B.C. child-care advocates say sector is in crisis

Yolande Cole, Georgia Straight

Sharon Gregson and the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. are at the forefront of calls for a publicly funded child-care system.

Sharon Gregson has observed firsthand some of the challenges facing parents with young children, and early childhood educators in B.C.

Common situations that the long-time child-care advocate, who’s the director of child and family development services at Collingwood Neighbourhood House, has seen include families being forced to leave licensed daycares because they can’t afford the fees, and early childhood educators leaving the field because they are still making $16 an hour after more than a decade of work.

It’s a reality that Gregson says is only getting worse, as costs continue to increase each year. And with the provincial election approaching, advocates are ramping up their campaign for politicians to address the issue.

“The biggest crisis for families with young children at the moment is childcare, and so that needs to be front and centre,” Gregson told the Georgia Straight by phone.

As a spokesperson for the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C., Gregson is at the forefront of calls for a publicly funded child-care system that would cost parents $10 a day. Since the coalition, along with the Early Childhood Educators of B.C., released the $10-a-day proposal in 2011, Gregson said it has “taken off like a house on fire”. Supporters include labour organizations, more than 15 municipalities, and over a dozen school districts.

“What this has done now is increased expectations that it is going to be an election issue, and that the NDP has to put something better on the table than the Liberals have in their budget/election platform,” Gregson said. “And the message to those people who want to be elected in May is that if you commit to the goals of the $10-a-day plan, you’ll garner votes, and if you’re silent on it or ignore it, then you’ll lose votes.”

The plan calls for childcare to be moved under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, and for early care and learning programs for infants, toddlers, and three- to five-year-olds to be integrated as part of neighbourhood and community networks. The groups also want to see fees capped at $10 a day for full-time childcare and $7 a day for part-time, with no user fees for families with an annual income of less than $40,000.

According to Gregson, the average daycare cost for a child under the age of three in Vancouver is $1,200 a month, while fees at large commercial centres have reached $1,900 a month per child.

“Unless you’re incredibly wealthy or incredibly lucky, nobody easily affords that, and the subsidy that’s available for very low-income families is so difficult to quality for and so low that, if you are poor enough to qualify for subsidy, it means you’re too poor to pay the difference between the subsidy and the actual fee,” she said.

Parents also face long waiting lists and extra costs to secure their child a daycare spot. Devyn Cousineau, a mother of two young children, is already paying for childcare for her seven-month-old daughter, even though she will be on maternity leave for another four to five months. She noted she only secured a spot after getting on waiting lists when her son was just three months old.

“I signed up for every wait list in the city, and that was the only call I’ve gotten,” she said in a phone interview. “We were quite lucky in our timing, but it’s still been a pretty expensive proposition.”

The groups behind the $10-a-day plan say the child-care sector itself is also in crisis, and is struggling to retain staff.

“After about five years, over half of the qualified staff that have education leave the field for something else,” Emily Mlieczko, the executive director of the Early Childhood Educators, told the Straight by phone.

The average wage for early childhood educators and assistants in B.C. is about $16.50 an hour, according to Mlieczko. The plan calls for a wage increase to an average of $25 an hour plus benefits.

At full implementation, the plan would cost an estimated $1.5 billion annually. But Gregson said initial measures, such as a commitment of $88 million to immediately reduce fees at infant and toddler centres to $10 a day, could be funded for less than the amount the B.C. government allocated to an early childhood tax benefit in its fiscal plan. …

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