Opinion: Solving BC's childcare woes requires going beyond the $10-per-day model

Mar 31 2023, 1:00 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Spencer van Vlotena nationally published writer and community advocate from Vancouver. You can find more of his work at SpencerV.ca or follow him on Twitter at @SpencerVanCity

As the BC government continues moving toward its $10-per-day childcare goal, it must be careful not to develop tunnel vision.

Childcare is a pillar of societal well-being, from the strength of our economy to the health and intellectual development of our kids, to a critical element of gender equality. 

The provincial government is well aware of this and has been working to realize its goal of provincewide, $10-a-day care. 

It has been making headway on it too, increasing the tally to nearly 13,000 of these spots.

But it is important not to be myopic — there are glaring issues which must be addressed in the meantime through other remedies.

Let’s look at a few of them we are experiencing here in Vancouver and across BC.

Paying to wait

Prior to even securing childcare, many parents run into financial hurdles.

Whether framed as application fees, waitlist fees, or fees to a neighbourhood house or community centre, a non-refundable outlay is often required simply to apply for care, the justification being that such expenses must be charged to help care providers deal with administrative needs.

But childcare is not easy to come by, and with far more kids needing care than spots available, parents are forced to widely apply, sometimes to dozens of programs.

And the costs quickly rise.

For instance, if you were to apply at Core Education & Fine Arts Early Learning Centre’s three Vancouver locations, you would be out a non-refundable $300 per child, not to get them a spot in care, but merely for a chance thereof.

Apply to another few providers, say, Creekview Tiny Tots, Kiddy Junction Academy, or Kids and Company, then do the same for your child’s sibling, and you are close to or have surpassed $1,000, quite possibly without anything to show for it. 

While these are private businesses, within their rights to charge such fees, it inconveniences and limits access to care for low-income families, widening the inequity between those who can afford these lofty fees and those who cannot. 

More ironically, the fees are counterproductive to the purpose they are said to serve; childcare providers are encouraged to maintain unwieldy, administratively burdensome waitlists because they provide revenue. 

And that’s just the start of the problems.

The short end

Let’s say your kiddo gets a spot in care — you can breathe easy now, right?

Not so fast.

Nearly half of BC’s childcare providers are losing more staff than they are hiring, meaning fewer hours of care are available.

For example, East Vancouver’s Collingwood Neighbourhood House was forced to shut its doors multiple times a week and close early due to staffing shortages, leaving parents scrambling. 

Meanwhile, medical workers whose children attended Kids At GF Strong, which closed and is being rebuilt after flooding, have been unable to find sufficient hours of replacement care and have had to separate siblings or place them far outside the community due to limited local availability.

And some kids have been outright booted from their program because there is not enough staff to care for them.

There are flexible providers, such as Buddings, which specialize in short-notice care and may be there for parents in a crunch, but these programs are not eligible for funding from the Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative; costs, therefore, remain prohibitively high for many parents and few providers are able to offer this valuable model of care.

Staff shortages and short hours are especially damaging to youngsters with disabilities and complex needs, who rely on individually tailored support and often require more supervision to meet their needs.

Children with disabilities are either being turned away entirely due to a lack of capacity, or are receiving inadequate care as childcare workers are spread too thin. This is happening while schools are also facing teacher shortages, which add to the obstacles faced by students with disabilities.

Why are so many people who love kids — who have dedicated their careers and education to helping them — leaving the field?

There are a few reasons

Comparably, educated BC workers earn several more dollars an hour on average, benefits are sparse, the job is stressful physically and mentally, and job satisfaction has been declining for several years due to all these factors.  

The result is that childcare workers often do not feel valued and think they can find better elsewhere, whether they are employed with a $10-a-day provider or not. 

What’s next?

Addressing these issues, and ensuring that care is affordable, accessible, and of high-quality, requires a mix of the old and the new.

That includes continuing to make headway on the expansion of affordable childcare, including expanding it to flexible care providers like Buddings, as well as further increases to the wages and benefits of early childhood educators.  

New approaches should also be developed to make the application process more affordable, be it providing grants to help parents offset the cost, or to childcare providers so they can waive the expense for families to merely have a shot at care.

There is much more that could be said, but the crux is this: kids, their families, and childcare staff all need each other, and achieving universally affordable, accessible, and high-quality care means working with each of them every step along the way.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this opinion piece contained an editing error that stated that the cost of applying at CEFA is $300. The application fee at each location is $100.

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