Concerns and Reflections of a Grandmother Regarding Early Childhood Learning and Child Care

By Kathryn Langley, Federal Member-At-Large & Grandmother of Bronwyn (5), Grayson (5), Ainsley (3), and Maelle (2)

Recently, I heard several young women in their 30s talking about children and having children in Canada. Between age 20 and mid-30 their ideas about ideal family-size had changed. Availability of affordable, quality child care and economics appeared to be the deciding factors.  There is a crisis in obtaining child care with long waiting lists (especially for subsidized spaces) and rising fees.  Persons pursuing graduate degrees, paying student debts, establishing careers, paying housing costs, etc. are anticipating or feeling the economic stresses of having children.

 

I thought back to 1975-78, when my husband and I, established teachers, had our three daughters. I was privileged to have maternity leave. Family and friends lived for the most part in or near Peterborough. Fleming Day Care on McDonnel was within walking distance. We had the same holidays as our children. BUT, I remember the struggle finding suitable day care for one child. I used a woman who lived close to where I taught which made drop-off and pick-up easy. The arrangement was similar to a daily "play-date". With two children, I was on maternity leave and then was expecting again. We tried neighbours who babysat in their homes. We hired a series of women who would work in our home. Qualifications, personalities, intelligence and experience with children varied greatly.  No one lived in. We lived across from Queen Mary PS which made travel to school for the girls relatively easy. We were able to modify our before and after school activities to accommodate our responsibilities and interests. Child care costs were manageable on our two stable salaries and we had good benefits.  As I said before, we were privileged. But the care-givers were not trained, not licensed, and did not have secure employment with benefits. A better system was needed. 

In the years that followed, many advocated for a National Day Care program - a program that would be universal, affordable, and that would provide high-quality, early learning and child care. There was a need felt by families with two working parents, by single parents, by those having children in school who needed before and after school programs, by those doing shift work, by those in post-secondary education, by those with children with special needs. The crisis needed solutions that would work for all our children and their families.

 

After decades of advocacy and planning, a plan for National Day Care was ready! Then we had a federal election. Unfortunately for those needing day care, the Harper Government killed the plan for National Day Care in 2006. They created the Canada Child Tax Benefit, a tax-free monthly payment to primary care-givers of children under 18. Canadian citizens, permanent residents, protected persons, and spouses of temporary residents who had lived in Canada the previous 18 months could receive it. $100 a month issued on the 20th of each month provides very little early childhood learning or daycare.  Young families I know are paying between $1 000 to $2 000 a month or $12, 000 to $24, 000 a year for daycare.

 

Right now the provision of early learning/child care is regulated by provincial governments and provided by municipalities. In Ontario, with the 2012 Liberal/NDP budget deal, the Ontario Budget changed the child care funding formula and provided a one time over three-year period $242 million in funding. Municipalities were to use the monies to expand infant and toddler spaces, to provide additional fee subsidies, to provide for wage increases to workers and for other improvements. This would help with the transition of children to kindergarten and out of existing day care facilities. One pays more for infants because of the smaller Registered Early Childhood Educators (RECE)-to-child ratio. Centres were losing the older children. Municipalities received money based on current demographics and population trends.  Peterborough went from $7 490 265 in 2013 to $8 010 459 in 2014.  We were asked to be vigilant about ensuring the money was being spent on daycare and not elsewhere. 18 municipalities are scheduled to have cuts to child care in 2017. What happens next for funding early learning/child care will be decided by federal, provincial, and municipal budgets.  

 

The situations for the young women in their 30s that I listened to did not match my experience. They live in larger centres away from their relatives (grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.) and they and their partners have farther to travel for work and to day care. The problems and expenses associated with the provision of early childhood education are many. Location and transit, hours open, staffing, communication with parents regarding program, themes, schedules, behaviour, incidents, fund-raising, meals and snacks, provisions for infants (diapers, bedding, etc.), clothing for indoor/outdoor activities, weather, regulations for sending children home (fever, diarrhea), reporting absences, security/safety, etc., makes the situation even more complex.

 

I perceive a rise in the privatization of early learning and child care provision. Corporations wish to profit from the crisis that has been allowed to grow. I will speak to the one used by my children in Calgary, Alberta, but I notice it operates in British Columbia and Ontario (eight municipalities) as well. Check out www.brightpathkids.com which used to be Edleun.  Brightpath is expanding. It is in partnerships with real estate developers and in underserved markets and communities where limited child care facilities exist. The site shows stock information, shareholder information financial reports and investor presentations as well as info about early learning and child care. The private sector is eager to expand its services.

 

I believe RECEs should have secure, fairly-remunerated wages with benefits. I would advocate for not-for-profit public sector provision (with subsidized fees and wages) over private-for-profit agencies/corporations.

 

October 27, 2014 is Municipal Election Day! Local elections will choose City Councilors and School Board Trustees. Our councilors and trustees decide how money should be spent. School Board Trustees are responsible for setting the vision of the school board and that vision must include supporting child care programs that help create family-friendly schools and contribute to the social, emotional and cognitive development of our children. We need to put child care on the agenda October 27th.

 

Canada still needs National Day Care. Those who would argue against it because they have already paid for early learning/child care for their children, might be suffering from the "politics of envy" (i.e. “I didn't have it so why should you”), but what we wished we had had in place for ourselves, we must wish for others in the future. A better world is possible. It is up to us.

  

Notes:

The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (OCBCC) employs two excellent advocates, Andrea Calver and Alisha Singh. They operate out of 489 College St., Suite 206, Toronto, M6G1A5. They need to raise $10 000 in new annual memberships because advocacy works!

To join use https://childcareon.nationabuilder.com/membership

Liberal Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, introduced the Child Care Modernization Act in 2013 to replace the Day Nurseries Act (1946). Information is available online at www.childcareontario.org.  It is hoped that the legislation will bring change from a patchwork of programs to a system of early learning and child care on which families can really depend.

 

The Child Care Modernization Act changes the ratio of children to RECEs.  I am concerned about who assists the RECEs and how they are recruited and remunerated.

 

65% of Ontarians say that unlicensed daycares should not be allowed to operate in Ontario - see www.forumresearch.com

 

50% of Ontario's child care centres, serving younger children, are located in schools. Rising rents charged by school boards are putting pressure on parent fees. See www.childcareontario. org/child_care_impacts_fall_2013

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