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Child care wages 'demoralizing' [CA]

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Philp, Margaret
Publication Date: 
9 Nov 2004

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Kate Paquette would be a catch for any child care centre: hard-working and bright, she holds a college diploma in early childhood education, a university degree in child studies and relishes the prospect of spending hours every day in a room full of preschoolers.

But four years after graduating, she can't find a permanent job at a licensed child care centre. At 30, after years living on her own, she has swallowed her pride and moved back in with her parents.

Not that there are no jobs in the child care industry. But as a serious educator versed in the theories of child development and trained at some of Ottawa's top-ranked child care centres, Ms. Paquette refuses to work in second-rate child care centres for poverty wages. While holding out for a decent job, she has strung together a few contracts and supply-teaching stints.

"Maybe my standards are high, but I don't want to work for $10.50 an hour and have the lives of 10 or 15 children in my hands," she said.

"To have five years experience and five years of education, and to not be able to get a full-time job that pays more than $12 an hour is very demoralizing."

As the federal government and the provinces start drafting the blueprint for a public system of early education and care for young children, a new report to be released today shows more than half of graduates in early-childhood education, like Ms. Paquette, are working outside their chosen field. Five years after graduating from colleges across Canada, only 42 per cent of them work in the industry.

The study by the Child Care Human Resources Sector Council finds that the people entrusted to educate and care for toddlers and preschoolers are paid half the average wage in Canada -- with full-time child care workers earning an average of $22,500 a year -- even though they are more educated and work longer hours than those in other occupations.

Despite their meagre wages, child care workers reported dealing with more children with attention-deficit and behaviour problems, more families suffering poverty and dysfunction, and mounting pressure to teach children reading, writing and math.

Other child care workers complain that while they have been trained in child development, they are stuck with cleaning and maintenance chores. Supervisors say they are often too distracted by funding shortfalls to devote the time to curriculum.

"There are a lot of people who want to work in the field, and that's why they go into early-childhood studies in the first place. But in the course of doing their diploma or certificate or degree, they do a placement and become more aware that it's low wages, often poor working conditions and the quality of child care is not exemplary in many parts of the country," said Jane Beach, a researcher for the council, one of dozens of federally funded bodies that study various occupations in Canada.

In Canada, while fewer students enroll in ECE programs and fewer of those graduating pursue careers in child care, the work force is aging. The number of workers under 25 shrank to 32 per cent in 2001 from 44 per cent a decade earlier.

When Ms. Paquette recalls her graduating class, she estimates only about half of her classmates ended up in child care.

"I'm holding out," she said. "I believe in it. These little beings, these human beings, are just amazing. It's really a rewarding career. I love it."

- reprinted from the Globe and Mail