The Canadian child care crisis

Rebecca Cuneo Keenan takes a look at the state of child care in Canada — and how we can fix the situation together.

1Daycare-December2013-iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

I wheeled my son into a local daycare centre when he was 18 months old. “Hello,” I said, “I’m interested in part-time care for this little guy. Do you have any information I can take home?” I was laughed right out of the place. They had a two-year wait list for one-year-olds (so get on it while you’re still pregnant) and didn’t even offer part-time care at all. It was the same story at all the other daycares too. I was shocked.

Read more: 10 questions to ask when choosing a daycare >

There is a daycare crisis across the country and Canadian parents are the ones paying the price. The refrain is the same from coast to coast (save for Quebec where a public childcare system is in place): There is a lack of government funding for child care. The costs are skyrocketing, and there are too few spaces.

Subsidized daycare spots are few and far between in most provinces, which means that the people who most need help are left on endless waiting lists and scrambling to find solutions, often unable to return to work or school. Unlicensed and unregulated home daycares have sprung up to fill in the void but there is no standard of quality of care. While many home daycares offer a safe and nurturing environment, others, like the home daycare that two-year-old Eva Ravikovich died in last July, are overcrowded and dirty.

Other families do make the stretch to be able to afford daycare fees that can be as high as $60 a day (or more!) but still have to win the daycare lottery to be able to find a spot. This Globe and Mail infographic breaks down the true cost of child care in Canada. Full-time daycare costs $1,200 a month in Vancouver compared to $925 in Ontario and $140 in Montreal. Forget about university! Those punishing rates make the toddler and preschool years the most expensive ones of your child’s life.

In 1970, according to a Child Care in Canada report put out by Statistics Canada, around 30 percent of women with children under the age of six were employed. That number had more than doubled to 65 percent by 2003. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of Canadian parents need to work. Two income households are becoming increasingly necessary at the same time as single-parent households are on the rise.

This has nothing to do with whether or not a parent would like to stay at home with their child. It has nothing to do with outdated and idealistic notions of a doting mother who can cut coupons and make her own bread to make ends meet while caring for her children. This has everything to do with our government catching up with social and economic changes that have been underway for more than 50 years.

Over the past two days, Toronto’s City Council has listened to deputations from citizens on items they would like to considered for inclusion on the municipal budget. Among them are 536 subsidized daycare spots and an expansion of after-school programs which had been left off the budget by city staff. It is so incredibly difficult for parents of young children to take the time to advocate for child care. So, thank you to all who made it out to do so.

But we need to keep making our voices heard across the country — even if your own children no longer need care; even if you are a stay-at-home parent; even if you are a grandparent. Better care for all of our children and more options for parents will make our country stronger as a whole.

There’s a federal election coming up. Let’s put child care on the agenda.

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