$10/day Childcare Plan: Bad deal for kids and communities

We are a group of family childcare providers and supporters networked across BC writing to voice our serious concerns with the NDP’s $10/day childcare plan. We recognize that the Plan is an attempt at making quality affordable childcare available to all families, and we share this goal. But the proposed Plan is a bad deal for children, childcare providers and families, and the costing doesn’t add up.

AFFORDABLE SPACE

There is one primary reason why childcare spaces are scarce and expensive: the lack of affordable facility space, for both in-home and group care facilities. The Plan does not address this systemic issue head-on. Instead, it offers a vision of creating more childcare spaces in area schools and other publicly owned institutions, where space costs can be controlled by government. While this makes financial sense regarding the allocation of taxpayer funds, it means that the Plan’s new childcare spaces would be primarily in large group childcare settings, not in smaller home-based programs. Here, as elsewhere in the Plan, short-term economic interests trump children’s well-being.

RESEARCH-BACKED CARE

A Plan that emphasizes creating more childcare spaces in large group childcare centres is profoundly problematic. The current research around early childhood development is very clear: children need secure attachment relationships with consistent, long term caregivers they love and trust, not a rotating cast of shift workers. Children thrive best in small multi-age groups, which evoke traditional settings where big families and close knit communities meant a mix of ages was the norm, and where interacting with friends of different ages promotes social and emotional skills -not large groups of other children their own age, as are typically found in large group care centres. And very importantly, the cutting edge in research-based early childhood care is outdoor play-based programs, where children spend hours every day rain or shine playing in natural settings. Many home-based care facilities in BC provide this kind of care in backyards, parks and wild spaces in our communities. While we should be actively encouraging growth in this sector of care, the Plan makes no provision to facilitate, promote or grow these programs whatsoever.

FUNDING OF IN-HOME CARE

Under the NDP’s plan, we believe that families would see a large decrease in small home-based facilities over the coming years. The Plan states that licensed in-home childcare providers would become contractors of the Ministry of Education, who would pay in-home caregivers on terms yet to be disclosed. As providers would be prohibited from charging families more than $10/day, the bulk of their income would come from the Ministry. The specifics of these contracts and terms have not been made public, but these payments, we know, would include money for facility costs (rents or mortgage); these payments, we are told, would vary be region. How on earth, we wonder, could these payments hope to keep up with the ever-rising housing costs in many regions of BC? Would the province keep pumping more and more taxpayer money towards our facility costs, based on an inflated and absurd housing market? It’s a possibility — stranger things have happened — but much more likely, in our opinion, public pressure to keep costs down would keep these payments from matching up with facility costs, particularly on South Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, and home-based providers would be forced out of business.

CHILDCARE SPACES

As well as our concern regarding what type of programming would be available, we are also concerned about the actual numbers of childcare spaces for the parents in our communities. The funds allocated for the first year, for example, would cover around a quarter of the new childcare spaces current estimates say we need. However, the need/demand for spaces will rise as the plan incentivizes more parents to rejoin the workforce, or simply to utilize childcare for other reasons; simultaneously, we can expect many families in existing LNR facilities, which will not be eligible for the $10/day system, to leave their childcares and seek cheaper care within the new system. And as we stated above, we would expect an unknown but large number of home-care providers to go out of business under the Plan. Currently, 85% of childcare spaces are in family childcares. What, then, can families expect by year five of the Plan in terms of access to childcare spaces, and diversity of early care options? In our opinion, BC citizens can expect further scarcity and high demand, and less affordable diversity in care, under this Plan.

SCHOOL IS NOT THE PLACE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN

We are also concerned about the decision to relocate childcare in the public school system. Immersing our youngest kids in school environments flies in the face of both time-honored wisdom and current research about the early years. All of us who are parents of school-age children know all too well that our schools are perennially short of funds. Are we, like teachers, going to be forever trying to raise funds and advocate for our students within a system that is slow to respond? Equally, many of us are troubled by the standardization of pedagogy and modality of care that this move represents. All centres, including Montessori, Reggio Emilia, outdoor/Forest Schools, and Waldorf-based childcares, would be required by the Plan to have a staff member with a BA of ECE — a degree with currently barely exists (one college offers it) and that is based squarely on the ECE model of care, not the various other approaches to early childhood that so many parents in our communities value. Many of us have ECE diplomas, BAs and other educational certifications, and deeply appreciate the importance of our education to our work; we wholeheartedly support deepening the knowledge and skills of our workforce through further education, but believe the strategies in this plan do not represent the best way forward.

