Provincial Government Hansard

Official report of Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Afternoon Sitting, Volume 6, Number 7

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Children and Family Development Ministry budget priorities — Funding for infant development program

M. Karagianis: Well, Dorothy Gazzola, whose daughter has Down syndrome, says that the infant development coordinators — a program this government just cut — were a godsend. She said that they were integral to the development of her special needs child. Yet this government cut those coordinators, insisting that it was a cut to administration.

So my question again to the minister: shouldn’t the minister start at the top rather than going down and hurting those most vulnerable as the first line of attack?

Hon. M. Polak: The member well knows, because we’ve canvassed this before, that both the infant development program and the supported child development program continue uninterrupted, and that the administrative and coordinating functions that were represented by the provincial advisor’s office will now be provided through the ministry regional offices — again, consistent with the multi-year plan that we are still continuing with to decentralize according to what Mr. Ted Hughes recommended in his well-known report.

J. Kwan: Well, that’s not what the front-line workers say. April Kennedy at Sheway and her colleague work with young infants and pregnant women with substance misuse challenges. She and her co-worker provide developmental screenings, assessments and support to group parents. They rely heavily on the information provided to them by the advisers in the infant and Aboriginal Infant Development Program of B.C. so that the high-risk infants and their families have a better chance to succeed in life. Currently they have a caseload of 80 infants, and approximately 70 percent are identified as aboriginal.

To the minister again: is the chance to succeed for 80 high-risk children not worth $300,000?

Hon. M. Polak: I will advise the member that the infant development program maintains the same budget that it began with — $18 million this year, an all-time high — and supported child development has seen an increase in funding from $37.7 million in ’04-05 to an all-time high now of $57 million this year.

These are hugely valuable programs, but they’re part of a complex array of supports that we provide to children and families around the province. As we shift to decentralize, I want to remind the members of something that Mr. Hughes said in his report — decentralization “allows for a closer match of services and programs to the unique needs of widely dispersed…communities.” And that’s what we are going to provide….

J. Kwan: You know, from the front-line workers’ point of view, they take a different point of view than this minister. They say that training and current information on relevant trends and changes in early intervention are an essential part of providing quality services to the heavy at-risk caseload.

The infant development office has helped over 80,000 parents at the cost of $300,000. That’s $3.75 per family….

J. Kwan: Why is it that this government can find half a billion dollars for a retractable roof, and they cannot find $300,000 to support front-line workers working with high-risk infants of 18 months or younger?

Hon. M. Polak: I will repeat this for the member. There are no reductions in service in infant development programs. There are no reductions in service in supported child development programs. In fact, both programs are being funded at an all-time high….


Thursday, November 5, 2009, Afternoon Sitting – EXCERPTS

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M. Elmore: I’ll be asking some questions on the topic of child care. I guess my first question to the minister is: can you just outline for me the budget allocated for child care?

Hon. M. Polak: The budget for child care is about $300 million this year. That’s an increase of about $8 million.

M. Elmore: Would I be able to get a breakdown of the different components of the budget …..


Hon. M. Polak:

… I’ll start with early childhood development, because that actually isn’t included in that $300 million. That amounts to $23 million. In terms of child care subsidy, which is a part of the $300 million, that’s $148 million. The child care operating funding is $65 million, and the supported child development funding is $57 million. 

M. Elmore: Thank you, Minister.

…. I understand we are still receiving funds from the federal government for child care. It should be $33 million that’s been promised for the last couple of years, and continuing as well. Does the minister have a breakdown for those funds as well?

Hon. M. Polak: For ’09-10 we received from the federal government… $33.61 million. That breaks down as follows. Some $14.35 million goes to subsidy, $9.16 million goes to the operating funding, $9.3 million goes to resource and referral, $160,000 goes to major capital, $200,000 goes to child care operations and administration, and $440,000 goes to supported child development.

