Speaking for the little people

Jun 26, 2003, vol. 27, no. 5
By Marianne Meadahl

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She's best known for speaking for the little people on campus.

It's clear too, watching Sheila Davidson (above) among the frolicking, sun-hatted three-year-olds from Nanitsh, one of 11 SFU childcare centre programs, that her advocacy comes from the heart.

“I always knew I wanted to work with children, but I had no desire to be a teacher,” says Davidson, the recipient of this year's C.D. Nelson award.
The SFU prize is given annually in recognition of contributions to the university outside the academic realm.

Davidson has been executive director of SFU's childcare centre since 1991. With her guidance, the childcare centre has undergone a major expansion of both its facilities and programs. A new hot lunch kitchen - complete with chef - is the latest example.

Davidson recently stepped down after six years as chair of the provincial childcare council. During that time she was one of the founding members of the childcare advocacy forum and has been a tireless activist for quality publicly funded childcare services.

Davidson's advocacy stretched through two governments and six different cabinet ministers. Her disappointment with the current Liberal government's approach to childcare is clear. “I support public funding for all children, but you can't have a good support system without a base,” she says.

“This government is not supporting childcare, as is clearly evident in their decisions to spend federal early childhood development and multilateral agreement funds on anything but childcare.”

She believes the former NDP government's initiative called Childcare B.C. was a step in the right direction. “If it had been rolled out in its entirety it would have given access to childcare for all at $14 a day,” she says.

Davidson says one bright spot is a recent government initiative to put $900 million into childcare over the next five years. Her disappointment was learning the first year would see only $3.3 million spent, and that those funds will go only to children requiring extra support, rather than toward the building of an affordable system.

Her frustration is evident, but Davidson is optimistic. “One of the biggest challenges is to see society as a whole value our children and recognize that when you value them as young people, you will make a difference in the rest of their lives.”

Davidson oversees one of the largest university childcare centres in Canada (it was also the first, with its opening in 1968) with a staff of 40, a budget of $2 million and 210 licenced spaces.

In 2002, she received the Gayle Davies award for excellence in early childhood care and education. The award, which recognizes attributes of “peace, power, friendship and vision,” is given annually by the Early Childhood Educators of B.C.

Davidson acknowledges a payback of sorts, a daily gift in the happy sounds of play outside her office window. “This is my environment,” she says. “I can't think of more fulfilling place to be.”

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