Quebec child care benefits dazzle Qikiqtani visitors

Three times as many spaces, for $7 a day, makes Nunavik more child-friendly than Nunavut


KUUJJUAQ — Nunavut and Nunavik may share an Inuit language and culture, a common history, and similar challenges — but not everything is the same.

Take child care, for instance.

Last week, Larry Audlaluk of Grise Fiord and Sakiasie Sowdluapik of Pangnirtung stood side-by-side in a playroom at Kuujjuaq’s Tumiapiik childcare centre, reading out ai-pai-tai syllabics posted on the wall. It was clear the two weren’t in the Baffin: huge, new child care centres, with their focus on early learning and Inuit language and culture, can only be found in Nunavik.

Audlaluk and Sowdluapik visited Kuujjuaq for two days, along with a group from Kakivak Association, to learn more about Nunavik’s organizations and services.

“The regions can help each other” was the welcome message they received from Adamie Alaku, the Makivik Corporation’s vice-president for economic development. “Partnerships are the way to go, because our issues are pretty much the same. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”

A visit to one of Kuujjuaq’s two child care centres turned out to be an eye-opener for the group, who wanted to know more about costs, funding, licensing, numbers and use.

Kakivak, as the non-profit Inuit economic development society for Inuit in the Qikiqtani region of Baffin Island, also oversees the delivery of child care programs to Inuit.

“I was impressed — the space they have, the building they have. It looks like a school,” said Eva Eetuk-Groves, who is in charge of child care programs at Kakivak. “I couldn’t believe they have 80 spaces and two centres in a community of 2,000! I think every community should have that kind of support, that type of model.”

Yet just a few years ago, there was only one child care centre, with 40 spaces, in Kuujjuaq, and nothing at all in other Nunavik communities.

In 1995, a regional consultation showed a growing need for child care, due to the increasing number of women in the workforce. Elders also said they needed help to care for larger numbers of young children. All communities wanted child care centres badly.

At the same time, child care also became a provincial priority, with Quebec both promoting and funding affordable, universal child care for all pre-school age children.

The Kativik Regional Government now provides licences, funding, support, and inspection for Nunavik’s child care centres, with a total budget of $12 million. The majority of this money comes from Québec (about 84 per cent) and the balance from the federal government.

The region’s 16 centres are non-profit corporations, managed by parent boards of directors.

There are 815 full-time child care spaces in Nunavik. In comparison, with a population three times as large, Nunavut has only 959 child care spaces, including aboriginal head start programs, pre-school programs and full- and part-time after-school programs.

Kuujjuaq alone has 160 child care spaces, not counting its home child care operations, while Iqaluit has less than 160, to serve three times the population.

Parents in Nunavut also pay more for child care. Parents of kids at Tumiapiit pay $7 a day for child care — the same rate as other parents in Quebec.

But, at Iqaluit’s Kids on the Beach child care, full-time care costs $200 per week. Beneficiaries qualify for federal funding, administered by Kakivak, which picks up half of care costs.

But, even with a subsidy, child care still costs three times more in Iqaluit than in Nunavik, and six times more for parents who don’t qualify for a subsidy than it would in Nunavik.

Though child care in Nunavik is less costly to parents than in Nunavut, child care workers are better paid, with starting salaries of $18 an hour. They also have access to the Quebec child care employees’ pension.

About 230 work in the Nunavik’s child care centres, and nearly all (98 per cent) are Inuit. Inuttitut is the language spoken to the kids, many of whom also speak English and French.

At the centre, visitors from Nunavut were on hand as a yummy hot breakfast of ham and eggs with orange slices was wheeled out to the kids. Snacks and two full meals are part of every child care centre, and all of the children’s daily nutritional requirements are met.

Tumiapiit is also participating in a project to fight iron deficiency anemia and the above-average rates of this anemia found among Inuit children, through a diet rich in iron. Anemia can slow down brain development and cause behaviour problems. To avoid health problems, Tumiapiit is providing improved menus and promoting country foods.

Tumiapiit, like other child care centres, is built to be attractive and functional, inside and out.

“It looks like a school. They even have a traditional playground with a boat,” noted Eetuk-Groves. That’s part of the KRG’s playground’s project, started in 2003, for playgrounds adapted to Nunavik’s climate, materials and Inuit culture and tradition. Each centre comes up with its own plans for a playground.

Eetuk-Groves returned from Kuujjuaq encouraged to build up the Qikiqtani’s child care system.

“If they can do it, we can do it. There are all sorts of possibilities,” Groves said. “We’re all so glad to have had the chance to go their delivery of the program. We’re going to work on it.”

In addition to Eetuk-Groves, the group in Kuujjuaq included Audlaluk, an executive member of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association who also serves as chairperson of Kakivak’s board of directors.

Also visiting Kuujjuaq were Rita Mike, Sakiasie Sowdluapik, Joanasie Kooneeloosie, and staff members Leonie Qaumariaq, Annie Natsiapik, Martha Smith and Gordon Miles. After their visit to the child care centre, they continued to tour Kuujjuaq, visiting the municipal office, Makivik Corp., the Kativik Regional Government, as well as other facilities, offices and businesses around the community.

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