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Canadian childcare in crisis

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Davies, Mike
Publication Date: 
15 May 2012



After finding out that May is National Childcare Month, I thought I’d
do a nice little piece on the fact that Thompson Rivers University
(TRU) has its own on-campus childcare facility devoted to both
university students and staff, how student-parents can (and should) take
advantage of the day care and how much its very existence benefits the
campus community as a whole.

While all of this is undoubtedly true, I found that the story simply
would not be sated with such a cursory examination of the subject — at
least as far as how it relates to the topic of National Childcare Month.
Many people had strong opinions on the subject — most of which were
extremely negative illustrations about the current state of childcare in
this country — so I went deeper to explore what was causing all the
emotion behind this heated topic.

I knew going in that I personally pay a large percentage of my
family’s income to have my child in a day care facility, but he enjoys
it, he gains social skills, he learns something new seemingly every day
he’s there, and really, I just chalked it up to, “That’s what you have
to do. It’s not like we can afford to have one of us staying home with

I didn’t realize that the situation was far more complicated than
just the out-of-pocket expense incurred by parents, and I decided that
National Childcare Month is the perfect time to examine what the current
state of childcare is in Canada, what we can do to improve that
situation and who is working on doing just that.

Is there a “crisis” in Canadian childcare?

In a 2008 UNICEF report, Canada tied for last place among 25
developed countries on early childcare services. The report — in which
Canada failed to meet nine of the ten benchmarks — seems to lend support
to the idea that we, as many say, are in a childcare “crisis” in
Canada. The only standard that Canada met in the UNICEF study was the
benchmark acknowledging that 50 per cent of staff in accredited early
education services have obtained post-secondary qualifications.

The Canadian Childcare Resource and Research Unit (CCRRU), whose
mandate is “to collect, organize and synthesize early childhood
education and child care information resources and to make them widely
available,” also released a report in 2008, where they found that there
were only regulated — meaning licensed — childcare spaces for 18.6 per
cent of 0-12 year-olds in Canada, and only 20.3 per cent of 0-5 year

This means that 79.7 per cent of children under the age of six did
not have a licensed space available. According to that same study, the
growth in the total number of childcare spaces available had gone down
from 50,831 per year (average) between 2001-2004 to only 29,791 in

While these statistics alone would indicate a major problem, the main
reason that many consider Canada to be in a childcare “crisis” is the
lack of a publicly funded and delivered system for childcare — one of
the main benchmarks Canada failed to meet that was highlighted in the
UNICEF study.

“Crisis, I think, is the correct way to characterize where Canada is
at,” admitted Darcie Beggs, senior equality officer with the Canadian
Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

According to Beggs, CUPE represents about 9000 childcare workers
across the country, and “has long worked hard in coalition with other
unions, childcare activists, etcetera to ensure that Canada has a
national childcare program that is publicly funded and delivered.”

Unfortunately, she said, their pleas to the government have largely fallen on deaf ears over the past few years.

“The federal government has basically abandoned childcare issues,”
she said. “When this government came to power, one of the first things
they did was to quash the deal that was made between the provinces and
the then federal Liberal government to actually introduce a childcare
program,” which she said is the main cause of the “crisis” in Canadian

Because of the lack of federal funding and policy, according to
Beggs, “[childcare has] now become a market-based approach rather than,
if you will, a system-based approach to delivering childcare. Because
there isn’t enough quality childcare where there are trained workers who
have decent wages and benefits and are actually trained early childhood
educators, people have to use their own resources to try to find care
for their kids rather than there being a system for ensuring that there
is quality care in our communities.”

She added that the result of a lack of public funding and delivery is
that for-profit centres are growing to compensate for a market that has
too few public, non-profit facilities.

CUPE’s desire for a publicly funded and delivered system for
childcare has caused CUPE to throw their support behind The Community
Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care & Learning — or as
it is commonly known in the British Columbia childcare community,
simply “The Plan.”