M. Elmore: …Can you tell me…? It says here in the service plan that for 2007-08 the total number of ministry-funded licensed child care spaces was 87,538, that the actual for 2008-09 was 92,751 and that the target for 2009-2010 is 91,000.

… it appears that there’s a drop — the numbers from 2008-09 of 92,751 to a drop for the 2009-10 target of 91,000. That also carries through to ’10-11, a static target, as well as to ’11-12 for those spaces.


Hon. M. Polak: In part, this is because it isn’t the ministry that actually creates spaces — right? It’s the sector out there that creates the spaces. When they do, we provide them funding.

We are anticipating that due to the fact that we are not providing a major capital budget for this year, we will not see an increase in spaces. We are on track to meet that 91,000-space target, and essentially, the performance measures targets are consistent with what we anticipate in terms of year-over-year growth and looking at the historical trends.

…Since ’01 the major capital funding that we’ve provided has actually enabled us to create or to assist in creating more than 6,500 spaces in that time period.

We are not at this time, given the current economic circumstance, able to provide a major capital funding program. Nevertheless, we are at a very high level in terms of the numbers when compared to past years, and we expect that to remain consistent and not see a reduction.

M. Elmore: Minister, can you tell me: what is the budget line for the minor capital grants and what percentage of the budget that makes up?

Hon. M. Polak: The amount allocated for minor capital this year is $500,000.

M. Elmore: What was the amount for minor capital grants last year, last budget?

Hon. M. Polak: It was $1.2 million.

M. Elmore: So my question is with the reduction. Maybe you can talk about the reduction in the minor capital grant program. Certainly, I’ve heard a number of concerns come forward, and a number of facilities talked to me about the difficulties that they’re facing trying to meet the needs of maintaining their facilities in terms of meeting the provincial regulations that they are required to. ….

M. Elmore: Does the minister have a percentage of the cut that that represents to the overall child care budget, just as a reference?

Hon. M. Polak: It represents approximately $700,000 less out of that $300 million budget, which is, to my mind, although I have to say it’s late in the day, and my brain is tired…. I think it’s less than half a percent.

M. Elmore: I’ve got correspondence, and I’m sure the minister and the staff have heard from a number of facilities that are experiencing hardship, certainly, in recognition that the minor capital grants are not for major renovations but just for the upkeep, for minor repairs.

I have a report from the Esprit child care centre in Gibsons. I can forward this on if you haven’t received it as well.

The Esprit child care centre in Gibsons is an on-site child care centre at Elphinstone Secondary School. The repairs that they have done there are by the school district maintenance staff. They say that they’re having a hard time making the necessary changes and minor repairs to their facility to meet the regulations. Due to the cut, they are experiencing hardship. That’s a report from that care centre in Gibsons.

I also have a submission from the Quignas day care. They talk also about the hardship of the reduction in the grant. They take a little bit more of a historical view. The coordinator there has been working in the field since 1979 and has seen that very little has improved.


They characterize the cut to the minor capital grant as a money grab from the child care field, putting undue hardship on the facility trying to meet the regulations and make the necessary changes, and the reductions in the child care grant…. Actually, they would have to pass those fees on to parents, and they would be forced to offset the costs of making the necessary upgrades. That would be translated into higher parent costs.

That’s certainly the story I’ve been hearing and painting in terms of the situation of child care here in British Columbia.

Number one, it represents such a small percentage of the overall budget. Also, in context of the lack of investment in major capital, one component of a sustainable child care system is the necessity to invest in infrastructure, not only in major capital funding but in terms of the minor capital, in making those necessary upgrades. It’s an important aspect of our child care system, and it’s to meet the provincial regulations that they’re required to do that.

Child care facilities are reporting that it’s putting a hardship on them. They have to make these changes, these upgrades, and it’s resulting in having to transfer those costs onto parents. They’re having to raise their fees, and that’s a concern from child care providers.

Since I’ve been talking to and meeting with a number of child care providers, I’ve been struck by their concern in terms of wanting to offer quality service to kids and also for parents and families. That also is quite touching in terms of their commitment to the field. They take it very seriously — providing quality child care. ….

