Shannon Klotz doesn't exactly know what she's going to do once her maternity leave ends later this year.

Klotz has three kids all under the age of six, and she's currently wondering who will take care of them once she returns to work, with both public Estevan daycares full with lengthy waiting lists.

"I'm supposed to be returning to work in six weeks, and we were paying for daycare for the last eight months to hold spots for when I return back to work, and unfortunately those spots fell through because of staffing issues at the daycare we were going to, so now I'm scrambling last minute to find something," Klotz said.

"So it's hard to be a working mom trying to go back to work. You need those daycare spots, and if you can't get them, then that means you can't work."

A couple of phone calls made from our DiscoverEstevan newsroom Thursday morning revealed just how dire the situation is. The Estevan Daycare Co-operative's current waitlist is in the 400-500 range. The centre has 90 spots at any given time. 

"Our waitlist grows pretty much each day," said the Estevan Daycare's Director Nikki Schreiner. "There are times where we've had people call and I have to say it's about a two to three year wait and they don't even put their kids on because by the time they get in they won't need care anymore."

Hillcrest Early Learning Centre's wait list is up to about 200 names right now, according to its director Hardeep Badyal.

"To be honest, it is very challenging right now," said Badyal, who says they have 55 spots at any given time. "This industry is feeling a burnout. And the real challenge that the daycares are facing right now is the staff. There is not enough manpower."

"It's a lot of commitment, you are working with tiny humans. I don't think the people who are working in this industry are getting paid enough to stay in the industry," Badyal added.

DaycareFile photo.

Schreiner says Estevan could really use another space.

"We could benefit definitely from even having a before and after school program in town, another licensed centre," she said. "I know it's not that easy...there's so many steps and so many hoops to jump through so that makes it quite hard for somebody to take on that challenge. It's not like a couple month process, it's probably a one to two year process of getting one started and getting a facility up and going."

Badyal agreed that Estevan could use another centre, but pointed to the staffing issue once again.

"Yes definitely, if there's more staff," she said. "What's the point of opening a daycare if there's no people to come and work at it?"

Estevan MLA Lori Carr also addressed the issue last week in a discussion with city residents.

"I would love to see more new spaces in Estevan. It's a matter of industry deciding that they want to set up a daycare, and then we will give those spaces the granting and the funding to go with them," Carr said.

Schreiner thinks the province can step up and do more.

"They want to see more spaces open up in our area, but they're also not doing anything to really help get that started. They're saying it's up to the industry itself to do it...but we're tapped out. We have 90 spots, that's about all we are going to be able to have here," she said. 

"So if they want to see more spots I think they need to step up and help the community look into options and guide them in the right direction on how to go about doing that."

Klotz agreed that the government could provide more support.

"I commend them for subsidizing daycares and whatnot, but I really think the wages limit finding staff. So yeah I do think there is more that the government could do to help," Klotz said.

She added that United Way could also play a key role in addressing the problem in Estevan.

"I just know that they recently did a survey asking the community what they think Estevan needs, and I definitely think Estevan needs more daycare spots," Klotz said. "It's not easy to open a daycare, I think it would take several different community agencies and maybe United Way would be one of those partners that could potentially help solve the issue."

In the meantime, she hopes people in Estevan realize this is a community wide issue that affects a number of people.

"I do think it's bigger than just an issue for the families who are looking for spots. We have so many unfilled jobs right now in this city, nursing jobs, people in the financial world, and if we can't provide childcare for those families then the people can't get back to work in those jobs that we desperately need them in," she said.

"So I do think it's more than just a personal family issue for people. It's a community issue too."