With schools winding down and summer heating up, Manitoba Families is moving to ease the potential child-care load for parents.
During a news conference Friday, Families Minister Rochelle Squires announced full-time child-care programs and summer day camps will return for school-aged children, beginning July 1, and will run through August.
"We know that many families make use of our summer day camps provided by various organizations across the province, and that in many cases, parents rely on these day camps as a secondary kind of child care for the summer months," the minister said.
Amid the province’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, there will be no change to cohort sizes for licensed child-care facilities — capped at 30 children — while summer day camps will open with cohort sizes of 20, Squires said.
Day camp programs will only be an option for families with children age 11 and under who do not attend licensed child-care facilities.
The minister thanked Manitobans for "important sacrifices" they have made throughout the past year, as parents and school-aged children pivoted to remote learning throughout the spring.
"We know that a parent’s ability to work may be dependent on the availability of child-care, and I would like to acknowledge Manitoba’s early learning and child care sector, and all Manitobans, for their flexibility to adapt to the advice from our public health officials as we continue to navigate this pandemic," she said.
Deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said the move comes as COVID-19 case numbers have begun to drop across the province.
"We’re providing this information today to allow sites and parents to begin planning," Atwal said, noting further details will come next week, along with new public health orders.
"This will help alleviate some of the pressure on licensed child-care facilities. Manitobans have done a lot of hard work in following the public health orders, parents have had to navigate the pandemic while juggling caring for their children, and I applaud them for their efforts during this challenging time."
Head of the Manitoba Child Care Association, Jodie Kehl, said centres were anticipating the change and had received an updated practice guide from chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin weeks ago, to help ensure staff and children remain safe.
"I think its good news for a number of reasons... I think that this is a chance for school-aged children to get back to a routine, get back to seeing their friends, get back to some normalcy," Kehl said, after the announcement.
"On the other side, I think it’s really good for families who probably were having major apprehension and anxiety about what they were going to do after June 30."
Staff at child-care facilities have been working continuously over the last 16 months, Kehl said, and are well-versed in sanitation and other health and safety procedures. The advantage of summer weather and opportunities to get children outside will also help keep everyone safe, she added.
In the case of an outbreak at a child care facility or day camp, Atwal said public health will assess the risk before deciding whether public announcements are warranted.
"If a case ever develops there, we would do our public health investigation and take the steps that are required to ensure that we mitigate risk in relation to spread of the virus and to manage the situation as well, and to provide that information, if needed, to the public," he said.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.