More than 30 years ago, the women’s movement put childcare on the public agenda. And while there have been important successes along the way, it can get depressing for grandmothers like me to see so little political progress. Parent fees are too high, staff wages are too low, there are nowhere near enough spaces and public funding is almost non-existent.
But the good news is that there’s a solution.
The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. and the Early Childhood Educators of B.C. have a plan to solve B.C.’s child-care crisis that’s been striking a chord: the 2011 Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care and Learning. Who’s on board so far? Support has come from the City of Vancouver and a dozen other municipalities; the Vancouver, Burnaby, Campbell River, Cowichan Valley, Kootenay Columbia, and Gulf Islands school boards; the Surrey Board of Trade; the Vancouver and District Labour Council, BCGEU, CUPE B.C., and B.C. Teachers’ Federation; a growing list of academics and businesses; and too many parents to count.
In my decades of child-care advocacy, I have never seen this level of enthusiasm or support for progressive child-care policy. What’s got everyone so excited? For starters, the promise of $10-a-day childcare. Under the Plan, new public dollars will go to child-care programs to cap parent fees at $10 per day for full-time care and $7 per day for part-time care and make it free for families who make less than $40,000 a year. Families could save up to $10,000 a year and many could move out of poverty. Funding would also increase child-care workers’ wages to an average of $25 an hour plus benefits. With increased educational opportunities, early childhood educators would finally earn the income and respect they deserve.
But, the Plan is about more than money. It’s about rights. By signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination against Women, Canada and B.C. promised to honour children’s and women’s right to childcare. The Plan calls on B.C. to finally enshrine this right in a new B.C. Early Care and Learning Act.
The Plan moves childcare from the current patchwork to a democratically governed public system. Following international trends, it integrates childcare into our education system in a way that builds on the strengths of both our public school system and quality, community-based childcare. The Plan extends the universality, public funding and democratic governance of the public school system to services for children under the age of five on a voluntary basis. And it strengthens play-based, experiential, nurturing programs that are staffed by qualified early childhood educators.
The Plan welcomes existing providers into the new system and makes school boards responsible for creating new services that their communities need. It also ensures they have the funds to get the job done.
The Plan is not about standardized curriculum or academic achievement for young children. Children will still start school at age five but their early care and learning programs will be strong and equal partners with the K-12 system. Childcare will be an expected and accepted part of neighbourhoods, and, with time, may well be a positive influence on all levels of the education system.
Support for the Plan grows daily. Find out more on the Plan website.
Rita Chudnovsky is a research associate with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.