Two groups of advocates for children in B.C. have developed a plan to help ease the financial burden of child care costs. The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC and the Early Childhood Educators of BC are asking government to reduce fees to $10 a day in licensed infant and toddler programs, and to offer free day care for families earning less than $40,000.
The groups say it would be a better investment than the 2015 tax benefit for families, which will cost about $146 million.
“It’s not the same as it was years ago,” said Charlene Gray, executive co-ordinator of the Comox Valley Children’s Day Care Society who serves on an advisory committee. “It’s very hard for people who work minimum-wage jobs, or even higher. They work to feed their kids. It’s the working middle class that gets hit quite hard.”
Next to a mortgage, she said child care is the second highest payment for parents in B.C.
Infant and toddler care is more expensive due to a higher educator-to-child ratio than centres for three- to five-year-olds, she added. Costs range from $780 to $2,000-plus per month.
As opposed to a ‘user fee’ system, the Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care & Learning calls for new public money for infant and toddler programs. Gray said a new system would reap more revenue from taxes. A greater number of parents would be able to enter the workforce because they could access quality child care. It would also replace the current subsidy structure and funding, which she says does not meet the needs of families in B.C.
“It is a place to start,” Gray said. “It would be affordable and it would address a key crisis area. It would have a huge impact on families and be a model moving forward.”
Government says it recognizes the challenges faced by parents struggling to balance family life while pursuing work and training opportunities.
“Unfortunately, implementing universal child care in B.C. – at an estimated cost of approximately $1.5 billion per year – is simply not feasible in our current economic climate,” said the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) in an emailed statement – the only correspondence the Ministry offered the Record on the subject.
Gray notes that Quebec has a system that pays for itself. That province saw an estimated 3.8 per cent increase in women’s employment in 2008, credited to low-fee child care.
“For every dollar invested in their child care system, their province recovered $1.05 – not to mention the 44 cents per dollar Ottawa receives. Quality child care decreases child and family poverty rates, and children’s vulnerability rates entering kindergarten.”
Recent data indicates that 33 per cent of B.C. children enter kindergarten vulnerable in one or more developmental areas, up from 29 per cent over the last five years. Gray estimates the figure is more than 23 per cent in the Comox Valley.
“It is alarming,” she said. “It seems like we’re waiting until then to go ‘now what?’ when we know the child’s development before five is the most critical years.”
On a daily basis, Gray fields several calls from people seeking care for children less than three years, which is the minimum age at the society.
“It costs more for child care from 18 months to five than it does for a university education.”
Government says child care subsidies are helping about 43,000 children this year, but Gray notes the subsidies are only available for those with low incomes. For instance, the maximum allowed for a three-year-old is $550 for full-time care.
“Before the Harper government came in there was a national child care plan on the table but it was one of the first things scrapped,” said Gray, who recently presented the plan to Courtenay council. Comox council has endorsed it. “Municipalities on their own can’t solve the problem but they certainly can support and lobby governments. We have over two million supporters in B.C. Everybody knows someone who depends on child care.”
The MCFD’s Early Years Strategy is designed to provide choice and support for parents of young children by making quality early years programs and services more accessible and affordable. The strategy also ensures that ministries work together on early years issues to support families with young children.
“This means that MCFD and the ministries of education and health work together on child-care strategies and supports,” said Gray. “The strategy outlines a framework, backed by a strong funding commitment, to support families and ensure young British Columbians have the best possible start in life. Under the strategy, we’re investing in the creation of 2,000 new licensed child care spaces throughout the province by March 2016, with the goal of opening a total of 13,000 new spaces by 2020. This builds on the roughly 107,000 licensed child care spaces currently funded across the province.”
Gray notes there are 100,000 licensed child care spaces in B.C. — which is room for only 17 per cent of B.C.’s young children.
In the aforementioned email statement, the MCFD said it has committed $323.5 million for child care in 2015/16 — a 53 per cent increase since 2000/01. It plans to develop an online child-care registry to provide parents with better information about the availability of licensed spaces in their communities.