Opinion: It’s time for a publicly funded child care system

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A pan-Canadian early learning and child care system will be good for everyone. In April, the federal government announced a $ 30 billion commitment to build a universal, affordable, accessible and high quality child care system. One of its goals is for families to pay an average of $ 10 a day by the end of 2026.

As a mom, I know the hardships of child care. It was difficult to find a place, pay the fees, make sure it was of high quality and met the needs of my child. On two occasions, we moved to licensed day homes because the educators were leaving the field to go back to school, to upgrade their skills to find better paying jobs. We once changed because the program was not a perfect fit. It was 12 years ago. Today, the situation for parents is even more difficult.

The federal commitment to universal child care is an opportunity that can work for everyone. While details are yet to be determined, the federal government has said the parent fee reduction will not be negotiable. This means that all families who use regulated child care could benefit from it, regardless of their family situation or needs.

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Research shows that tax breaks and subsidies are not the best way increase the choice, affordability, availability or quality of child care services. A well-planned system, using supply-side funding, can include planning mechanisms to determine where the need is, how it can be met, create stability, and increase quality and inclusion. The increase in full-time and part-time options will allow parents to make decisions based on what is best for their family.

Some programs offering services fear being excluded. However, when you dig deeper, the federal government says it will “work with provinces and territories to primarily help non-profit child care providers create quality spaces across the country while ensuring that families in all licensed spaces benefit from more affordable child care ”. Any existing regulated programs that choose to accept the proposed funding and adhere to specific accountability measures could benefit from it and no longer rely primarily on parental fees to operate.

It will also be good for educators. For years, early childhood educators have been subsidizing, with their low wages, childcare costs, something that could be supported by the government instead. While many receive a salary increase from the province, most are still grossly underpaid. A planned system, along with a provincial workforce strategy, could help break the cycle of standards, wages, working conditions and high turnover.

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In a recent research paper, the Public Policy Forum called the early childhood educator workforce a pillar of quality; without early childhood educators there is no early learning and care. They deserve to be appreciated for their complex work, similar to how we respect teachers working in the school system. The early years are a time of rapid growth and development in a child’s life. Quality settings provide inclusive and rewarding experiences that allow children to explore, learn and develop. Let’s go beyond just “watching” children – they and their educators deserve better.

Public investment is not a scary word when it comes with a long-term vision for early learning and child care that federal, provincial and territorial governments have embraced. already accepted. Some would say that this type of system would “institutionalize” our child care programs; it is not the intention. The federal government has said programs should be community-based and the uniqueness of our regulated programs should be taken into account in negotiations.

As a citizen, I am proud of our health and education systems. I can go to the doctor when I’m sick and not worry about being in debt afterwards. And public education (Kindergarten to Grade 12) is a benefit that all children can access without costing parents unaffordable fees. Well-planned and publicly funded systems are good for all of society. A childcare system will increase GDP, increase women’s participation in the labor force, and provide more than enough tax revenue to pay for the program.

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Morna Ballantyne, a well-known advocate, insists that “provincial and territorial governments will find it difficult to shy away from the initiative, especially as each has repeatedly stated during the pandemic that child care is essential to their own economy ”.

This conversation about child care has been going on for over 50 years. “Now is the time,” said Federal Minister Ahmed Hussen. Alberta must take advantage of this historic opportunity. Five years from now, we can have an early learning and child care system that serves us well, has a place for everyone, and reaping positive benefits for our families and our youngest citizens.

Jennifer Usher is a parent and works on behalf of the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Alberta.

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