Childcare, particularly for the littlest children, is at a crisis point in the province of BC, and likely across the whole country. It has been at a crisis for many years it seems, with a chronic lack of spaces and increasingly out of reach parent fees. Many families are looking at fees that are higher than their rent or mortgage payments for childcare. There is a wide range of care options, licensed and not licensed, in home or centre-based... with a wide range of fees as well.
On the flip side of that same struggle, childcare providers and centers are increasingly challenged to find and retain good quality, well-trained staff members. Wages and benefits are not high, and are not consistent across all centres in any region. The costs of the post-secondary education required to be a licensed caregiver continue to climb, and are very quickly reaching the break point where the wages earned after graduation do not justify the cost of the training.
But, this is not news! The 'crisis' in childcare has been ongoing for many years, despite the efforts of those who continue to work on improving the existing situation. Why then, with such constant attention, does childcare continue to be in a crisis mode?
I can't be sure, but it seems to me that part of what is lacking in moving towards some of these bigger changes is fairly simple. Real changes will come from the higher ups, like government and the administration of post secondary institutions. Government could help by instituting a higher income cut off to qualify for subsidy so more families can access the program, and by raising the amount of the subsidy to cover a greater portion of the fees. (The '$10 a day' platform has spent a lot of time and energy detailing how this could be achieved without a painful shift in our taxes, and it is worth reading the research that has been done on this.)
In this region, one of our most recognizable post secondary institutions was obliged to mobilize the community to fight to keep their Early Learning and Care program on the school calendar, as the college thought the space and funds could be better used elsewhere! Greater support for childcare education programs is required to ensure the field continues to have a supply of qualified educators.
Childcare administrators, those who operate large or small centres with staff also struggle to keep it all going, as almost all of the costs of providing care are borne by the parents in the form of parent fees. Staff wages? from parent fees. Benefits? from the fees. Overhead? from the fees. Of course, childcare is a user-pay system, but still the relatively small group of users (parents) can only be expected to pay so much to keep the service that they need.
But even so, with all this awareness of what the issues are, why can we not move ahead more effectively? Why is it still a 'small c' crisis? I think it may be in part to the fact that for families the crisis is relatively short lived! they white-knuckle their way through the worst of it for 4 or 5 years, juggling childcare options, making sacrifices to pay for care, working parent schedules to manage pick up and drop off times and then its over! Off to publicly funded school! All the trauma of childcare concerns finally fades to the back as new things take centre stage and parents don't think about it much anymore.
Families are the most seriously impacted by all the issues around childcare, the most able to be passionate about how childcare, the lack of childcare, the fees for childcare, their concerns about the people who provide their childcare... but they can not also be expected to be the loudest advocates for care, particularly during the times when they are feeling the pinches most significantly. This is an exhausted group of people! It takes energy to make an impact and effect lasting change!
To make any significant progress on the childcare front, we need a more diverse group of folks to advocate for change on behalf of all our children, all the children and grandchildren we may have in the future. We need more than just those dedicated and passionate early childhood educators to speak for our little ones! Childcare affects everyone in our community, at all levels, when it doesn't work. The business community needs to speak up, the education folks - speak up! Government agencies - speak up! Together we can all make changes that recognize that our little people are some of the most important in our communities, and together we must support them and their families.
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