If you ask any parent whether they would like to pay $10 a day for child care, their answer would likely be “Duh.”
Early child care educator (ECE) Sonia Tavares has pushed for this since 2009 when the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. first introduced the idea. But the ECE with 25 years of experience said the biggest challenge was getting people to understand that it’s possible.
That’s changed now that a report released this month by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) says introducing universal $10-a-day child care would grow the province’s economy by $3.9 billion and generate $1.3 billion in government revenue once fully phased in.
The $10 a Day Child Care Plan is a framework for transforming the existing patchwork of programs into a universal, high-quality, affordable child care system that integrates early learning and care.
“When we (Tavares and Selkirk College’s ECE instructor Taya Whitehead) did presentations on the $10-a-day plan, people right away would say how can we afford this? ” she said. “Now the report is breaking down that centre of policy into easy layman’s terms that say this is how we can afford it.”
The cost of the subsidized plan is pegged at $1.5 billion – $200 million more than the increase in provincial and federal tax revenues it would generate.
The study suggests that the program in B.C. would largely pay for itself through the considerable boost to provincial and federal government revenues from more women participating in the workforce.
“I think there is still always that terminology that you had children so figure it out,” said Tavares, who is the community literacy coordinator for Trail and also sits on the Early Childhood Educators of B.C. Board.
Trail parent Tricia Doyle certainly understands that sentiment and has had to push through many challenging times when care seemed to cost more than she had in her pocket.
“It would be much more affordable and make it much more worth while to go to work,” she said.
Doyle works as a unit clerk and care aid at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital, and when it was time to think about returning to work, it was a done deal. She didn’t want to lose her position and needed to help foot the bills.
“I think the optimal would be to stay at home but it’s just not realistic,” she said. “We (her and Greg) both have to work.”
It’s been difficult at times to do it all, be a mom and a professional, but setting an example for her children is what has kept her going.
Just before her four-year-old Emry exits Sunshine Children’s Centre, Doyle had to dole out more than she makes to cover the cost for her daughter and her son Ryan, 9, who’s in day camp for the summer.
The proposed 10-year gradual introduction would reduce fees to $10 a day (waived for families with incomes under $40,000 a year), create enough spaces for all families who want them, and increase the quality of care, the study suggests.
Lynn Proulx, director of Sunshine, said she has been involved with the non-profit centre for the past 34 years, and not much has changed: there is a constant struggle to attract professionals to work in child care facilities.
“It’s a crisis because we don’t see people opening up new spaces because there is no staff,” she said. “The crises is in the staff.”
On average, ECEs make $16 an hour, below the living wage of about $20, she explained.
Sunshine currently has a wait list of 32 children looking for a place in the infant/toddler program, staffed by eight employees.
“It’s a big battle in child care and it has been for years just to get the respect of the field from people to say that it’s not just babysitting,” she said. “It’s hard to get that across to people that you know we’re helping raise these children into good quality people for our future.”
The CCPA study builds on research by economist Pierre Fortin, who found economic and fiscal benefits from the provincial child care plan launched in Quebec in the late 1990s.
Kootenay West Katrine Conroy is optimistic but thinks B.C.’s version would have to be a federal and provincial partnership to work.
“It’s an expensive program but in the long run it’s a program that brings back so many benefits,” she said.
Conroy is advocating for a national program, pointing to the NDP’s similar $15-a-day proposal.
The trained ECE holds early learning “near and dear.” She formerly was the executive director of Kootenay Family Place, a multi-service organization that provides service to children and youth.
“We spend the most money on post-secondary education at that age, and the least amount on early childhood education and children learn the most from 0-5,” she added. “That seems a bit backwards to me.”
All parties expect some pushback from other demographics that don’t have children or whose kids are adults. But the role grandparents play in care, relieving and supporting coverage, could sway their opinion.
At this time, advocates are asking residents to endorse the plan (www.10aday.ca) or look at the federal platforms and vote accordingly.
• High costs: B.C. has the second highest fees in Canada, with median fees in 2012 ranging from $760 to $1,047 per month depending on the child’s age. Subsidies for low-income parents have been frozen for ten years, while fees have risen faster than inflation.
• Long wait lists: B.C. has enough regulated child care spaces for only 27 per cent of children under six, and the provincial government’s Early Years Strategy will only create room for another 5 per cent of children (at most) by 2021.
• Women forced to abandon paid work and career goals: The lack of affordable child care spaces is a significant barrier for mothers who want to return to work or pursue education; this contributes to gender inequality and weakens the B.C. economy. It is estimated that work-life conflict among employees costs B.C. businesses more than $600 million per year.
• Reliance on unregulated child care: Because of high costs and lack of spaces, some working parents turn to unregulated child care, with no training requirements, health and safety standards, monitoring or oversight.
• Low wages for early childhood educators: Their median wage is 19 per cent lower than that of B.C. workers overall, which leads to high turnover and chronic staff shortages, and contributes to financial insecurity among the families of educators, many of whom are women with children of their own.