Affordable child care program providing relief to families amid rising cost of living
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Michelle Peters-Jones has only worked part-time for the past nine years. In the face of expensive daycare options in Edmonton, it never made financial sense to work full time and have a bill for five days of childcare.
But now, after Alberta’s new affordable child care program launched earlier this year, she’s taken on a full-time job. And instead of paying $800 for three days of child care, she now pays $500 for five days.
“It’s not just about money for me, honestly, it’s about chasing dreams, reigniting my career,” she said.
“We will definitely spend money on improving our house, for example, paying off our mortgage, [and] to ensure that children have more choice of activities, which we could not afford with our budget.”
Ontario, the only province to have not yet negotiated an agreement
The cost of living is rising across the country, although for many parents with young children the new program provides major financial relief.
The federal government launched the $30 billion program last year and has signed agreements with most provinces and territories. The goal is to reduce the cost of child care to just $10 a day, per child, nationwide.
Of all the provinces and territories, only Ontario has not yet negotiated an agreement with the federal government. This is a significant omission given the population of the province. In January, Premier Doug Ford said a deal was very close, but last month his education minister, Stephen Lecce, said it might be some time before a deal is reached. is concluded.
“It is a huge game-changer. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” said Cheryl Crowther, assistant director of Child Development Dayhomes in Calgary.
The agency operates 170 day homes caring for 700 children in the Calgary area. Staff have been working regular 13-hour days since early January due to all the administrative work associated with the new program, she said.
Still, despite the extra workload so far, Crowther said she knew there was an opportunity to expand the business.
“There’s been a huge influx of calls from families and day care providers wanting to get licensed, so we’ve had to create waiting lists because we can’t keep up,” she said. declared.
WATCH | New child care program a lifeline for working parents:
The Quebec case study
Quebec launched its own affordable child care program in 1997. At the time, business groups were apprehensive about the cost.
In a decade, the program has enabled about 70,000 Quebec mothers to join the labor market and increased the province’s annual GDP by the equivalent of about $3.9 billion, according to a study.
On the issue of the number of women with young children in the labor market, Quebec has gone from laggard to leader.
“It’s the highest in the world, on par with Swedish women and Swiss women,” said Pierre Fortin, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Quebec in Montreal.
In 2016, child care subsidies cost the province about $2.5 billion. The increase in the number of women in the workforce has increased government revenues to offset expenditures, Fortin said.
“The system is self-financing. There was no need for additional taxes to fund the system,” he said.
Many business groups in other provinces support affordable child care programs, largely because of the economic impact of the Quebec system.
At a time when many industries are struggling to find enough workers, there is an opportunity to strengthen the workforce with more women.
In Alberta, for example, about 80% of married women (with a working spouse) who have no children are in the labor force. For those with children and whose youngest child is between three and five years old, the rate drops to 74%. When the youngest is under three, only 67% are in the labor force.
In a 2018 speech, Stephen Poloz, then Governor of the Bank of Canada, pointed to Quebec’s subsidized child care program as a possible tool to stimulate the overall economy, as it could significantly increase the participation of women in the labor market throughout the country.
He attributed to this program the increase in the participation of prime-age women (25 to 54) in the labor market in Quebec, which rose from 74% 20 years ago to approximately 87% in 2018.
By comparison, he said about 83% of women in that same age group participated in the national workforce in 2018.
Shortage of staff
The Quebec program has been called a victim of its own success, as there are long waiting lists to access the early childhood centers (CPE) — not-for-profit publicly funded child care centres.
There are also private institutions in the province, but in general they are often considered to be of lower quality.
The federal government’s program aims to increase the number of child care spaces and staff, although this could take several years.
Beyond the funding commitment, some in the sector say there needs to be a workforce strategy to ensure those joining the industry have a foundational knowledge of early childhood development. .