Saturday, December 10, 2005

Childcare: This Month's Political Football.

A year ago, Social Development Minister Ken Dryden spoke at a National Conference on Policy and Child Care held in Winnepeg to professional representatives from the field -- frontline childcare workers, policy makers, and researchers. Dryden spoke about taking stock of our current child care situation across Canada in which less than 20 percent of children under the age of six are in regulated care — despite the fact that more than 84 percent of families have both parents in the workforce and 70 percent of women with children under the age of six are in the workforce. He acknowledged that workers in this sector are paid some of the lowest wages in the country. He referred to the recently released Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, which was critical of Canada's underfunded and uncoordinated patchwork of child care.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reviewed 20 countries for the child care report. It said Canada's system was chronically underfunded and found subsidies inequitably distributed to a small number of the poorest families. As part of the report, four European investigators toured dozens of programs in Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the only four provinces that agreed to be in the review.

While they did find several examples of well-run daycares, more often they came upon centres that were shabby, with workers who were poorly trained and who frequently quit. In many centres, they found barren, poorly lit rooms with an abundance of plastic toys and games that were "of doubtful learning quality." Playgrounds were lacking as well. Overprotective child care workers frequently forced youngsters to sit down and not move.

Unlike other cold-climate countries such as Sweden and Finland, which have highly rated systems where preschoolers spend hours at a time outdoors, the Canadian children spent almost all of their time inside.

The report also stressed that Canada has among the highest percentage of working mothers of young children, yet it invests less than half of what other developed nations in Europe devote on average to early-childhood education, says the report. While this country has regulated child-care spaces for less than 20 per cent of children under six with working parents , 60 per cent of young children in the U.K. are in regulated care, and 78 per cent in Denmark. It also recommended child care be integrated with kindergarten, and that recruitment and training be improved.

Based on these findings and other extensive research conducted by experts in Canada, Dryden stressed the need for building a system, using Canada's current education and health systems as examples of national systems built out of what were originally fragmented services. The federal government promised to pump $5 billion over five years into provinces and territories that create early-learning and child-care spaces that are regulated and universally accessible.

To summarize, the Liberal government, prior to the election worked towards having all of the provinces sign a commitment to work towards developing a national childcare infrastructure that would strive to encompass quality, universality and accessibility, with the intention of using Quebec's system as a model of excellence. Since the election, the Liberals have doubled their time and money alloted. It's now 10 billion over 10 years.

What are the Conservatives offering? Details of their plan include:

  • a $1,200-a-year allowance for every child under the age of six per household -- money which families can use in any way they want.
  • $250 million in annual tax credits to fund a community child-care investment program.
  • The $1,200 "Choice in Child Care Allowance" would be taxable in the hands of the spouse with the lower income.
There has been no discussion on the process of developing an infrastructure so that a child in Newfoundland or British Columbia or New Brunswick, or Manitoba, or anywhere else in this country will be provided a licensed place that is safe and loving; where healthy meals are provided, interesting and fun activities are organized, where there is a social sense of belonging and interacting, and where they are encouraged to be a curious explorer. No, the Conservative party is basically bringing back the baby bonus and throwing money at families without acknowledging the intial reasons behind the whole purpose of starting to establish a national system. They have turned the tables and made the "reason" one of "the rights of the parents to choose."

That's not it!

The need for high quality, accessible childcare is a reality. The statistics support this. We are beyond a point where most families have options to have one parent stay home with the children. 2 income families are the norm. Single parent families are the norm. Sure there are some who have the choice to stay home or enter the workforce. And yes, there are conflicting studies indicating what's best for the child which feed the ongoing (and very tiresome) debate over whether or not childcare centres are developmentally healthy for the child. Enough of the defensive finger pointing. Let's move on...........

I don't have to read the OECD report. I've seen their findings with my own eyes. I have seen understaffed or undereducated staffed centres where they were sorely lacking in the basic toys, books, craft supplies, or outdoor equipment. I have seen centres where the lunch provided did not reflect the menu posted on the bulletin board. I've walked into centres when children were napping way too late in the afternoon and that hadn't been cleaned properly. I have been in a centre that was not licensed to provide care for babies, and yet I found two of them were sleeping on the daycare owner's personal bed. There weren't even cribs. All of these centres were licensed, I was responsible for monitoring them. Because the regulations at the time were not tough enough, I wasn't able to enforce any major changes. The regulations havent changed that much since then. I have never had a job before or since where I felt less power.

ON THE OTHER HAND................

I have also seen bright, colourful, welcoming, expressive, happy, interactive environments run by dedicated individuals who provide a "home away from home." There is absolutely no comparision.

Childcare centres, whether they are run out of a home or a church basement, or the YMCA, or a building specifically designed for childcare services are here to stay! And, because of this reality, they need to be as warm, safe, wonderful and inviting as we can make them. They need to be run by caring, educated, devoted individuals (who by the way need to be paid better!!) who are full of energy and ideas that promote the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of every little child in their care. It doesn't matter where a kid lives in this country, it is our responsibility to provide this.

Dryden's intiative with the provinces is by far our best option. And yet..........the whole childcare debate is now a political football, with all sides vying for big news quotes bonus points. It's seen in the media and with voters as a "big touchy-feely idea" which is a good thing when one has an election at Christmas time. The whole purpose behind the intiative is getting lost. Will it fly off the post-election table once again?


Anonymous said...

Awareness wrote, "The need for high quality, accessible childcare is a reality."

However, this immense anti-daycare website says it's an impossibility...

Who to believe?

anselm said...

Anonymous asks, who to believe? I say, people should believe the majority of parents that don't want to institutionalize their babies.

You mock the Tory option, although only 1 in 7 parents send their kids to daycare. And there a good reasons why parents don't send their children to daycare. Many parents prefer to have grandparents look after their children or a neighbour or someone they trust. The obsession with government run daycares has more to do with the tax system than with learning.

Most parents don't trust government regulated daycare and for good reason. You cite many current horror stories. One visit to an average public school in a poor neighbourhood would reveal the same lack of quality that you described at some daycares.

Ken Dryden may be the 'federal' minister of social development but his job encroaches on provincial areas of jurisdiction. Quebec set up their system without federal interventions but the cost ballooned into the billions. You might want to learn about Quebec's system. Begin here [ ]and follow the links.

Mothers abandoning their children are a greater threat to childhood learning than anything concocted by bureaucrats. Government should get our of people's lives completly. Wasn't that one of the arguments in the SSM debate farce?