A constructive solution to B.C.’s childcare crisis

facebook_imageBy Vanessa Simmonds

Many families are suffering from the federal and provincial government’s weak action towards the ongoing childcare crisis in British Columbia. The suffering is a result of incomprehensibly high parent fees for childcare programs and waitlists that are far too long, forcing many families to chose unregulated childcare. The vulnerability of young children in BC is increasing, thus change is necessary.

The $10aDay childcare campaign, which the B.C. New Democrats now support in their platform, aims to provide accessible, affordable and quality childcare in BC. What you may not know is that the $10aDay Plan has existed in various forms since 2011. The $10aDay Plan is more formally known as the Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care & Learning and was launched by The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC. With a wealth of support from many individual, organizations, trade unions (like the BCTF, BCGEU and CUPE) and foundations the plan is now in its seventh edition and ready to provide British Columbian families with much needed economic relief from the cost of childcare.

“BC has among the highest child care fees in the country. While average undergraduate tuition fees at BC’s universities are $5,118 annually, BC families with a 2 year old will pay on average twice as much in child care fees at $10,800, and those with a 4 year old will pay $8, 640 per year. Families in large cities such as Vancouver pay even more – $14,160 in fees for a toddler […] The high cost of childcare makes it inaccessible to many middle income families, and completely out of reach for those struggling financially. Families with incomes low enough to qualify for the provincial low-income subsidy often don’t have the funds to make the huge difference between the subsidy and the actual fees […] ”.

-Fact Sheet 4: A Key to Ending Family Poverty (Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care & Learning).

More than just economic relief

There appears to be growing awareness, research, and support that the early years is a significant period in a person’s life, and an acknowledgement that there is a slew of benefits related to early childhood education (ECE). But what troubles me is the danger of seeing children simply as an economic investment to be molded into productive future workers. In this way education becomes simply a commodity, and early childhood education becomes a part of shaping children to comply with the prevailing corporate economic orthodoxy. As one who has studied and worked in ECE, I want to see children treated and supported in education as capable, diverse, creative and critical thinkers right now.

The promotion of the $10aDay Plan has emphasized heavy on the economic benefits that the province will receive from the adoption of this plan, but for me, more importantly is the plan’s goal to re-conceptualize our image of young children, educators, ECE and public education. I believe the $10aDay Plan is much more about the social benefits of ECE, the importance of public services and the rights of children and families in British Columbia.

Enhancing the quality of early childhood educators 

Although investing in ECE appears to be on the lips of many Canadians politicians, those working in this profession are still notoriously underpaid and under valued. This is also met with an alarmingly high turnover rate of early childhood educators. To garner more recognition for the important work of early childhood educators, the $10aDay Plan hopes to invest in the workforce by providing a living wage and to raise the educational standards of all childcare providers. If implemented, the desire is that within five years, at least one early childhood educator in a childcare program would be required to have a Bachelor Degree in Early Childhood Education.

As it stands, Capilano University is the only University in British Columbia to offer a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Care & Education, all other programs in this field in B.C. are either certificate, diploma or graduate studies programs. In this respect, a demand for additional degree programs, as well as more incentive and support for Early Childhood Educators to upgrade their qualifications, is part of the Integrated Early Care & Learning Plan.

Reframing ECE

There is no doubt that there is a critical need for more child care spaces in B.C., but the sole creation of these spaces will not go far enough. To sustain the field of ECE it is quite clear that these spaces would need to be affordable to all families, but sustainability also means reformation.

The BC Early Learning Framework was co-published by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Children and Family Development, and the British Columbia Early Learning Advisory Group. It is a document set up to act as a guide to support all professionals, service providers, communities and governments working with or creating programs/policies for children ages 0 – 5. This document is an accessible and strong testament to the value of ECE and should be taken more seriously. Rather than just a guide, I believe this framework should be linked to a required training program for all individuals working in or around ECE. This would help to create a more honest and respectful view of young children, families, educators and education for those involved.

To gain more accessibility and financial support, the $10aDay Plan demonstrates the need to shift Child Care to the Ministry of Education. Not only would this create more communication between public education, childcare and communities, but it would also help to ensure fair compensation for early childhood educators and more adequate delivery of services. Simultaneously, the $10aDay Plan aims to create a new public early care and learning system that facilitates inclusive childcare in all programs and builds early years networks that help address the particular needs of each neighbourhood. Regarding the support of indigenous communities in British Columbia, the plan’s new educational standards of early childhood educators include education regarding First Nations history, cultures and practices. The plan also proposes governmental support for the BC First Nations Early Childhood Development Framework and Creating Pathways – An Early Years Five Year Strategic Plan, more dialogue with First Nations and Aboriginal organizers (while being supportive of First Nations control over First Nations education), and would include enacting the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This all fits into the plan’s intention of acting as a poverty reduction strategy. According to First Call: BC Child & Youth Advocacy Coalition’s 2016 child poverty report card, 1 in 5 children in B.C. are living in poverty. Capping parent fees at $10 per day full-time, $7 per day part-time, and no parent fees for families earning less than $40,000 per year, seems to me an essential replacement to the meager financial support families receive (for those lucky enough to qualify) from the BC childcare subsidy program.

My bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Care & Education and many years of childcare experience have shown me that ECE has the potential to foster healthy and socially inclusive communities. But to do so, infrastructural support from governing bodies is essential and affordable childcare needs to be prioritized.

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