Notes from The need for public child care: CUPE

Public child care pays off

VANCOUVER – Child care workers, parents, and activists were at the Vancouver Public Library last night to talk about how to improve child care, as part of a cross country tour organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

A panel of academics, community activists and child care advocates brought facts and figures along with a lot of passion to the call for Canada’s governments to move to a publicly funded and delivered system of early childhood care and education.

The more than 70 participants were buoyed by the UVic board of governors decision earlier in the day to back away from a proposal to expand child care capacity at the university by contracting with big box corporation Kids & Co. CUPE 951 president Doug Sprenger, whose local represents UVic child care workers, gave credit to the board for listening to the opposition on campus and in the community. “The UVic board of governors made the right decision. But a shortage of quality spaces remains and we will be focusing on getting adequate public funding to expand the high quality child care programs at UVic.”

CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill, opened the forum saying “the most important thing we have to work for is our future, our children and our grandchildren.” O’Neill, who has a passion for community initiatives and economic development, said that child care is not only the right thing to do, it is a great investment.”

Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator for First Call, painted a powerful picture of the sorry state of child poverty in B.C. She presented data from the Campaign 2000 report that was released on November 24, showing that B.C. continues its six year record of having the highest child poverty rate in Canada. Universal child care, said Montani, would make a “huge difference” in the lives of poor children.

Speaking for the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada and from her experience with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC Susan Harney described the situation facing B.C. children as “shameful.” She urged advocates to be forceful in putting forward a vision for a publicly funded child care system.

Keynote speaker Susan Prentice said that child care is an urgent social justice issue. “Yet it is instead becoming an area in which commercial interests are operating. Child care needs to be taken out of the buyer-beware market,” she said. Sharing some of the key findings and recommendations of About Canada: Childcare, which she co-authored with Martha Friendly, Prentice put forward strong arguments for a publicly funded and delivered system.

Prentice described Canada’s non-profit child care sector as a “popcorn model” – where child care will pop up if parents can come together and find the time and resources to try to meet their child care needs. “The patchwork result is flawed, as it relies on already-stretched parents and voluntary groups to set up and maintain non-profit centres. While these programs have been the backbone of child care, they are unable to properly plan or provide services everywhere the need exists,” said Prentice.

Prentice noted that Canada is experiencing a surge in private, for-profit child care. She referred to the recent proposal for Kids & Co. at the University of Victoria as an increasingly common example of what is happening.

“The numbers clearly show that public child care more than pays for itself through measurable social, educational, health and economic benefits to children, families and society. Delivering spaces through local public bodies like school boards or municipalities responds to community needs, is affordable and offers high quality,” said Prentice.

Jamie Kass, a member of CUPE’s child care action working group, put the evening in context – saying that there is a good deal of support for action towards public funding and delivery from child care workers, parents and unions in communities across Canada.

The evening moderator, Randi Gurholt-Seary, shared stories and kept the information-packed meeting on track. A number of questions and comments from the audience indicated interest in continuing to work towards public delivery of child care.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has organized the tour, which brings together community activists, parents, academics, child care workers and union members, to push for action on child care.