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Back to school plan B?

Jody Vance: To get back to work and keep their household and provincial economy afloat, parents absolutely must have safe, reliable childcare - and that includes school.

Traditionally, mid-July is when we start seeing ads for back to school.

It’s a funny time of year; most of summer still ahead, kids mildly pissed off at businesses even talking about school.

Things are so backwards in 2020 that kids are chomping at the bit for school while parents nervously need it.

The upside of being here in BC, positioned to live with COVID-19 in a way closer to normal than most, is all about the numbers. If ours continue to hover in Dr. Bonnie Henry’s “nervous sweet spot,” with community spread low and manageable for now, then forward we move.

But what if that suddenly changes? What if there’s a dreaded second, worse, wave? Will influenza season toss a wrench into in-class instruction?

So many questions and yet the biggest one is unanswered: what’s plan B?

There’s a big gap in the back-to-school discussion, and it’s firmly strapped into the backseat.

Even with grim budget numbers, BC needs to add dollars to fund a comprehensive plan for affordable and safe childcare, stat.

There’s no doubt government officials and teachers alike have been tirelessly working on strategy for the upcoming school year since COVID-19 hit.

Since March we’ve watched students of all ages struggle to adapt. And while we shouldn’t dismiss valid concerns for young adults unable to secure employment, high school graduates searching for a way to earn toward post-secondary education, teens missing on the rites of passage — first kisses, hand holding, and on – it’s all heartbreaking, but not the gap this Middle is about.

This week is about those parent with kids who aren’t old enough to stay home solo. Where’s the relief plan for that scenario?

Anyone who’s known the stress of juggling class with pre- and after-school care from work knows how hard this must be. Trying to get back to work is almost impossible when there is literally nowhere for kids to go at any price, never mind an affordable one.

Having been a single mom of a 3-year old who needed to be at work before dawn (morning TV!), I cannot imagine what I would have done in our current reality. There is no scramble here, no juggle. Even if you could afford someone to care for your kids, many would likely collect CERB instead.

Not one day has gone by at our home where we haven’t thanked our lucky stars that the boy is old enough to be home alone when I need to work. So many others are not so lucky.

The early days was survival mode — manageable. We were told it would be “a while.” Looking back the messaging was carefully crafted, referring to “days, maybe weeks,” no doubt to help stave off public panic.

Oh, how far we’ve come in just four short months.

Reality is setting in. Witness Monday’s World Health Organization briefing, where the Director-General said, “I want to be straight with you: there will be no return to the ‘old normal’ for the foreseeable future.” He then paused and repeated it.

We’ve come a long way in our acceptance of this new normal – and after acceptance must come innovation. Can we not get creative when it comes to essential jobs like childcare? Can this pandemic see our society solve the shortage in skilled workers such in such vital roles?

The shift-working single parent needs support to survive long-term. If in-class instruction is limited or pulled, filling the safe and affordable childcare gap is crucial. We need a plan for where the littles go when Mom and/or Dad simply must work.

It’s a big ask, but a necessary one. BC parents can’t tread water indefinitely without care for the kids so they can get back to work, to keep their household but also the economy afloat.

Safely returning to work is vital for our economy and social wellbeing, and that can’t happen without safe, secure, affordable childcare.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.