Child-sized, critical steps

There’s an entire community working together, and through child-sized, yet critical steps, UBC Child Care is nurturing inclusivity in a new generation — at a price people can afford.

When Barbara Undurraga began her role at Discovery Daycare, one of UBC’s child care centres, the first thing she noticed was a sign depicting two white children exploring some sort of fantasy forest and a Canadian flag.

Something about that didn’t sit well with her. Especially with the flag out front.

The image, when considered with the centre’s name, brought to mind the Doctrine of Discovery — international principles set in the 15th century that allowed Christian powers to lay claim to non-Christian territories and their resources. Because of this, social values and systems set by Indigenous peoples inhabiting Turtle Island were overruled in favour of the colonial ideals we still live by today.

Undurraga, who has worked in early childhood education for 20 years, currently serves as the acting senior educator at Discovery, a centre specifically for children under 36 months. She brought up her concerns about the name and its implications with her team, opening up a conversation about inclusivity in the centre.

Undurraga is just one part of the movement to decolonize child care at UBC. There’s an entire community taking child-sized yet critical steps together to nurture inclusivity in a new generation — at a price people can afford, too.

Enalyne Point used to work as an early childhood educator, but in 2021, she stepped into the newly-created position of Indigenous relations engagement pedagogist for UBC Child Care Services (CCS).

Point — who has lived in Musqueam for 18 years and said she is part of the community by marriage — has always tried to weave Indigenous values and practices into her work, and she now spearheads initiatives to help other childhood educators across UBC do the same.

“What I’ve been doing is working with the educators, first and foremost, as a collective unit to bring Indigenous topics to the forefront, and really think about how we can decolonize within ourselves,” she said.

Unlike Undurraga, Point doesn’t typically work with children firsthand. Kids need consistency and routine, so it would be impossible for Point to spend enough time with each of them to see tangible change. Instead, she takes the lead on professional development, spending most of her time working with educators, who relay what they’ve learned to children and their families.

“Each centre has such a unique philosophy,” said Point. “I feel like providing the information and the teaching with the educators makes sure that they could really fine tune it to work with the philosophies of their centres. Then they have the ability, the agency to consistently embed it into their centres.”

UBC’s child care centres cater to particular age groups, and offer different teaching styles and goals, so parents can make informed decisions about their child’s education.

Many of UBC’s early childhood educators are not originally from Canada, and may not be familiar with the country’s colonial history, so educating them on these topics in a judgment-free space is a priority for Point.

One of her main projects has been the Indigenous Insight newsletters that she sends out to CCS staff every week — writings on historical and contemporary topics relating to Indigeneity, often based on discussions that she and her late husband would have about things non-Indigenous people might not understand.

Point has also curated a lending library where educators can freely access Indigenous literature, so they can bring books to their centre for children or simply read them to further their own learning.

She also discusses these subjects with educators at twice-monthly “tea talks.”

“[In Musqueam], one of the informal customs is that anyone can come over, and there’ll always be a pot of tea and a table setting for you to ... have a conversation with whoever you like,” said Point. “Bringing that practice here at UBC Child Care has been a love of mine, where over a pot of tea, we can just talk and create safe spaces.”

Point has also worked with each CCS centre to create a specialized land acknowledgment, and showed them “why it’s more than just a tick of the box, and how to make it meaningful and authentic.”

The more that educators know, the more they will be able to relay to the kids — an age-appropriate introduction to Indigenous histories as a primer for the discussions they will be having later in their education.

“We look at ourselves as really the first rung on the ladder of education,” said Karen Vaughan, director of UBC CCS.

As part of CCS’s management team, Vaughan is responsible for determining the direction of UBC’s child care services and meeting with educators regularly to make this happen. Currently, supporting Point’s initiatives is a priority for her — she “spend[s] quite a bit of time with the educators exploring our vision, our values, Indigeneity, decolonizing our practices.”

“I’m hopeful and excited that we can help achieve and expand on the goals and actions of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan by extending Indigenous education into the pre-kindergarten setting, for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in our care,” Vaughan said.

Educators like Undurraga are feeling the benefits of Point’s initiatives. In the bustle of a daycare, it’s not often that educators get the chance to slow down and reflect on why their work matters and how they can improve.

“I sit down with her, and she helps me understand what we can do to have an open heart, to have good intentions, genuinely, and be truthful,” said Undurraga. “It doesn’t take just one person, it takes the whole community.”

UBC’s surrounding forests are a huge asset to its child care centres, said Undurraga. It’s easy to centre connection to the land when trees and trails are just a few steps away. Point sometimes takes staff on guided “medicine walks,” which are an opportunity to decompress, but also a chance to learn more about their environment and how to engage with it respectfully.

“Sometimes families will join us and go for walks,” said Undurraga. “They also are having fun, they’re smiling and they’re participating with the children’s learning. It’s beautiful to see.”

While doing renovations at Discovery, Undurraga and her team realized that many of the plants were invasive species in North America. With Point’s help, they identified plants native to Coast Salish land, like salal and huckleberry, and incorporated them into the new design of the centre.

