COLUMN: Community services suffer in city of neglect

COLUMN: Community services suffer in city of neglect

Schools, childcare concern top list of Surrey concerns, writes Frank Bucholtz

It’s yet another sign of how the basic building blocks of community are left behind as a result of Surrey’s relentless growth.

A presentation to council last week by Surrey Community Child Care Task Force focused on the critical lack of child care, and the high prices parents must pay if they can find a spot.

Surrey’s child-care situation is the worst in the Lower Mainland – there are just 12.4 spaces available for every 100 children under age 12. Surrey has half the spaces, per capita, that Vancouver has, and by far the most children.

The lack of community building blocks in Surrey is well-known. Schools are overcrowded. Hospitals are badly overcrowded, despite expansions. Access to family physicians and specialists is limited. Transit service is a shadow of that in other parts of Metro Vancouver.

There are many areas where there is a critical lack of infrastructure. Surrey simply cannot keep up, because the rate of development far outpaces the rate at which community services, such as child care, are expanded.

This is made crystal clear when looking more deeply at who provides child-care services. Ninety-three per cent of Surrey’s child-care spaces are provided by businesses, with seven per cent coming from the non-profit sector. In many communities, the ratio is closer to 50:50.

This isn’t surprising. For years, the city has hollowed out its non-profit sector, largely through neglect. It has made no efforts to make it easier for non-profits to expand services. In some cases, it appears the city prefers existing community organizations wither and die.

Child-care needs are generally given short shrift when new developments are passed. New schools – in some ways the most logical places to offer some after-school child care – often don’t have space.

Centre for Child Development CEO Gerald Bremault, who co-chaired the task force, said he was surprised how far behind Surrey was. Many have moved here because housing is slightly more affordable than closer to Vancouver. When there is such a lack, it has a significant economic, social and community effect.

The province is bringing in significant subsidies. However, some child-care providers are not signing up, citing a variety of difficulties. The federal approach, thus far, has been to provide higher child benefits. These do help pay, but do nothing to actually increase child-care places.

Every single Surrey MP is part of the current government, yet they have said or done little to push for increased supply. One small piece of good news – the federal and provincial governments have signed a bilateral agreement that may pave the way for more spaces.

The task force recommends the province invest in child-care resources, train more early-childhood educators and increase quality control. These are solid recommendations. Without a change of attitude towards providing community services – not just new housing – the increased gap in demand and supply will continue to “threaten Surrey’s family friendliness and livability,” as the report states.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

frank.bucholtz@gmail.com