Province expanding child care program Affordable child care boosts economy and fights poverty

Just before Christmas, the province announced that it was expanding the $25/day child care program it launched last April.

An additional 78 early childhood centres will be added to the original 22, with 4,500 extra spaces to be created across Alberta, said the press release. This is great news for families, particularly those struggling with high child care fees, but it’s a drop in the bucket relative to the need for affordable, quality child care spaces, particularly in Edmonton.

Of the 270 $25/day spaces funded in Edmonton, only 123 are actually accepting children. It is unclear when the 71 spaces operated by the Bissell Centre will be available; they hope to make an announcement later this spring. Both ABC Head Start and the Oliver Centre continue to look for appropriate space to house the spaces for which they have been approved funding. Space is a problem far too common for non-profit organizations in our city and it’s a problem that the City of Edmonton has been reluctant to address.

As of press time, applications for child care spaces were still being accepted on a first-come, first-served basis at the Africa Centre (which has a total of 40 spaces), while the 83 spaces at the Intercultural Child and Family Centre operating at the old McCauley School was full and had a waiting list. Applications for the second stage of the program were being accepted to the end of January and the successful proponents will be announced early this spring.

Last year, EndPoverty Edmonton identified six “game changers” that would make a real difference in the lives of people Edmontonians living in our city. The fifth of these was the provision of affordable, quality child care. Also last year, the city launched its Child Friendly Edmonton Working Plan, which was long on platitudes but offered few specifics for families to access affordable, quality child care.

It’s not just low-income families who are struggling to care for their children. People with modest and middle incomes are having a hard time as well. A recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives looked at child care fees across the country. Edmonton landed in the middle of the pack, with parents paying on average $790/month for a space in a day home to $990/month for space for an infant in a child care centre. According to the report, costs increased by 19 per cent in Edmonton between 2014 and 2016.

Subsidies are available on a sliding scale for low to middle income families through the provincial government. A single parent with one child earning less than $42,120 is eligible, while a two parent family with one child must earn less than $50,000 to qualify. For families with two children, these figures go up to $44,000 and $52,000 respectively. The maximum amount available for infants is $628 and $546 for preschoolers, with subsidies for school-aged children topped at $310.

A Conference Board of Canada report released last October suggests that Canada is a laggard compared to the rest of the world when investing in early childhood education and will lead to long-term negative economic impacts. The report also showed that 20 years after Quebec implemented its subsidized program, the work force participation of women aged 20 to 44 increased from 76 to 85 per cent, far exceeding increases seen in the rest of the country. And while Alberta still leads the country with respect to women’s labour force participation, the numbers here are going down, not up.

Governments know the lack of quality child care spaces has a negative impact on our economy, which is why we’ve seen the provincial and federal governments announcing significant boosts to funding. They know increasing the numbers of women participating not only help boosts our economy, but is also an important factor in addressing poverty.

In 2015, Canadian families with stay-at-home mothers made up 43 per cent of low-income households, compared to just 12 per cent of those with working mothers, according to the report.

It’s time the City of Edmonton pay more than lip service to being child-friendly and step up to the plate in helping child care providers find the space they need to operate, which will help families, too.

Featured Image: Affordable, quality child care will help everyone in the long run. | Pixabay

Mimi Williams

Mimi is a writer who first moved to the Alberta Avenue area over 20 years ago. She has participated in a number of revitalization initiatives and continues to promote the Ave as one of the best areas to live, work and play in Edmonton.

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