Advocate says province is failing kids
What should have been a $20-million core investment in a provincial child-care system has instead been frittered away by the B.C. government, according to Vancouver school board trustee and long-time child-care advocate Sharon Gregson. Half of the money, a grant from the federal government, was spent last month. Each of the province’s more than 4,600 licensed childcare centres will receive between $115 and $140 per space for supplies, minor capital enhancements, and professional development. In February 2009, another
$10 million will be distributed.
“I think they wanted to get it off their books by year-end,” a peeved Gregson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview on March 14. “B.C. is the only province that’s done this.”¦I think the provincial government is failing families. They’re not recognizing that most women with young children are in the work force.”
Several aspects of how this sum was handled by the province irk Gregson. The money is being distributed by the BC Council for Families, a nonprofit organization that did not have to go through a request-for-proposals process yet could earn about $1 million in interest over two years, she noted. Money is still being spent without a concrete child-care plan in place, Gregson pointed out. As well, the province is spraying child-care and early-learning cash around haphazardly, resulting in a dizzying mosaic of programs—StrongStart BC centres, Books for Babies, Welcome to Kindergarten, Roots of Empathy, Seeds of Empathy, LEAP BC, Healthy Opportunities for Preschoolers, Literacy Now, and many, many others, she noted.
“There are all these little bits and pockets of funding without any overall plan,” Gregson said. “The field is so underfunded, and there’s huge issues with recruitment and retention [of child-care workers]. This is such a tiny drop in the bucket.”¦We should be doing so much better. This shows a lack of planning, lack of cohesion, and lack of commitment.”
The $20 million represents the last of the cancelled federal Early Learning and Child Care Agreement funding—the program Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s $100-per-month child tax benefit replaced. In March 2007, the Conservative government reduced its funding designated for childcare in B.C. by $356 million over three years. In B.C., that has resulted in a 21-percent reduction in provincial child-care funding from 2001 to 2009, according to research by UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership.
But B.C. childcare’s future is bright, according to provincial Minister of State for Child Care Linda Reid. She told the Straight on March 17 that B.C. has a child-care plan: simply, to support B.C. families. In terms of a document to support that plan, she pointed to the child-care fact sheet available on her ministry’s Web site. Childcare is a budget item worth about $300 million annually, she said.
The province, Reid said in a phone interview from Calgary, could not carry the $20 million forward, so it had to place it in a trust, to be handled by a nonprofit. It went to the BC Council for Families because it has been a respected community agency for 30 years, and “this happens on a regular basis,” Reid said of the granting of such funds to organizations. The minister claims that adding child-care spaces throughout the province is her number-one priority; 2,000 spaces will be added this year, she said.
“We’re making progress,” she argued. “What families said to us [during consultations] was they need spaces, subsidies, and that work is under way and benefiting 25,000 families now. Recruitment and retention of child-care workers—these are all pieces of the same puzzle. It’s all about choices for families.”
Reid noted that the field is complex. Parents working shifts and on the weekends, and centres that serve a limited age range, mean some families have to scramble under the current system. She claims to speak to families throughout the province on a regular basis, polling them about their child-care issues.
But to Gregson, a logical start in solving the child-care crisis—and in spending that annual $300 million
efficiently—would be a round of formal public consultations resulting in a concrete, detailed child-care plan for which the minister is accountable.