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Getting better child care: It's the policy, stupid [CA]

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Friendly, Martha
Publication Date: 
18 Dec 2008

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A new study of early childhood education and care in 25 countries ranked Canada in last place, tied with Ireland, behind the U.S., Australia and Mexico.

While other evidence has long shown Canada to be a laggard on child care, UNICEF's study &emdash; the first to use measurable outcomes &emdash; has motivated Canadians to ask, "Why are we doing so poorly?" The study offers a plain answer: "It's the policy, stupid," paraphrasing former U.S. president Bill Clinton's campaign slogan.

Two key developments drove the study. First, most children in affluent countries now have mothers working outside the home; 75 per cent of mothers of three- to five-year-olds are in the labour force in Canada.

Second, abundant research shows that young children &emdash; especially older preschoolers and more vulnerable children &emdash; benefit from good quality early childhood education (ECEC).

UNICEF observes that these developments converge: Access to good quality not only enhances a child's well-being and development with long-term social and economic returns, but is also a key strategy for responding to immediate economic challenges such as parents' access to employment, reduction of dependence on social programs, strengthening local economies and job creation.

The study bases its rankings on 10 benchmarks that build upon Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that states, "The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."

The rankings tell the public policy story. None of the six poorest ranking countries has a national plan for ECEC. The six top countries met most of the benchmarks, including public financing of at least one per cent of GDP while the poorest ranked countries met very few.

The benchmark ratings show that public policy "in the best interests of children" means that a national policy and adequate financing are linked to good access to quality ECEC programs and go hand-in-hand with better parental leave, lower child poverty rates and better health indicators for young children.

It's no wonder that UNICEF has called on Canada for a public policy response &emdash; "the federal government must take the lead … with solutions presented to the public by July 2009." A good beginning to this would be funds for child care in the January federal budget followed by development of a robust ECEC policy framework that meets the needs of families and children. Canada should do no less.

- reprinted from the Metro