“The children know the names. They also show the other children who are new how to eat it, how to touch it, how to be gentle,” Undurraga said.

Teaching kids how to respectfully engage with each other is a priority, especially when educating about colonization and reconciliation. Both Undurraga and Point emphasized the importance of approaching conversations around Indigeneity with an open mind and a willingness to make mistakes and then learn from them.

To educate families and help connect them with each other, Discovery holds potlucks where people have the chance to discuss their learning and practice keeping an open mind.

“It’s just about sitting and being quiet and listening to each other, and then we can plan things together,” said Undurraga.

CCS is trying its best to prioritize professional development, particularly through Point’s initiatives — but these services come at a cost, and they haven’t always had the means to implement them.

With BC’s new child care funding models gradually being rolled out, including recent expansions to the $10-a-day program, Point’s goals are a bit more feasible.

“The funding from the federal government and the provincial government is historical. We’ve never seen funding like this,” said Vaughan.

CCS currently has 746 licensed spaces on campus — 196 are infant/toddlers spaces, 344 are for children ranging from 30 months to age six, and the other 206 spaces are for school-aged children, according to Vaughan.

In January 2023, Vaughan said all of UBC’s infant and toddler spaces were taken into the $10-a-day program. A year later, all of its three to five-year-old spaces were also taken in.

Vaughan has already noticed families who weren’t previously accessing UBC’s services due to financial barriers are now able to do so.

“We have an agreement with the AMS to fill 40 per cent of our entire suite of child care spaces with student families,” said Vaughan. “And historically we’ve struggled to meet that 40 per cent, but last year, for the first time, we exceeded it. So that’s one of the indicators that could be correlated to affordability through $10-a-day child care.”

But $10-a-day daycare spots are limited, since not all centres across the province are part of the plan, which is only increasing demand for these affordable spots.

“I think our waitlists are probably going to grow, and we won’t be able to keep up with the growth in the waitlist, even [with] our childcare expansion plan,” Vaughan said.

UBC’s Child Care Expansion Plan aims to add 1,200 spaces by 2041, but it’s unlikely this will be enough. The plan also doesn’t account for the costs that come with professional development initiatives like Point’s or discuss the topic of Indigenizing child care at UBC.

Dr. Lea Caragata is the director of UBC’s School of Social Work and worked with Vancouver’s Centre for Family Equity on a 2023 report looking into the benefits of universal child care, including how it improves parent health and well-being, particularly for single mothers.

The report emphasizes that if families are to reap the full benefits of $10-a-day spaces, there has to be a more cohesive system in place.

When trying to access $10-a-day spots, parents enter a “hectic scramble.” They need to research their options, make phone calls and fill out forms — taking time that low-income families, often of intersecting marginalized identities, can’t set aside during a work day.

Having access to safe and secure child care helps parents prioritize caring for their children without having to make significant sacrifices in other parts of their life, whether that be work, safety and wellbeing or personal goals and relationships.

“At the end of the day, if [parents] knew that their children were well taken care of, they could do their jobs efficiently and effectively during the day, pick their kids up at five o’clock in the afternoon and really turn their attention to their children in a fulsome way,” Caragata said.

Learning takes place everywhere, not just in the classroom. Parents model behaviours that children pick up on, so shifting their own mindsets is a key step toward encouraging inclusivity, especially in the community-based work happening at CCS.

The time and effort that parents are able to put into their child’s education — engaging in potlucks, going on forest walks and doing self-guided reading — will play a role in how effective these methods ultimately end up being in increasing knowledge about Indigeneity.

But for some parents — and educators, who need to be properly compensated for running these activities — this standard of care is only attainable through initiatives like $10-a-day childcare.

Caragata’s report includes a list of recommendations for the provincial government to ensure that this is an option for as many people as possible. Among other things, they call for increasing the number of fully publicly funded spaces, taking “an equity-based approach” so that marginalized families have better chances at getting $10-a-day spots, implementing early childhood educator wage grids to prevent staff turnover and banning waitlist and registration fees.

“Kids who have good quality daycare have another parent-like figure with whom they can kind of build secure attachment, which also speaks to the need for stability in daycare staff,” said Caragata. “So it becomes kind of a circular thing because daycare staff don’t necessarily stay long because daycare staff aren’t very well paid.”

By prioritizing educators and their wellbeing and professional development, CCS is investing in the future of its spaces and aiming to encourage longevity in its employees.

“Our number one thing that we actually spend quite a bit of time on is hiring, and then ensuring that UBC is the best place to be as an early childhood educator through offering professional development,” said Vaughan.

When child care is appropriately funded, it’s so much easier to uphold high standards of care and keep thinking of new ways to drive reconciliation forward.

“If we look at affordability, accessibility and quality as a three-legged stool, the quality leg of the stool is directly related to the early childhood educators who do the work with children and families,” said Vaughan.

“They’re important, and I think it’s important that they’re held up as leaders here at UBC Child Care.”

Iman Janmohamed

Iman Janmohamed illustrator

Coordinating Editor

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