In BC, a Hellish Hunt for Childcare: Three-year wait lists and soaring costs put the squeeze on new parents.

Kristian Secher, Tyee

“Sorry, we don’t have any available spaces for your son.”

It was a message Kristina Kernohan and Alexis Morgan heard over and over. They knew it wouldn’t be easy to find childcare for their son, Bevyn, but they hadn’t imagined what a nightmare it would turn out to be.

When Kernohan started searching in November 2012, Bevyn was five months old and she had 10 months left before she had to return to her job as an on-call teacher. School holidays meant three months extra maternity leave for Kernohan.

She was going to need them.

“Every time I called a group care centre I was told: You know it’s going to be a long wait, right?” says Kernohan. That meant two years or more, on average.

Morgan and Kernohan put their name on the list of any centre within a 15 minute drive from their home in East Vancouver, knowing there was a slim chance they would be offered a spot before Kernohan’s September return.

Determined on returning to work on schedule, Kernohan rang the Westcoast Child Care Resource Center, got their list of family-based childcares (those run within private residences), and found more than 50 listings that met her distance requirements.

Then she started calling, expecting more luck here than with the group childcare centres. That luck didn’t show.

“You know, it’s absolutely disheartening. Every time you call a childcare you’re thinking, okay, maybe this place will have a spot. But every single time they have none and when you ask them if they know of anyone else you get a no again. Everyone they know is full,” says Kernohan. One told her their next available spot was in 2018.

An issue that won’t go away

As of 2012 there were 55,652 regulated (meaning safety inspected by B.C. Ministry of Health) centre-based childcare spaces for all children up to age four in British Columbia. Including regulated family-based childcare spaces — private homes licensed to care for up to seven kids — the total goes up to 71,624, a number that falls far short of the overall number of B.C. kids in that age group: 226,000.

That means only one in every three children in B.C. has access to a regulated childcare space — either part-time or full-time, depending on the parents’ needs.

“Access to childcare is a big, big issue that keeps coming up. We constantly hear anecdotally how hard it is,” says Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator for First Call B.C., a child and youth advocacy organization.

And the few available spaces are expensive.

In Vancouver, parents working full time in 2013 would pay an average of $1,261 monthly (an increase of five per cent from 2012, and part of a rising trend in childcare costs) to send their one-year old toddler to a daycare centre. That’s $15,132 per year; slightly less than three years of tuition at a Canadian university.

“And this comes at the very moment young British Columbian parents were hoping they would be paying down on their own student debts,” says Paul Kershaw, interim associate director of the Human Early Learning Partnership at UBC.

While an unregulated space can be a slightly cheaper solution, it might come at a cost.

“Research has shown that quality is higher in regulated childcare settings and that the quality matters not only for putting parents at ease but also in terms of helping kids develop socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically,” says Kershaw.

The waiting game

By March, after six months of futile hunting, Morgan and Kernohan had finished their list of family-based childcare spaces and come up empty. As a last resort they found themselves searching for unlicensed family-based daycares on Craigslist.

“We didn’t feel comfortable with a lot of them,” explains Kernohan.

“I felt really terrible because now I’m doing what has already happened to us. These are people that are only paid $9 an hour to raise my kid,” says Kerhonan.

No-goes were the childcares in dark basement apartments with almost no daylight and a smell of wet and mould. Others were inconsistent in their communication, making Kernohan and Morgan guessing whether or not they could be trusted with their son….

Childcare a low priority for government

In 2006 the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked Canada worst amongst 14 developed countries in a comparison of who did most to provide early childhood education and care (ECEC) for all children up to age six.

At the top where Nordic countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They spent upwards of two per cent of their GDP on ECEC while Canada hit rock bottom with a 0.25 per cent spending of the GDP — half the percentage of what our American neighbours spend….

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