Kamloops council has endorsed what the province says is one of the largest social policy shifts in B.C.’s history — $10-a-day child care.
However, it is unclear when universal child care will be available to all B.C. residents, as promised by the NDP during the 2017 election campaign.
“It’s going to take time, unfortunately,” said the program’s provincial spokesperson, Sharon Gregson, of Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC.
Gregson was at city hall on Tuesday, requesting council’s support and detailing a 10-year plan, which is currently in its first year.
“Because the crisis was allowed to get so bad, there’s only enough child-care spaces in B.C. for about 20 per cent of children,” she said. “Early-childhood educators earn below a living wage and fees are sky high. That kind of thing doesn’t changed overnight.”
Council unanimously agreed to draft a resolution in support of the proposed $10-a-day plan. Kamloops is the 56th local/regional government to endorse the plan, in addition to more than 30 school districts.
The plan envisions quality and affordable universal child care by moving child care out of the Ministry of Family and Child Development and into the Ministry of Education, capping child-care fees at $10 a day, purchasing modular buildings to place on public land across the province and improving early child-care educator wages.
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said council’s support is consistent with its recent application for provincial funding to collect data on the state of child care locally.
Anecdotally, he said, he has heard of a “considerable deficit” for child care in Kamloops. The city’s role won’t be made more clear until after that deficit is studied and fully understood. Funding, however, will come from the provincial and federal governments.
“But I think, just as our role with affordable housing is concerned, we have to facilitate those kinds of things here that would be helpful,” he said, though noting to what capacity — such as land — is unclear.
Gregson said she has heard local “horror stories,” including parents unable to find infant care — KTW has been told of parents putting unborn children on waitlists — and kids taking taxis from school to the other side of town to get into a child-care program.
Gregson further detailed what she called “child-care chaos” in B.C.
The province has nearly 575,000 children up to the age of 12, two-thirds of whose mothers are working, but only 106,000 licensed child-care spaces. As a result, parents turn to an unregulated child-care sector, which Gregson said potentially puts kids at risk.
Additionally, she said, available care is unaffordable. In Kamloops, infant care can cost $1,000 per month, parents with kids ages three to five are paying $750 to $800 monthly and some places in B.C. see parents paying more than $2,000 per month.
How did it get so bad? Gregson said policy has failed to keep up with changing family dynamics and child care has withered in the marketplace, with insufficient provincial and federal support.
Meanwhile, a $10-a-day day-care pilot program is underway, including in Kamloops.
Families at the Kamloops Child Development Centre in North Kamloops are paying $200 per month and has 117 kids included in the province’s prototype project.
“It’s going very well,” Gregson said. “Families are ecstatic. It is described as life-changing. Families feel like they’ve won the lottery and they just wish that their friends and neighbours had the same kind of opportunity.”
Asked what other families do in the meantime, Gregson said: “Women stay out of the workforce, they shortchange their own careers — and typically it is the women, the mothers who take the brunt of that decision — or families have no choice but to use unlicensed, unregulated care with sometimes tragic consequences.
“I’m thinking about baby Mac, who died in an unlicensed, illegal childcare in east Vancouver not too long ago.”
Asked how families can protect themselves, she recommended contacting politicians at all levels of government to “say this is not good enough.”
The nature of families has changed over the years, with more women in the workplace than previous generations. More than half of families in 1976 saw mom stay home and dad work. By 2014, that number dropped to less than one-quarter.
ARE DAY CARES PROFITING OFF CHILD-CARE CRISIS?
Early-childhood educators continue to be underpaid, while parents are facing high costs of day care — so, where is the money going?
“There are only so many children you can have to be licensed in a group size so that you can provide quality care,” Gregson said.
“For example, if you’re caring for a group of infants, you can only have a maximum group size of 12. And yet, to care for 12 children well, you need four or five staff. And so, the majority of your budget go to paying staff, but you’ve only got 12 children’s fees to collect to pay those staff.
“So, when you’re running a high-quality program, most of your money is going into paying your staff wages and it’s still not enough to pay them well. That’s why it needs the provincial government to step up and pay operating funds and pay enhancements. The truth is, even in the programs charging over $2,000 a month, there is gouging of parents with fees that are too high, gouging of kids with low quality or gouging of early-childhood educators with low wages. The system has been left to wither in the marketplace.”