verena Gibbs, a parent and board member of the society that started and ran Little Doves. “It makes sense to go with a multi-age licence just because it’s the most flexible, but what tends to happen sometimes is that a family comes with two kids and there’s only a spot for one, and they don’t usually take it.”

“Or you’ll have a year where there are all these little kids, and there’s only one spot for a child under one.”

Another challenge is that Chief Matthews Elementary School runs a popular preschool program in Old Massett for children ages four and up. Given that many families have one parent stay at home for their child’s first year, much of the north-end demand is only for a year or two.

Gibbs said it’s easy to meet other north-end parents who faced the same dilemma 10 or 20 years ago.

“I feel like we’re facing the same problem that’s happened over and over again for decades.”

Besides finding the next Joan Neely, the future of Masset daycare might be in a program run at one of the Masset public schools.

Superintendent Dawna Johnson-Day said it’s early yet, but she has spoken with the two Masset principals about the idea, which would offer a seamless transition from an early-years nursery program to kindergarten.

“It’s a perfect time to look into it,” said Johnson-Day, adding that the province has funding available for new childcare spaces, and since the closure of Little Doves, there is clearly a need.

Besides helping Masset’s existing parents and attracting new families who need childcare, Johnson-Day said a big benefit of housing a daycare in the school is that kids would get an early jump on a key question for their school success: Can you name two adults in the school who believe in you?

“When kids walk into the kindergarten class, they can already answer that question.”