M. Elmore: …. The reason is… I have a letter from the Windermere Valley Child Care Society. They’re running a non-profit child care centre, and they’re finding that the financial issues they’re being faced with…. They’re running a deficit over the years, so it’s accumulating, and it’s insufficient to cover their costs. From this letter, the parents are receiving the brunt of the shortfall. Some families can handle it, but some can’t.

I would just like to be able to report back to the letters that have come in to me, in terms of some relief for these facilities that are providing child care and their efforts to meet the provincial regulations.


Hon. M. Polak: The child care operating fund is provided to agencies at a rate of about 12 to 14 percent of what it’s costing to them to run their facility. You can add to that the subsidy that’s provided for low-income families, which is up to the full amount of what they are charging.

The money that comes through CCOF is no-strings-attached money. If they chose to, they could certainly make an internal decision to have moneys like that go to minor capital.

These are private agencies, and it is up to them to manage their budget appropriately and determine whether or not they have other places they could look to within their budget, whether those are administrative efficiencies or other actions they may decide not to take this year. Again, that’s over to them as a private agency.

Our decision was based on difficult economic times and on our desire to protect what we felt was the highest priority, and that was the operating fund and also the subsidy. Certainly, we would love to be able to not have to make any of those decisions. Nevertheless, we were able to see our spending on child care increase this year by $8 million in the midst of some very difficult economic times.

Unfortunately, we’re not able to maintain funding for everything that we do, but we felt that the priority should be on maintaining the CCOF and the subsidy for low- and moderate-income families.

M. Elmore: I’d just like to have on record that a number of child care providers have expressed that it will have quite an impact on them and their ability to make the necessary renovations and improvements to meet the regulations, and that they’ll have to pass those costs on to the families.

I was wondering if I could just go back. You gave me the current number for this budget — $300 million for child care. Do you also have the numbers for ’10-11 and ’11-12 projected for the child care? ….

M. Elmore: It’s a math question again. Just in terms of the overall MCFD budget, the investment of $300 million in child care — what does that represent in percent of that budget and in percent of the overall budget just roughly?

Hon. M. Polak: It’s about 21 percent of our overall budget.

M. Elmore: Could the minister explain to me the trend in the subsidy allocation? I notice that it’s about half of the current budget.


Hon. M. Polak: Last year we spent about $144 million, and this year we’ll spend $148.2 million.

M. Elmore: The subsidies — I recognize that they comprise nearly half of the overall child care budget. I have a submission from the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union in terms of subsidies — that subsidies are simply giving money to individuals. It’s not a substitute for quality child care, and just pouring money into child care subsidies doesn’t address the need for more spaces in the province. There is a need for spaces, and also the issue of affordability.

If I can just hear the minister’s response on that.

Hon. M. Polak: In fact, the ability of this province…. I shouldn’t say the ability. The decision of this province to provide for subsidy as a significant portion of this funding is what provides parents with choices that they don’t have in other places. Our province is the only province that allows parents to be subsidized for in-home day care, which they may choose to have.

We believe that affording parents that choice is an important thing. It’s also important to note that most provinces have a hybrid model of funding, where there is some money going to subsidize and some money going to daily operating funding. ….

M. Elmore: I’ve been hearing reports about the long wait-lists that parents have in terms of trying to get their infants, toddlers or young children into day care spaces and just the lack of spaces that are available.

The question to the minister is about…. Certainly not contradicting the role that subsidies play, but in terms that subsidies don’t address the need to alleviate wait-lists and to provide spaces for much-needed child care spaces….


Hon. M. Polak: It is unfortunately difficult to assess wait-lists coming from day care centres or child care centres, because in very many instances it is most common for parents to register in a number of different day care centres. ….For our purposes, though, we have certainly been great contributors to the creation of spaces. …

M. Elmore: The minister has raised the challenge of determining what is…. We know the current number of spaces that are provided. Certainly I hear, and child care providers tell me, that there are huge wait-lists. They characterize it as a system in crisis. There are not adequate spaces to accommodate the requests, and affordability is also a challenge.

