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'I'm at a loss' if teachers strike continues says mom

Anne Bélanger, mother of an eight-year-old special needs son, holds a letter from her child care provider saying she could be on the hook if an additional $3,200 a month if the teachers strike continues into the new school year. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
Anne Bélanger, mother of an eight-year-old special needs son, holds a letter from her child care provider saying she could be on the hook if an additional $3,200 a month if the teachers strike continues into the new school year.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

If the teachers strike continues into the new school year New Westminster mom Anne Bélanger could have a difficult decision with disastrous financial implications no matter which direction she chooses.

Bélanger is worried she'll either have to quit her job to take care of her special needs son during school hours or pay an additional $3,200 a month in day care.

"I really don't know what to do," said Bélanger at a press conference held at New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy's constituency office Thursday. "I don't want to quit my job and be unable to support my family. I'm at a loss."

Bélanger's fear came about when she received a letter from the Simon Fraser Society for Community Living. It's the organization that provides supported child development in New West and the Tri-Cities area under contract from the provincial Ministry of Child and Family Development.

The letter said while the society knows it will still have funding for before and after school care "should the job action go into September we will not be able to fund the additional hours" from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (The ministry also subsidizes all-day care for special needs children during the summer.)

The Ministry of Education is responsible when school is in session. Bélanger's eight-year-old son Miles is entering Grade 4 at Herbert Spencer elementary. He has spinal muscular atrophy and needs a wheelchair to get around. At school he has an educational assistant to help him with his needs.

When Bélanger inquired how much all-day care would cost she was told it would be approximately $3,200 a month more than the regular fee she pays for day care.

Bélanger was shocked. She tried to find answers but couldn't. When she talked to her employer about taking time off she received a lot of blank stares. Continue to work and her paycheque would be decimated.

"$3,200 is a a mortgage payment, a car payment, food on the table. How are we supposed to manage?" said Bélanger.

In her view, hiring somebody herself isn't a practical solution either.

"I can't just hire a 15-year-old baby sitter. There's so many facets to his life that are impacted by his disability," she said. "At this point I'm going to have to fork it over."

Frustrated, she went to Darcy. The NDP MLA went contacted both ministries but wasn't getting any answers either, so they decided to go public.

"[Miles] is falling between the cracks. The government is not coming up with a solution," said Darcy. "We've tried everything and at a certain point you've got to go to the public."

Darcy said according to the society 150 to 200 children in New Westminster and the Tri-Cities would be affected. That means, said Darcy, thousands of families across the province could face similar dilemmas come September. Some of them with children with even higher needs than Bélanger's son.

A Ministry of Child and Family Development statement said no final decision has been made on additional funding if the strike continues into the school year. It also said the ministry has not provided any information to its contractors that indicated it had made a final decision. However, the ministry said it is reviewing the strike's implication while remaining hopeful a deal can be worked out.

Bélanger wasn't impressed with the province's offer earlier this summer of $40 a day per child to all parents if the strike continues into the school year.

"It barely makes a dent in my $3,200," said Bélanger. "It's laughable, shortsighted and it's nothing short of bribery."

If anything, give the money directly to the child care providers, she said.

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