I am beyond thrilled to learn that the province is finally creating a responsive child care registry for parents and providers. This was one of many highlights announced this week as part of the government’s Early Learning and Child Care Action Plan, a document meant to help the government “create more spaces to improve accessibility of child care, improve quality of child care, and help families that are struggling to pay for child care.”
I’ve championed the need for an updated, easily searchable child care space registry in this column previously. When I first starting searching for child care options for our eldest, there was non-searchable spreadsheet available online. It listed the licensed centres for the province, broken down into large geographic sections, with the number of spaces allotted for various ages. It took time to find ones that were actually in our immediate area, then determine which had spaces for children under two. Then we had to call to find out if any of those spaces were available, what the wait list procedure might be, and so on. In today’s technological society, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to easily pop in our requirements and see a current list of availability. I believe the province’s efforts to create a modern platform will reduce stress for parents and help providers keep spaces full.
This week’s announcement also includes details of an Infant Operating Grant, which will provide $10 per occupied infant space per day, offsetting the increased staff expenses related to these spots. These two projects, which in the grand scheme of things shouldn’t be very costly for our province, could increase opportunities for more parents to participate in the workforce, as well as have a huge impact on the emotional toll finding child care can place on a family.
Next comes dealing with the financial toll. The government’s announcement states details are coming on efforts to increase child care subsidies for low and middle income families. Previous promises have suggested the government plans to double provincial subsidies meant to bring more parents into the workforce (we spend $15 million per year now). Current subsidies are based on a parent’s income and are only available to households earning less than $55,000 per year.
I’m certainly in favour of helping more families access child care, but I’m still not sure targeting a specific income threshold is the innovative solution we need. The cost of child care in Canada has been rising at a rate three times that of inflation. In general, Canadians spend more than one-quarter of their household income on child care; that’s one of the highest rates in the world, and a huge barrier to many families in higher and upper middle income earning brackets, as well as those in low income homes. What would the implications be for our economy if the province looked at helping all parents, not just ones at a certain income level or with certain employment goals?
Swedish municipalities offer 15 hours of weekly licensed child care to every child after the age of one, regardless of a parent’s income or employment status. Rather than creating cumbersome programs which intimidate many parents and operate on a sliding scale, why not offer families a set number of hours each week where their children can interact with trained educators and socialise with other children? Some parents would use this time to secure part-time employment or pursue their own entrepreneurial endeavours, but this funding could also be accessed by families with a parent who is focused on staying home with children.
Creating a responsive child care registry is a positive start. Let’s keep innovating.