It’s no secret that Canada’s early childhood education and care (ECEC) is patchy. There are varying degrees of quality and limited accessibility to ECEC facilities. Yet, parents are still left paying outrageous costs.
On average, Edmonton parents pay over $1,000 a month for infant care, about $950 a month for toddlers, and around $925 every month for preschool-aged children, according to a report (www.policyalternatives.ca/TheAlarm) by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Families are forced to balance quality, accessibility, and of course, cost, so that their children can receive a basic need: care and education.
Public K-12 schooling and universities already receive government funding, and yet ECEC programs have been continuously overlooked, despite the huge potential to impact the wellbeing and future success of children.
These are issues that the federal government plans to address through the $10-a-day childcare plan announced in April. The program aims to provide universal, high-quality care, and reduce childcare costs down to $10 a day by 2026 — a reduction that is sorely needed. Right now, negotiations for the childcare plan have been postponed because the Alberta government did not come to an agreement with the federal government before the September election was announced.
So far, seven provinces and three territories have been able to reach an agreement with the federal government.
The plan’s goal will allow parents to choose a childcare centre because it best fits the needs of their children, not because it is the only care they can afford or the only available ECEC facility in their neighbourhood.
In 2008, only 13 years ago, UNICEF ranked Canada last out of 25 developed countries regarding its ECEC policies. Today, Canada still lags behind other rich, developed countries in childcare practices, simply because childcare is unaffordable for many families.
Canada’s childcare climate is full of “deserts,” according to a report by Susan Prentice and Linda A. White, which occur when families have unequal access to childcare based on income or location. This means many families, especially racialized or low-income families, are being left behind because childcare is simply unaffordable, or because there aren’t enough available slots in childcare centres in their area.
According to the same report, as of 2016, there were 4.9 million children between the ages of 0 and 12 in Canada, and only 1.35 million licensed childcare facilities. This only left enough space for 27 per cent of those children and led to almost 70 per cent of childcare facilities having a waiting list.
The federal government plans to grow the number of childcare spaces that are open across the country in order to meet the needs of Canadians. This would provide every family with equal opportunities for educating their children and investing in their futures.
The benefits to publicly funded ECEC don’t stop at reduced costs and more available childcare slots. Early education programs have been shown to improve the educational aspirations of children, heighten their capacity to learn, and help them perform better on assessments, like reading comprehension. Quality ECEC programs also level the playing field and reduce social inequities for children, regardless of background or economic situation (see cpha.ca/sites/default/files/assets/policy/ecec_e.pdf).
“There is no time more critical to children’s brain development – and therefore their futures – than the earliest years of life,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore. “We need governments to help provide parents with the support they need to create a nurturing environment for their young children.”
Another reason affordable childcare is so essential is because it levels the playing field for women in the workforce. Since it is often women who stay at home with their children, they receive fewer chances to advance in their careers, unequal pay, and often have gaps in their employment history because of childcare. Universal Canadian childcare that is affordable and accessible would allow more women to enter the workforce, both inside and outside of the childcare industry. The 2021 Canadian Budget states that women would be able to reach their economic potential and contribute to Canada’s GDP by an estimated 1.2 per cent.
The proposed plan will also ensure childhood educators receive consistent and effective ECEC training to improve childcare quality. Higher levels of education would also increase the wages of childcare educators above the notoriously low $19.20 an hour average.
It’s high time that Canada invests in quality ECEC for its children. This is an opportunity that other well-off countries (Sweden, Norway, and Germany) have already embraced. The plan can only improve the futures of children, the lives of women, and even Canada’s financial situation. Childcare is essential and Alberta shouldn’t let this opportunity pass by.