May 14, 2013 by Vicki
Canada needs a national child care program to support female equality and increase childhood education. In recent years, Canada has made some positive steps forward but we need to continue our efforts for national child care. The current situation leaves parents struggling to find safe and affordable child care. Canada needs a national child care system for both financial and personal reasons.
Reasons for Child Care
The most obvious and pressing reason for child care in Canada is that it has been proven to increase a child’s ability to learn and comprehend. Our society demands higher and higher qualifications for professional employment. Giving your child every advantage, when it comes to education, is the best way to ensure their future success. As a society, we also need to recognize the importance of education and the correlation between early childhood education and higher education. Our children are our future and we have a responsibility to provide them with the best resources possible.
The 1970 Royal Commission on the Status of Women recommended a National Child Care program to ensure female success in the workplace (1). In today’s workplace environment, the need for this resource remains clear. The availability of regulated childcare remains low with a national average around twenty percent for children under five years of age. To translate this statistic, for every hundred Canadian children below the age of five, there is room for twenty children in a regulated child care environment. Meanwhile,the labour force comprises sixty-four percent of women with toddlers and seventy-nine percent of women with children between the ages of six and fifteen. Our society continues to place the responsibility for raising children on the mother. Consequently, these numbers show how desperately we need a different solution. We need a national child care system to recognize that Canadian women do work outside of the home and it is not a choice. The need for National Child Care is clear and some steps have been made in recent years to support this need.
Positive Steps Forward
In February 2013 (2), a Federal Judge ruled that workplaces must allow for reasonable childcare-related requests. In the court document, the judge explicitly states that childcare is a need not the result of a lifestyle-choice. The ruling could represent a changing outlook on the role of employment and childcare. Before this ruling, employers regarded children as a lifestyle choice that should have no impact on the workplace. Employers now have to recognize the needs of parents for reasonable flexibility regarding child care related requests.
In line with this change of outlook, the Ontario government approved funding of seventy-three thousand dollars for a labour study to explore the lack of Early Childhood Educators (3). The goal of this study is to find long term solutions to the lack of childcare available. The Ontario Coalition for Better Childhood argues that the low wages paid for this employment is a primary motivator for people to seek other employment. I know several people who have gone for their ECE who struggle to pay rent and make their bills. I have heard Early Childhood Educators often struggle to receive adequate hours. Even when they can get regular hours, most are still only making minimum wage. The government willingly funding this study means that they know the importance of child care. Government awareness of the need for child care translates into Canada being one step closer to a national child care system.
The Current Situation
The problems with child care in Canada, however, do not stop at the low wages paid the workers. The new ruling regarding workplace accommodations still requires the employee to make every effort to solve the problem on their own. Most provinces lay the responsibility of finding child care on the parents. When balancing a heavy work schedule with a child, it can be very difficult to try to find any resources. As mentioned before, regulated childcare availability for children younger than five years old rests at an average of twenty percent.
Unregulated child care remains an option for parents (4). The difficulty with unregulated child care lies in the different rules between provinces. In Saskatchewan, for example, an unregulated child care operation can host up to eight children under the age of thirteen. The eight children do not include any children of the provider. Depending on the situation, I can see problems developing with such a high number of children. In contrast, in the Yukon territories, unregulated child care providers can only host three children and that includes any children of their own. With such widely differing laws, how can we expect children to have equal care and advantage in their early learning?
In the end, it remains the responsibility of the parent to ensure their child receives the best care available to them. When the choice is between leaving a child in an untrustworthy situation and staying home; I believe most mothers stay home. The lack of available care leads to parents having to make very difficult choices. Non-regulated childcare can pose difficulties for those needing financial assistance. Rules about what type of assistance you can receive for unregulated childcare also varies province to province. In British Columbia, the cost of child care represents twenty percent of an average household income (5). In 2010, the average household income in British Columbia, according to Statistics Canada, was sixty-six thousand, nine hundred and seventy dollars. Child care, consequently, represents a huge financial burden. Many families cannot afford to pay twenty percent of their household income, even assuming they are able to earn equal to the average.
Canada, however, has an example to follow on how a National Child Care system could provide the necessary care and save money. In Quebec, they provide publicly funded child care through the “centre de la petite enfances” or CPE’s. Over a thousand CPE’s exist in Quebec.They offer child care for seven dollars a day for all age groups from infants to school age children. Quebec has the highest regulated space available in Canada with an availability rate of thirty-seven point four percent for children up to twelve years of age. The number is still low but it is higher than any other province. If we could expand the CPE idea throughout Canada, then, we could ensure better early learning for our children, and ensure equal opportunities for mothers in the workplace.
I found myself amazed and horrified by the status of child care in Canada. I do not know how parents have continued to balance work and children. I know today, it is required that both parents work. For single parents, these numbers are even more terrifying. I believe we, as Canadians, need to find a national solution. Canada, in my estimation, is the best place in the world to live. Our children should reap the benefits from living here.
1. “Lack of Child Care Costing Canada” from the Toronto Star
2. “Employers told they must accommodate staff’s child care requests” from CBCNEWS
3. “City seeks Labour Study into shortage of educators” from IF press
4. “Compare Provincial Regulations and Guidelines” from CBC Marketplace
5. “Fast Facts on Child Care in Canada” from Canadian Council on Social Development