Whether she was born with it or it was modelled by her parents, working hard is in Laura’s Livingstone’s blood.
After high school Laura worked with a grading crew that built logging roads all over B.C.’s interior. She developed a passion for 4x4ing and cars when she worked for a local auto parts store. And for the past twelve years she has been working for Teck — one of the world’s largest zinc and lead smelters — in Trail, British Columbia. First as a janitor, and today as an operator in the sulfide leaching plant.
“My family isn’t surprised that I ended up with an industrial career. I’ve always had untraditional jobs,” Laura says. “I could never see myself working behind a desk or somewhere I’d have to worry about what to wear each day.”
Laura lives in Beaver Falls — a small community above and to the east of Trail — and was raised on a rural property in the area by two hard working parents.
“I grew up in the area and had horses,” Laura says. “My dad drove semis and dump trucks his whole life. He was home every night for dinner and smelled like diesel and motor oil. My mom is a retired pastry chef. She actually worked at the old City Bakery in Trail while I was a child.”
Laura credits her father as having a huge influence on who she is today.
“He taught me to be independent, that little girls can play with trucks and tractors while still having pigtails. That power tools are just tools and everybody should know how to change a tire,” Laura says. “Being a girl had nothing to do with being a good person, working hard or being proud of yourself.”
Kids shift the story
Raising children of her own is one of Laura’s newer jobs, and with it comes the added challenge of balancing shift work with child care. Having a 1.5 year old in tow and a second baby coming in December means getting creative with what’s available.
“It’s difficult to find private care to work long shifts,” Laura says. “It means hiring someone morning, day and night.”
Laura met her fiance Matt at Teck, and he also works 12 hour shifts at the smelter. When she was on maternity leave with their daughter Parvati, they talked about what it would look like going back to work.
“We had many conversations about what me working would look like,” Laura says. “There were options to transfer to different departments that offered Monday-Friday. Either one of us could apply but it was something that deep down I didn’t want, and neither did Matt. So we make it work.”
Since having their daughter, Teck has accommodated the couple’s schedule so they can work overlapping shifts, leaving their daughter in need of care only two days a week. Grandparents step in for one of those days and a private babysitter takes Parvati for one 14 hour day each week.
Although Laura’s child care situation is working out for now, it’s neither easy nor reliable. Her employer cannot promise that her and Matt’s shifts will always overlap like they do now, and with their babysitter planning to move away, finding a replacement will be tough.
“Finding daycare for two children is going to be harder than just one child,” Laura says. “By the time I return to work [next year] my children will be 3 and 1 years old. Not many centres take children that young, so there’s a chance they may need to go to separate places based on their ages. Not many people want to get up at 4:30 am to take care of a toddler and a baby all day.”
It takes a village
Many parents living in communities across the country are in a similar situation to Laura. They are coming together to make sure child care is available for those who need it.
In 2015, a 24-hour licensed child care centre located in Barrie, Ontario, opened with 70 licensed spots. It has a steady waitlist of around 800 children. Penticton is running a pilot pre-school program for four year olds, and is the first of its kind in B.C. that will be operated by a public school district. And back in Trail, parents like Laura may be lucky enough to get their children a spot at the new Unicorn child care centre.
The Unicorn child care centre is a result of 15 years of community consultations and research. And multiple stakeholders put in countless hours to help the City of Trail plan for and access provincial grant money to create new child care spaces in the community.
“Knowing we will be able to accommodate families needing shift-friendly child care is a huge win for our community,” said Sue Bock, a local contractor who led a feasibility study in 2018 assessing the availability of child care in Trail, in a news release. “The study reveals the current availability of child care creates a significant barrier to families, mainly those working in shift work environments.”
The new centre will offer 65 full-time spaces to parents like Laura, in the Greater Trail area who work shift, casual or irregular hours. The centre will operate all year, seven days a week, from 4:30 am to 8:00 pm and will be located in Tadanac, a neighbourhood a short walk away from Teck’s Trail operations.
“It would make a huge difference for our family,” Laura says. “They’d be open before I start work and it means a sense of security. A shift friendly daycare also means I could have one child care provider instead of three.”
The fair cost of care
Laura is not alone in her struggle to secure child care in the Kootenays or in Canada. Spaces for children under the age of 2.5 are hard to come by. According to Statistics Canada, 53% of parents have a hard time finding care, and when they do, they pay.
“The cost of child care is daunting,” Laura says. “The cost of living just never seems to stop going up, and we don’t qualify for any subsidies. I can only hope that one day we do see a universal child care program roll out federally.”
Affordable child care is a passion of Sharon Gregson’s, a long time advocate for affordable child care living in Vancouver. She wants B.C. to follow Quebec’s lead and designate early childhood education a public service, like health care and public schools. She also wants governments to ensure that early childhood educators (ECEs) will be there to care for the children when the spots open up.
“Many people love their work but can’t afford to stay in the sector, and so they move on within five years of obtaining their credentials,” Sharon explained in a recent news article.
Over 95% of early childhood educators and assistants in Canada are women. Wages are low: the average ECE makes $16.50 an hour or $24,000 a year — less than half the average annual income of workers in all other professions.
Laura understands that finding child care workers to run the Unicorn Childcare Centre may be a challenge. Still, she is hopeful she will be able to secure two of those spots for 2022, which is when the centre will be opening, and that maybe it will be the beginning of more good things to come for working mothers like her.
“It opens the doors and is nice to see so many organisations come together and come up with a realistic solution to a huge gap,” Laura says. “The hours are great, however, there are only two or three 24 hour care facilities in all of Canada. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a leading edge daycare take the next step within our own community?”
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