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If you’ve got kids in daycare, you’re familiar with just how strained the family budget can be each month, even with two parents working full-time. (Sadly, there’s a reason many child care centres let you charge your fees on a credit card.)
The fifth annual report on child care from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) was released today, and it confirmed what you probably already know and fear: daycare fees remain unaffordable in most Canadian cities, and as in previous years, these already sky-high costs are continuing to increase at a rate higher than that of inflation.
(In the Toronto suburbs of Brampton, Mississauga, Markham, and Vaughan, for example, child care costs are up between five and nine percent, which is two to three times greater than the inflation rate.)
Shocking nobody, Toronto still tops the list in the infant and preschooler categories. An infant spot in Toronto (typically meaning children under 18 months old) will set you back $1,685 a month, or a whopping $20,220 a year, which is basically the cost of a second mortgage. A preschool spot in Toronto is $1,150 per month.
Nearby Mississauga and Hamilton are close behind, with infant fees of $1,591 and $1,497 a month, respectively.
Vancouver’s toddler spots are the priciest in the country, at $1,407 a month. In Toronto, the CCPA report found that the median for toddler spots is $1,367 a month, which actually seems a little low to me, from our recent daycare search.
I put my son’s name on a bunch of downtown Toronto daycare waitlists when he was five months old, and at the time, I thought that the astronomical cost of full-time infant care would be my biggest concern. But partway through my 12-month mat leave, I realized we probably weren’t going to get off the waitlist before his first birthday anyhow. My husband and I did the math, and since I didn't have a full-time job to return to at the time, it started to make a lot more sense to delay our daycare start date a few months until our little guy was eligible for the slightly “cheaper” (ha) toddler room spots.
We got extremely lucky with the space we did, eventually, secure—a new centre is opening in our stroller-clogged neighbourhood to keep up with the baby boom. My now 15-month-old son will start part-time daycare next month, which will be a big, exciting and expensive change for our family.
At this point, I can barely begin to process what it would cost us to have a second kid in care. While fees across the country generally do decrease as your child graduates into the toddler room (18 months to 2.5 years old), and again later into the preschooler room (2.5 years old to school-age, either four or five years old, depending on the province), it’s still way too steep for most families to afford.
If you have an infant and a toddler in child care at the same time (gulp) in Toronto, you’d be looking at $3,052 a month or $36,624 a year. This amounts to roughly 50 percent of the median Toronto family’s annual income.
The other day a friend and I were discussing how prohibitive the cost for two kids in daycare is. She quickly cracked back, “That’s why I have a four-year gap between my two kids.” I don’t think she was joking.
Not all areas of the country are suffering from child care costs equally though. Daycare fees were lowest across the board in the Quebec cities of Montreal, Gatineau, Laval, Longueuil, and Quebec City, due to set-fee policies established by the province that caps fees at $190 per month, regardless of the child’s age. Until last year, Quebec was one of three provinces (along with Prince Edward Island and Manitoba) where fees for most child care spaces are set by the province, but in 2018 Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, and British Columbia also moved towards enacting set-fee systems. In all three provinces, their governments are supplying operational funding to child care providers who maintain centrally set fees.
While these new policies are a positive move towards making child care more affordable in some provinces, the effects of these programs have so far been slow and inconsistent. For example, St. John’s, Newfoundland saw preschooler fees drop 13 percent since last year, but BC and Alberta are seeing a low rate of participation from child care centres to their set-fee plan. This means that parents are still stuck paying higher rates at other centres.
The report also emphasizes that there still aren’t enough licensed child care spots available across the country, especially for infants. (Many expectant parents start putting themselves on lists not long after they get a positive result on a home pregnancy stick.)
Ontario banned daycare waitlist fees in 2017, but waitlist mania for regulated spots is still a problem elsewhere. One-time fees of $50, $100 or even $200 (in Edmonton) are common in other parts of the country. In Edmonton and Calgary, more than 40 percent of child care centres still charge wait list fees.
Lower costs are important, of course, but government measures that target fees without also increasing the availability of daycare are only working to solve half of the puzzle.
We shouldn’t have to depend on luck—or lines of credit—when it comes to securing and affording reliable daycare options for our children. Reports like the one released today are helping foster discussion on child care issues, but our country’s leaders need to start making more significant changes to help Canadian families find the care they need, without having to spend most of their salary to pay for it.