So the question becomes: is the ministry looking at ways to actually document and quantify what the wait-list is in the community to be able to better inform plans going forward in terms of addressing the needs for child care spaces?

Hon. M. Polak: We don’t plan for where child care spaces should be or how many there should be. What we do is provide funding to those that are created. I believe the number right now is 4,800 providers throughout the province. That makes it, as you can imagine, being that they are private agencies, difficult to track exactly what is going on in each community.

Nevertheless, our role is in providing support through not only the child care operating fund but also through subsidy. It is the private sector’s role to create those spaces, and we respond with funding support when they do. ….


M. Elmore: Besides these facilities, I’ve also had meetings up at UBC and at SFU with their child care facilities there. They’ve reported to me that their wait-list is also in excess of the hundreds and also many years’ wait-list.

The problem — it’s a little bit of a different constituency in terms of the needs of students and families pursuing their graduate and post-doc and post-graduate work at these institutions — is that besides the faculty and staff, the students also need that support. If they’re young parents and have small kids, they need to access child care to have that support in terms of pursuing their educational programs.

I was just wondering if you’re aware of the backlog and the wait-lists at UBC and SFU in terms of the requests for spaces and the needs for that. ….


M. Elmore: I also met with the UBC alma mater. Did they raise to you the wait-lists and the need for spaces and the wait times? Did they give you an indication of that?

Hon. M. Polak: Yes, they did. ….Again, we understand they’re experiencing issues around demand — high demand for their programs. But that is an opportunity, hopefully, for someone to see the need and then decide that they wish to invest in creating child care spaces, which we then would be funding through our child care operating fund, should they qualify, which we would expect they would.

M. Elmore: Certainly, responses for the need, the pressing need, for more spaces out at UBC and also a number of other post-secondary institutions.

The need there, as well as the need for more spaces — which I’ve been hearing in terms of the wait-lists — is support for young families, particularly young mothers. It’s not as much as in past years. You know, there is shared parenting of parents — mothers and fathers — but certainly it often falls to the mother.

One of the aspects, as well, that I heard is that the lack of child care spaces, particularly at UBC and SFU, is resulting in a barrier for young women who are seeking to complete their degrees and pursue their education, their academic careers. It’s a barrier in terms of pursuing their academic work. So that’s one of the impacts of lack of spaces at post-secondary institutions.

Also, in the community, it’s young families and often the working mothers who face the greatest challenge of needing to find reliable child care for their kids when they’re trying to work and also support their family. So if the minister could speak to that. …


I’m concerned, and I think it’s really too bad that we’re not seeing the creation of more spaces this year and that it hasn’t been projected into the plan. So if the minister could speak to that.


Hon. M. Polak: The role of the private sector is to create spaces. They do that. We are there to support them with operating funding, which provides stability to the system — maintains the existing spaces. …. Although the target for this year is 91,000 spaces, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there might not be providers who come along in the interim and build or open new spaces. If they were to do that, then we would be providing them, as well, with child care operating funding. But, again, that is not the role that the ministry plays. We do support spaces at times when we have finances to run and operate a major capital budget, and we have done that over the years to the tune of 6,500 spaces since 2001. ….

M. Elmore: I think that the dependence on the private sector can be identified as one of the problems in terms of relying solely on the private sector to create child care spaces. If you look at it in terms of quality child care assistance that is offered in other jurisdictions, other countries, market-based models have not been shown to deliver the spaces because the profit margin is small. Also, the other problem is that it tends to drive up costs — costs that comes out in terms of fees for parents. Also, it drives down wages in terms of wages to the child care providers.

[H. Bloy in the chair.]

