B.C. child-care advocates say sector is in crisis
Sharon Gregson has observed firsthand some of the challenges facing parents with young children, and early childhood educators in B.C.
Common situations that the long-time child-care advocate, who’s the director of child and family development services at Collingwood Neighbourhood House, has seen include families being forced to leave licensed daycares because they can’t afford the fees, and early childhood educators leaving the field because they are still making $16 an hour after more than a decade of work.
It’s a reality that Gregson says is only getting worse, as costs continue to increase each year. And with the provincial election approaching, advocates are ramping up their campaign for politicians to address the issue.
“The biggest crisis for families with young children at the moment is childcare, and so that needs to be front and centre,” Gregson told the Georgia Straight by phone.
As a spokesperson for the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C., Gregson is at the forefront of calls for a publicly funded child-care system that would cost parents $10 a day. Since the coalition, along with the Early Childhood Educators of B.C., released the $10-a-day proposal in 2011, Gregson said it has “taken off like a house on fire”. Supporters include labour organizations, more than 15 municipalities, and over a dozen school districts.
“What this has done now is increased expectations that it is going to be an election issue, and that the NDP has to put something better on the table than the Liberals have in their budget/election platform,” Gregson said. “And the message to those people who want to be elected in May is that if you commit to the goals of the $10-a-day plan, you’ll garner votes, and if you’re silent on it or ignore it, then you’ll lose votes.”
The plan calls for childcare to be moved under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, and for early care and learning programs for infants, toddlers, and three- to five-year-olds to be integrated as part of neighbourhood and community networks. The groups also want to see fees capped at $10 a day for full-time childcare and $7 a day for part-time, with no user fees for families with an annual income of less than $40,000.
According to Gregson, the average daycare cost for a child under the age of three in Vancouver is $1,200 a month, while fees at large commercial centres have reached $1,900 a month per child.
“Unless you’re incredibly wealthy or incredibly lucky, nobody easily affords that, and the subsidy that’s available for very low-income families is so difficult to qualify for and so low that, if you are poor enough to qualify for subsidy, it means you’re too poor to pay the difference between the subsidy and the actual fee,” she said.
Parents also face long waiting lists and extra costs to secure their child a daycare spot. Devyn Cousineau, a mother of two young children, is already paying for childcare for her seven-month-old daughter, even though she will be on maternity leave for another four to five months. She noted she only secured a spot after getting on waiting lists when she was pregnant with her son.
“I signed up for every wait list in the city, and that was the only call I’ve gotten,” she said in a phone interview. “We were quite lucky in our timing, but it’s still been a pretty expensive proposition.”
The groups behind the $10-a-day plan say the child-care sector itself is also in crisis, and is struggling to retain staff.
“After about five years, over half of the qualified staff that have education leave the field for something else,” Emily Mlieczko, the executive director of the Early Childhood Educators, told the Straight by phone.
The average wage for early childhood educators and assistants in B.C. is about $16.50 an hour, according to Mlieczko. The plan calls for a wage increase to an average of $25 an hour plus benefits.
At full implementation, the plan would cost an estimated $1.5 billion annually. But Gregson said initial measures, such as a commitment of $88 million to immediately reduce fees at infant and toddler centres to $10 a day, could be funded for less than the amount the B.C. government allocated to an early childhood tax benefit in its fiscal plan. The provincial budget also allocated $76 million for improving childcare over three years, including $32 million for the creation of new spaces.
The Coalition of Child Care Advocates plans to make its demand for a $10-a-day system heard as part of a march to B.C. premier Christy Clark’s constituency office on Saturday (March 9). The “noise parade” will begin at Jericho Beach at 11 a.m.
Mar 7, 2013 at 7:02am
Child care ,homless,poor,parks in dissaray and climate change.There must be an election full of promisses coming ,no mony but prommises.Can you say TAX INCREASE
Mar 7, 2013 at 10:18am
I once read: "Everytime you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want."
Clearly the same can be said about everytime a government makes service cuts, you shape the community/province/country you live in.
The research fills the shelves when it comes to the + impacts of QUALITY LICENSED NOT FOR PROFIT child care, the evidence shows the short and long term benefits for children/families/communities/employers, parents cant work without it, and ALL governments find money for spending in other areas according to their priorities.
I say make some new decisions on spending AND YES if we need to increase some taxes for social programs, PLEASE count me in!
Mar 7, 2013 at 11:27am
I don't really mind, just as long as I can continue to bilk the taxpayer for my expensive wine & restaurants, body
Mar 7, 2013 at 11:34am
This would be terrible for the environment, it's simply encouraging people to have more children by subsidizing their daycare. Forget the money, what is the long-term carbon bill for this misguided project?
Mar 7, 2013 at 12:27pm
I think the question of irresponsible parents emitting children that they have little practical hope of supporting is a good one, if an ugly one that raises horrific stereotypes and China-style extreme childbirth restriction.
However, you deal with what you got. Seems to me that parents who are overwhelmed with parenting have little way of upgrading their skills and getting work. Therefore, there is an obvious business case for public money to go to child care.
I do think it should be means tested.
Mar 7, 2013 at 12:46pm
People have children. Many good people work hard to raise good children. Loved and cared for children who have access to education, healthy food, cultural and recreational opportunities, safe and warm places to sleep, become healthier adults. Your tax dollars stretch a lot further when you support children and families than they do subsidizing illness, poverty, and the justice system for adults. If you don't have or want children, no problem, but please be supportive and thankful for the many who do. One day, their children may be your nurse, doctor, plumber, or lawyer. You'll probably prefer that they were raised to be good ones.
Mar 7, 2013 at 1:17pm
^ here, here. Well said, Kate.
Park Board Commissioner Constance Barnes
Mar 7, 2013 at 1:56pm
The Vancouver Park Board passed a motion unanimously last term to support the Early Care & Learning Plan. We not only see the value of working with the Education system to make this happen but the great opportunity for families to have safe and affordable child care. Our community centers have long wait lists and I hear time and time again that more spaces are needed. As a single mom I truly struggled to find ANY affordable care let alone child care in my own neighborhood for my 2 little ones.It made it almost impossible to provide all that was needed for them. Being able to be out in the work force meant that I was paying taxes which then gets put back into the "system". I was able to support my local eateries and buy local goods. All in all it is really about great safe and consistent support for families, children and our community! Keep up the great work Sharon and I look forward to making some noise with you on Saturday!
Mar 7, 2013 at 3:20pm
Investing in childcare makes sense - Child poverty in BC is the second highest in all of Canada. The cost of childcare is the second highest expenditure a family has besides housing. By reducing this cost you are lifting families out of poverty, letting women enter the workforce or go to school and increasing the local economy. It Makes Sense!
Mar 7, 2013 at 8:41pm
Anyone notice the dichotomy of users paying less and workers getting more in this grand $1.5 billion dollar plan. That means that every BC taxpayer gets dinged for another $1,000 per year just because lots of people without the means to afford to have kids continue to believe it is their right to do so...