Nunavut hopes new subsidies will help teen parents
Many of our young people are getting pregnant, age 14 and up”
The government of Nunavut is handing out new subsidies to cover the rising costs of daycare for teenage parents willing to stay in school.
The program is called Young Parents Stay Learning, an initiative started with little fanfare in this year’s territorial budget.
Ed Picco, Nunavut’s minister of education, said the program aims to convince more teens not to drop out of school because of the pressures of early parenthood.
“Many of our young people are getting pregnant, age 14 and up,” Picco said. “And they have to drop out because they have no daycare support, and they can’t afford a babysitter. We are, for the first time, providing support for those people who had no chance or no choice of being able to afford daycare.”
The territorial government has earmarked nearly $500,000 to run the program over the coming school year, beginning in September.
In Picco’s view, the program fills a gap created by previous rules for receiving social assistance.
Until now, parents under 18 weren’t eligible for daycare subsidies from the GN.
The new program means those parents can look forward to free daycare for their kids next school year.
But the program is already facing one major obstacle: a need for hundreds of additional daycare spaces in facilities across the territory.
Picco estimates the government will be able to keep up with the growing demand from students needing daycare facilities by building new schools with daycare spaces, or including daycare spaces in renovations done on old schools.
At least one childcare worker has mixed feelings about the Young Parents Stay Learning program.
Evelyn Thordarson, executive director of the Kataujaq Society in Rankin Inlet, said she’s happy to hear the government’s helping young parents.
Thordarson said young parents are more likely to drop out of school to take care of their child, if they can’t find enough money to pay for daycare on their own.
But Thordarson predicted young parents will find it difficult, even with the new subsidies, to continue their studies, because many daycare centres lack space, and have long waiting lists.
“There’s a chronic need for more daycare money,” Thordarson said. “We need infrastructure money to build new facilities. There’s no money for it. If there is, I don’t know where it is.”
Michelene Kilabuk-Coté, a 19-year-old student at Inuksuk High School, said the Young Parents Stay Learning program should have been created years ago.
Kilabuk-Coté said she was only able to afford daycare after her two-year-old son, Josie, was born because her family and her boyfriend’s family helped pay the bills.
Otherwise, Kilabuk-Coté wouldn’t have been able to return to her studies. Now, she’s been chosen the graduating class’ co-valedictorian, and plans to go to university.
“I wanted to do this for my mother and father, for myself and my son,” Kilabuk-Coté said. “The key for his future is for me to get my education, so he can have the best life he can have.”
The department of education hasn’t yet received any applications for Young Parents Stay Learning. But more students are expected to apply during the summer.
Young parents who want to apply immediately should call one of the department’s regional offices in Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet or Pangnirtung.
Education officials hope to have applications available at all schools, health care centres, and child care facilities, in the coming months.