We urge all voters to look closely at the Plan’s financial sponsors, found on the last page of the Plan. Unions serving public school teachers and government employees are key sponsors of this Plan. The interests of these bodies go hand-in-hand with institutional-based group-care programs streamlined with the rest of the public education system. The interests of our children, however, do not.

CHILDREN’S INTERESTS SHOULD COME FIRST

Large group childcares are structured to serve business interest. Costs per child are minimized by large scale facilities in institutional settings (schools, community centres etc), while shift workers provide children with long hours of care, allowing businesses to further normalize very long work days for many employees. We recognize that our colleagues in group care centres work hard for the kids in their care, and that parents currently need long hours as our economy wrings more for less out of most workers. As home care providers, many of us also provide these extra long days to families who need them. However, we believe that as we move forward, research on children’s well-being should be our primary guide. And the research is clear: long hours in daycare have long term negative impacts on children, and while the socioeconomic status of the children, the quality of the care, and the sensitivity of their parents and caregivers can mitigate these impacts, it cannot erase them. Putting policy in place to allow more children to access longer hours of care is treating a symptom instead of the root cause: employees work too many hours for too little, and this must change.

RESPECT FOR ALL CHILDCARE WORKERS

As we have approached various NDP candidates and Plan creators with our concerns, we have been dismissed as ‘selfish’ and concerned solely with our own economic well-being. It is first of all important to recognize that in no other sector would it be socially or politically acceptable to expect a workforce of autonomous small business owners to blindly and silently accept a plan to transform them into contract employees — without even outlining the economic or logistical terms we can expect, and despite the fact that we have concrete, research-based objections to many aspects of the Plan. In-home childcare has long been, and continues to be, one of the only sites of economic autonomy for many working class women. Across diverse neighborhoods, in-home care providers are backbones of our communities. We are proud of our work, of our knowledge, and of the respect we’ve earned from BC families.

Second, any family who uses a home childcare, or knows a home childcare provider, will recognize the irony of a politician describing the working class women who currently care for the vast majority of children in daycare in BC as ‘selfish.’ We who often work 45–50 hour weeks, mainly on our feet, mainly without breaks, caring and educating this province’s children with great skill, diversity of pedagogy, love and respect, while often living barely above the poverty line: we deserve better from our politicians, and our communities know this.

MOVING FORWARDS

At this moment of change, when we are considering investing so much into a new system, we ask the public as we have already asked the NDP: why not invest in comprehensive family-friendly policies instead?

Instead of creating an enormous new layer of bureaucracy — on top of the existing licensing framework, which also desperately needs more funding and infrastructure — we offer an alternate vision that will provide systemic support for all BC families.

We need policy that doesn’t throw money at symptoms — people working long hours cannot afford rent, childcare and food — but that addresses root causes, like an economy that grows the wealth of the few at the daily expense of most working people.

Let’s ensure the economic well-being of all families by moving towards basic income combined with comprehensive rent control and real tax barriers to property flipping for profit. Let’s improve work/life balance with worker’s rights legislation and increased minimum wage so that all children spend substantive time with their favorite people — their families.

Let’s invest in and strengthen the existing comprehensive childcare licensing system, and introduce concrete, research-based strategies to ensure safety and well-being of children in LNR daycares as well. Let’s invest in full childcare subsidies for all families below income thresholds that will vary by region, as well as increasing subsidy amounts so that subsidy families can access programs of their choice. Let’s provide financial incentives to daycare providers to upgrade skills through week-long intensive education programs based on each community’s early childhood education priorities — ECE, outdoor education, Montessori, First Nations pedagogies etc — during the summer. Let’s invest in public spaces in our communities — indoor playgrounds, parks with fences and washrooms, accessible ‘wild’ play spaces, and drop-in centres staffed by ECEs [a much more appropriate use of available space in schools and community centres] where any adult caring for a child can connect with other adults while their child makes friends — will support all adults who care for children to be happier, healthier and less isolated.

And let’s financially support all families with pre-school age children so that they can choose to access childcare OR to take care of their children themselves. All care work, not just professionalized and standardized care work, is valuable and worthy of support, including that done by parents.

We look forward to hearing the NDP’s response to our concerns as we make our choice this election day.