Rita Chudnovsky: Imagine a child-care system that works for B.C. families

By Rita Chudnovsky

Just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine your community. Think about the public spaces and places that you and others use: the library, the school, the crosswalk, and the community centre.

No doubt there are things about these spaces and places you would change. But, as imperfect as they may be, they do exist, and when they are inadequate or threatened we expect action.

Why is that? Well, for starters, we agreed that everyone would be better off if we pooled our resources to provide these services. It wasn’t always easy, but, over time, we built consensus about the value of these services, we allocated a share of our public resources to build and operate them, and we set up an accountable system to deliver them.

So, what’s missing from this picture?

In spite of extensive research about the positive impact of quality child care on human development; in spite of many studies proving the economic benefits of investing in quality child care and in spite of unprecedented numbers of mothers of young children who want and need to work—B.C. communities are still waiting for a quality child-care system.

In 2001, B.C. rolled back the first step of an affordable child-care system and cut $40 million a year off its own budget for child care. Then, in 2006, the federal government reneged on over $400 million in promised child-care transfer payments to B.C.

As a result, things went from bad to worse. At an annual cost of $8,400 for a three-to-five-year-old child, quality child care today costs families more than postsecondary education. There are only regulated child-care spaces for 14 percent of B.C. children under the age of 12—a mere increase of two percent since 2001. And, low wages are forcing many early-childhood educators to leave the field so they can feed their own families. While B.C. politicians may claim to be doing wonderful things for child care, their 2009 provincial budget does nothing to address these problems.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our international trading partners recognize that investment in quality child-care is good for children, families, and their economies. But Canada’s child-care policies and funding put us in last place.

As shocking as it is, Canada spends a smaller proportion of our GDP on early learning and care than 14 developed countries. B.C. spends only 0.16 percent of our GDP on early learning and care, less than one-quarter of the 30-country OECD average. Out of 20 countries, Canada provides the lowest access to programs for three-to-six-year-olds. And, in a recent UNICEF study, out of 25 rich countries, Canada ties for last place on 10 benchmarks of good early-years programs.

Even years of economic growth and big surpluses didn’t solve B.C.’s child-care crisis. Now that the economy is in trouble, some say we just have to wait. We couldn’t disagree more. Public investment in quality child care is one of the best infrastructure investments we could make.

Like other infrastructure projects, investment in child care creates jobs. This time, many of these jobs will go to women. Public spending to reduce the cost of child care will also help families meet other pressing needs. And, during difficult times, child care makes it possible for parents to work, train, or retrain.

But, compared to other infrastructure investments, child care has additional benefits. Most importantly, it supports children to be healthy, happy, and participating members of our communities. In dollars and cents, this translates into reduced long-term demands on education, health, policing, and courts. In human terms, it translates into even better communities than we imagine today.

So, close your eyes again, but this time imagine child care as an expected and accepted part of your community. Imagine that child care has stable funding to lower parent fees, raise caregiver wages, and create more quality spaces. And, imagine the smiles on our faces when we can walk by community child-care centres and hear our children playing.

That is why, now more than ever, the time is right to build the child-care system children, families, communities, and employers need.

Rita Chudnovsky is a consultant with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C.



Sara Landriault

Feb 25, 2009 at 2:18pm

The scenario you just made me imagine is more of a nightmare than a dream.
By only funding non-profit daycares, you will ignore about 85% of the child's needs. This will also force parents who do not use any for of daycare, to pay for this system.
So essentially you are taking away food from one child's mouth to hand to another, and all in the name of your daycare Utopia?
"Funding the Child" will allow parental decisions on what childcare to use whether it be at home or at a non profit center. The choice is up to the parents, and not the state, unions or professors who claim to be childcare experts.

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Feb 27, 2009 at 6:49pm

I could not agree more with the sentiments of the above article. So many other countries are seeing the incredible value of investing in a high quality child care system that is affordable for parents, pays its well qualified staff adequately and has community based spaces for every child who wants or needs one, why can't ours? We as Canadians should be appalled that we rank so far down the list of developed countries when it comes to investing in our children and their future. The impact of Quebec's child care system on child poverty rates, women's participation in the labour force and their economy is well documented. We need to be forward thinking and build a "Made in BC" system of affordable, accessible, quality, community based child care for our children and families.

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Feb 28, 2009 at 12:11am

Here's the deal. I'll help pay for the swimming pools, libraries, roads and hospitals you use, and you help pay for the schools, daycares and bridges that I use. It's called a tax system and when it works fairly it should provide a range of public services that citizens need to be healthy and successful in our society.

The choice that is so often talked about, especially by those who don't support a child care system, is really only a choice if there are a range of realistic options for parents to choose from, including access to quality, affordable, accessible, publicly-funded, community delivered daycare spaces that pay caregivers a decent wage.

After all - if we can collectively fund the Olympics for over a billion dollars for a 2 week party - surely we can invest in child care to support families all year round.

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Feb 28, 2009 at 7:59am

We have a public health care system, we have a public school system, when you buy a car you know there will be roads to drive on if you want to read a book you can go to a library or swim, go to the local pool. These are systems we provide for collectively...child care is no different - parents pay taxes and should have access to affordable, high quality child care spaces.

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