I think that maybe exists as a philosophical difference in terms of the role of government supporting child care and, also, regarding it as an investment to create child care spaces and to identify child care as a public service that’s offered and benefits society as a whole. We reap those benefits for providing universal, affordable and accessible child care for all citizens regardless of their ability to pay and according to need.

Maybe the minister can speak to that. ….

M. Elmore: Recognizing that I’ve heard and it’s been characterized as a crisis in the child care system — the lack of spaces, the long wait-lists for parents, to get into facilities — another issue that has also been raised consistently is the issue of affordability and the rising costs of child care.

I have a letter, a submission from a family who was on a wait-list for over three years in the West End. The child care costs are continuing to rise, and it’s out of the reach of many families, even with the subsidies. They quote here the cost of child care. It’s recorded now that child care costs are the second-highest expense for a family after they’re paying for their home, shelter.

One is a lawyer, and the other works at UBC. Their fees are $1,290 a month, which works out to $23,500 gross net income. Those are the fees they are having to pay, in addition to the high wait-list. That’s the situation. It’s very grave for families and young families. I think I’d characterize them as desperate in terms of needing to find places to look after their kids while they’re going to school. There’s a need for more spaces in our system.

If I can just ask the minister to comment on what she heard in terms of affordability of child care for families here in B.C.

Hon. M. Polak: Certainly, we recognize that affordability is a challenge. ….Again, back to our priorities, they were chosen based on the recognition that affordability is a significant challenge for parents out there. ….

M. Elmore: I understand that the minister isn’t prepared to take a stand on this pressing issue that’s of concern, pretty much, to the entire child care providers and advocates and organizations in B.C.

I have another question in terms of the early childhood educators. One of the concerns, certainly, is ensuring that these professionals, who are very dedicated to their careers, are able to make a living wage in their profession. Often we see that there is downward pressure on wages in terms of trying to meet affordability for parents. I’m wondering if the minister is in support of…. There’s a campaign calling for a living wage for early childhood educators, a $20 an hour wage. I’m wondering if the minister is in support of that.

Hon. M. Polak: The role of the ministry is to provide for financial support to day care providers. We do that through the child care operating fund. It is the providers who set the wages for their employees. It is not government who has a role to play in that. ….

M. Elmore: My next question is: is the minister interested in looking at adding a wage subsidy for early childhood educators as one of the line items — besides providing the subsidy and the operating funds and the minor grants and those different lines, adding a line in terms of supporting the wage subsidy for ECEs?

Hon. M. Polak: No, we have not considered a separate wage subsidy. …

M. Elmore: So I take it, then, that there isn’t a plan. We don’t have a comprehensive plan in government to expand child care. ….

It’s striking when I meet with a number of the advocates and people very passionate about child care and the need to have a comprehensive, universal, affordable, accessible child care plan. Many of them are women. When I sit down with them, they say that this has been a fight they’ve taken on when they themselves were young mothers. They had young children, and they were trying to find child care spaces for their kids. They say they can’t imagine, you know, 30 years later that now their kids have grown up, their kids have had kids, and they’re grandparents now, and they are still fighting for a comprehensive child care system.

I think it really speaks to the need for a plan, in terms of how to systematically address the needs and concerns that I know…. Certainly, many people in this room, if you’ve raised kids, are familiar with that and have heard about the need for a comprehensive, universal child care system. There is need for a plan to address that.

M. Elmore: Just to conclude my remarks, and then I’ll pass it off. Certainly, I’ve been hearing from parents and child care providers, reporting that parent fees are going up and wait-lists are growing across the province. Also, low wages for the child care providers, the early childhood educators, are forcing them to leave the field. A child care action plan that actually looks at implementing and addressing some of these issues in a systematic way is what is needed to move the burden of child care funding from user fees to public funding; to set targets and timelines for lowering and capping parent fees; and to raise wages to a fair wage, a living wage, for early childhood educators. Also, to promote building of community-owned spaces to meet everyone’s needs.

So that’s what I’ve been hearing, and I think those are the priorities that I’m hoping to see more commitment from the government on. Thank you very much.