“The Plan”

“The Plan” is a proposal that has been put forward by the Coalition
of Child Care Advocates of BC (CCCABC) and the Early Childhood Educators
of BC that they claim would ease, if not resolve, the current childcare

“’The Plan’ combines the best of public education with the best of
childcare,” according to Sharon Gregson, long time childcare advocate
and CCCABC spokesperson, as well as easing the financial burden on
families by putting a cap on parent fees at $10 per day and see families
earning less than $40,000 per year incur no user fees whatsoever.

“Just as children have a right to go to school, they have the right
to access high quality child care. Child care should not just be for
parents who are wealthy or lucky,” she said.

Gregson pointed out some similarities between “The Plan” and Québec’s public childcare system, which has a $7 user fee.

Despite the price being right for parents however, a lack of
accessibility to the public facilities in that province — due in large
part to the number of people going after those $7 per day price tag
services — creates other significant problems.

McGill University’s on-campus day care centre, known officially as
the Centre de la Petite Enfance de McGill, for example, serves 106
children of McGill students, staff, and faculty, but there are close to
800 children on the waiting list — a list that sees parents waiting
about three years for an available space.

Because the centre is government-subsidized, those fortunate enough
to have a space pay just $7 a day, which is likely why the wait-list is
so long. Private daycares in Montreal can cost from around $45 per day
to upwards of $60.

The other government-subsidized facility reserved for the McGill
community — the SSMU (McGill’s Student Society) Daycare — has spots for
eight infants (0 to18 months) and 32 children (18 to 60 months). Their
waitlist is over 350.

According to Annie Shiel, a reporter for The McGill Daily, many
student-parents turn to nannies or non-government-subsidized childcare
facilities (some of which are unlicensed and operate out of private
residences) because they just can’t wait for a spot to open somewhere
for them.

When you compare those numbers to the current “spaces available
versus waitlist length” situation in B.C., you start to think that it is
a bit of give-and-take as far as the non-subsidized system is
Sure it costs more than $7 per day, but far less than $45 to $60 — even
before you take into account the $100 monthly cheque families outside
Québec receive from the government (per child) to help with childcare,
with low-income families qualifying for more assistance once registered
in a facility — and I couldn’t find anyone out west who sat on a
childcare waitlist for three years, either.

The TRU childcare waitlist, for example, is currently hovering in the
200 per cent of spaces available range, according to Marian Hardy,
executive director of the Cariboo Childcare Society, the non-profit
organization that operates the TRU childcare facilities.

That’s a far cry from the 700-plus per cent range seen many places in
Québec. Hardy said TRU student-parents can “realistically expect to
wait 12 to 18 months,” which is less than half of the expected wait-time
at McGill.

The University of British Columbia (UBC), the largest childcare
provider of any North American post-secondary institution, has recently
added even more spaces for children, and delegated more of its budget to
childcare, including $100,000 per year for ten years (beginning in
2008) from the Capital Projects Acquisition and Construction Fund.

Despite adding spaces and throwing money at the problem, their waitlists haven’t gone down — but they haven’t gone up, either.

One of the main changes proposed in “The Plan” is that control of
childcare would move from the Ministry of Children and Family
Development to the Ministry of Education.

This change is a significant one, according to Beggs, “because
childcare is also childcare and learning, and we know how important it
is for the learning part of childcare to be seen and recognized.”

She thinks that too much public mindset about childcare facilities is
that they are basically babysitters where people drop off their kids
for the day, and not enough emphasis is placed on them as being places
of teaching and early childhood development.

“We’re not just providing day care,” Hardy said. She has been in the
childcare field for 26 years, and thinks the change is long overdue.

“In an ideal world, every school would have a wing for early
childhood education, and it would be appreciated for its value,” she

According to Beggs, it is a natural fit for childcare to come under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education.
“We’re used to having the government deliver programs in schools, so
it’s a good fit and easy shift to expanding the [education] program to
include the early learning and care centres as well.”

She also thinks the shift makes sense both in terms of changing the mindset, as well as logistically.
“The facilities are already there,” she said. “The infrastructure is in
place to house a quality centre, and it’s partly the strategic shift to
think about it not just as day care, it’s not babysitting, but it’s
really learning and care and the services can be delivered by qualified
early childhood educators.”

Hardy agrees, but admitted that “trying to get everyone to the table is the problem,” in terms of changing the mindset en masse.

- reprinted from The Omega