As anticipated, the NDP Government has followed through on its promise to help alleviate the financial strain that childcare places on families. It is a good first step, even as it leaves a portion of the childcare field out of the loop.
Currently, any care provider offering full-day care will be able to reduce parent fees by up to $350/month for an infant/toddler spot. The rates vary based on licensed vs. unlicensed care and age of the child in question.
So far however, the uptake from the field has been hesitant at best, with good reason. The contract is binding, a little confusing, and the answers haven't been easy to get at. There also seems to be some concern as to what the hidden agenda is, as many small home-based and private operators have expressed concern that this is the first step in an action intended to 'take over' the business of many centre operators with no consideration for all they have invested in their privately operated childcare settings.
Some care providers have been completely left out of the funding opportunity, which could put some interesting pressure on the field as well. Licensed preschools, offering part-day, part-time childcare, will not be able to offer any discounts to families at all. this seems to suggest that preschool isn't 'childcare', even though anyone operating a preschool will confirm that parents do indeed use preschool as a part of their childcare puzzle. Not being able to offer a fee reduction in preschool could see some families migrating away from programs into full time care options, which could in turn cause some preschool operators to consider the viability of their programs, and maybe having to close altogether.
As an Early Childhood Educator and a parent, i fully appreciate the need for better access to childcare, and the need for more options to be more affordable. However, i wonder how this current financial incentive is benefiting the field overall? If it is a stated goal of the ECE field(and it is) to further quality in care by ensuring programs are licensed and well-regulated and care providers are trained, qualified ECE's, and it is also recognized across the board that programs offered by not-for-profit agencies consistently deliver better programs - likely due to their mandate to re-invest any profit back into programs - than do private, for profit and/or commercial childcare operations - then how does funding everyone further that goal? Currently, the new funding is available to licensed, regulated care with a qualified ECE staff, in both the private and the not-for profit settings. It is also available to commercial 'big box' operators who are fiscally responsible to their shareholders each quarter... hmm.
Choice is important - absolutely incontrovertible truth. Families should have choices in care. Centre based group care is one option, home based small group is another important option, preschool is also part of the childcare landscape. When it comes for universal funding though, doesn't it make sense for there to be something consistent among all those choices? Funding all centres operated by at least one qualified ECE? Or all centres that are licensed, and therefore subject to regular inspection? Or all centres that demonstrate regular re-investment of funds directly back into programs?
Well, as stated - it's a good first step. It will be interesting to see just how it plays out in the next months as the kinks are worked out. As a preschool operator, I am content to wait until that day when there are clear, concise answers to all my questions about opting in - or out - of the new funding initiative.
Since 1986, I have been working with, and on behalf of young children. As an ECE and a Mom, I have gained some insights and made some mistakes that I am happy to share with others, in hopes that some of what I have learned will be of use to others. Corinne