“I jump through the flaming hoops of death and I’m beyond frustrated.”
This is one British Columbia childcare provider’s description of the circus the government is running regarding the administration of childcare.
B.C. parents looking forward to $10-a-day childcare are in for disappointment. Provincial mismanagement of childcare and disrespect for childcare operators has been going on for years, and it has hit a boiling point.
Government mismanagement was the overwhelming theme at a virtual roundtable to listen to childcare providers hosted by MLA Karin Kirkpatrick, critic for Education, Children, Family Development and Childcare, on March 22. Childcare providers shared their concerns, some choking back tears.
It’s been in the news already that the B.C. government missed a recent deadline to provide subsidies to providers. This compels providers to ask parents to cover the additional costs on short notice and is just the latest example of what childcare providers experience.
One provider in the Okanagan spoke to staffing issues going back years. “We don’t have a labour shortage in childcare,” he said. “We have no problem finding good quality candidates. We have a problem finding certificates.”
In other words, providers find candidates but the province won’t certify them. This predates COVID-19 and points to the idea that a wage grid with higher salaries may not be the solution for attracting and retaining staff if government approval of existing, willing candidates moves at a glacial pace.
Another provider says she paid B.C.’s Early Childhood Educator Wage Enhancement out of her own pocket because she didn’t want her staff to go without it while waiting for the province to hand out funds announced in the fall. She says the government has downgraded expectations, noting “it’s no longer $10-a-day daycare, it’s an average of $20 a day.”
One 25-year veteran of childcare provision at a not-for-profit centre in a targeted, low-income area said her situation is so bad she’s at risk of losing everything. “I’m in my 50s and I’m on my way out. I don’t think there are many more who will do this work.”
Hers is the very type of care governments have expressed interest in supporting, theoretically at least.
Another operator affirmed that the barriers between her for-profit and not-for-profit centres are the same.
One provider in Victoria expressed frustration with government rhetoric. She’s on the brink of quitting, which adds irony to announcements of 50 new spaces. “They (the government) are proud to add 50 spaces, but they are about to lose 200,” she said. “This is not the way I wanted to go out.”
Most of these operators are women entrepreneurs, and the irony of nurturing women in business is not lost on them as the government effectively shuts them down.
Childcare costs are rising steeply – heating costs alone doubled this winter, said one provider. Complexity and cost go hand in hand in childcare provision, as think-tank Cardus learned in doing a detailed cost assessment of the real costs of a national daycare plan. Staff-to-child ratios, maintenance, capital, insurance, programs, cleaning – it’s all a delicate balance, with costs changing based on location and other factors.
The best childcare solution is to fund families directly by Peter Jon Mitchell
That way, parents will be able to afford the kind of care that best meets their needs
“The government process shows that the province doesn’t understand basic economics,” said one provider. “If the province was a private business, they would be out of business.”
Research and studies of the Quebec childcare experience serve as a warning. The very real risks in managing a provincial system include inadequate supply and poor-quality care, both of which Quebec experiences. Reducing parent fees to $10 a day should be an easy early win, but the latest failure to review grant applications and deliver funds to providers on time calls into question the province’s ability to keep promises.
Times are painful for professional childcare providers in B.C., but it’s families who will lose out from a big, bureaucratic system that’s long on promises and short on delivery. Parents should be clamouring for direct funding so they can subsidize the kind of care that works best for them.
This approach is also far less clunky for childcare providers who don’t have to go through government bureaucracy.
Childcare is the care of a child, no matter who does it. This definition is the most equitable and inclusive way to approach family needs instead of government picking winners and losers.
Andrea Mrozek is a senior fellow at Cardus. Cardus is a non-partisan think-tank dedicated to clarifying and strengthening, through research and dialogue, the ways in which society’s institutions can work together for the common good.
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