After fielding a call today from a corporate client with an employee who was desperate to find child care I came across this article by Shannon Proudfoot. Certainly, there is no new news here...but it does reinforce the desperate situation that many parents are finding themselves in.
When word got out that five daycare spots were opening up at a local community centre, parents in Richmond, B.C. camped on sidewalks for days. In Winnipeg, a childcare centre had to issue a memo warning parents to stop pestering and bribing staff.
Elsewhere across the country, a worsening shortage of daycare spots is pushing parents make obsessive phone calls, and even going as far, according to one daycare professional, as to bring relatives from their home countries on temporary visas to care for children or time second pregnancies to take advantage of sibling wait-list policies.
"When we see parents reacting really strongly, we know it's from a place of great anxiety, and that desperation is pushing them to extremes," says Bev Christian, assistant director of the University of British Columbia Child Care Services.
May is child care month in British Columbia. Certainly there are initiatives happening within the Province to support the development of new child care spaces, however I continue to wonder and worry how about the long term sustainability of many of BC's child care programs. Parent fees often don't cover the true cost of child care and the sector is still recovering from the reductions in funding under the Child Care Operating Funding Program. This, combined with a lack of affordable places to operate quality programs, a shortage of trained early childhood educators and constant public policy changes are making for the perfect storm within the sector.
We are experiencing a critical shortage of trained early childhood educators in BC and across Canada. It is the norm for child care facilities to seek licensing exemptions in many areas of BC to deal with the staffing problems they are facing. Several other Provinces are providing higher wage enhancement subsidies and innovative programs in an effort to attract and retain their early childhood educators. Alberta is an excellent example of a Province that is really making great strides in this area. I wonder how many ECE's we in BC are losing to Alberta?
Fees for child care programs and services only seem to be getting higher each year. For many families the cost of purchasing child care for multiple young children often far exceeds their monthly housing costs. (Which says a lot in BC, where the cost of real estate and affordable housing is among the highest in Canada.) Further, the long waiting lists that parents face to access quality programs in many communities is at an all time crisis point. It is possible, that in some areas of the Lower Mainland of BC, families who are on waiting lists for infant and toddler child care will never actually secure a child care space.
So the question is, where do these children go? What does a parent do when they cannot find child care? There are many answers to this. Parents face tough decisions everyday as they struggle to secure affordable, quality and accessible child care. In many cases these children end up being cared for in unlicensed, informal care settings. Some of this care is quality, but much of it is also not. In many cases, mothers (and sometimes fathers) decide that they are unable to return to the workforce until their children are older and enter the school system. While in some cases this is an acceptable solution, in other situations it puts families under increased financial pressure due to the loss of income they experience by having one parent stay home. Further, skilled employees who don't return to work are a true loss for employers who are facing an ever increasing shortage of workers to choose from.
The solution? The solutions that are needed to address this true crises are both long and varied. There are pros and cons to every possible option. Skilled advocates will argue that universal child care is the answer, others will suggest that better tax benefits for stay at home parents are the solution. Moving three, four and five year olds into all day school based programs also seems to be an option up for much discussion these days. All of these options (and many more) are possible solutions. Most of all though, I believe that what we need is strong, ongoing and committed investment in children and families by all levels of government, communities and employers. No one organization, entity or solution can truly fix this situation. The fact of the matter is that we all have a part to play...so let's get on with it. It truly does make good economic sense. Further, it really is about so much more than child care. It is about ensuring we as a society can sustain our health, wellbeing and economic strengths for the future generations yet to come.
So call your MLA and remind them that while May is Child Care Month in BC, we must also pay attention to it the other eleven months of the year as well.