INDEPTH: DAY CARE
Day care in Canada
CBC News Online, February 9, 2005
It was first proposed in 1970 - a program that would provide affordable day care across the country. It was promised when Brian Mulroney and the Conservatives swept to power in 1984. And again four years later.
By the time Jean Chrtien' s Liberals did some political sweeping of their own in 1993, promises of a national day-care strategy had fallen victim to the realities of a government wallowing in debt. With budgetary knives sharpened and drawn, day care would have to wait.
But the economic climate began to shift - and in 1997, Quebec introduced its own day-care system, offering spaces at $5 a day. Demand quickly surpassed supply.
By 2001, there were nearly 600,000 regulated day-care spaces across the country. Just under 235,000 of them were in Quebec. While only one in five Quebec kids had access to these spaces, the rate was much better than the national average of one in eight children.
As successive governments ran up surplus after surplus, the call for more money for day care began to be heard again.
In October 2004, the government' s throne speech declared, "The time has come for a truly national system of early learning and child care."
During the campaign leading up to the June 28, 2004, election, the Liberals promised $5 billion to create 250,000 child-care spaces by 2009. The plan pointed to Quebec' s now $7-a-day day-care plan as a model.
The speech said:
Parents must have real choices; children must have real opportunities to learn. The time has come for a truly national system of early learning and child care, a system based on the four key principles that parents and child care experts say matter - quality, universality, accessibility and development.
The Government will put the foundations in place with its provincial and territorial partners, charting a national course that focuses on results, builds on best practices and reports on progress to Canadians. Within this national framework, the provinces and territories will have the flexibility to address their own particular needs and circumstances.
Ottawa has a way to go before it gets its "foundations in place." To call day care in Canada a "system" may be a stretch.
In October 2004, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released a report that described Canada' s child-care system as a chronically underfunded patchwork of programs with no overarching goals. It found that many centres were shabby and many workers were poorly trained. As well, staff turnover at many centres was very high.
The report also found a shortage of available regulated child-care spaces - enough for fewer than 20 per cent of children aged six years and younger with working parents. In the U.K., 60 per cent of children find regulated child care; in Belgium, 63 per cent; in France, 69 per cent; in Denmark, 78 per cent.
The OECD recommended that Canada boost its child-care spending to the OECD average of about 0.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. It' s currently half that.
It also recommended integrating child care with kindergarten, and improving the training and recruitment of workers.
There are calls for even Read More ..The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada issued a report of its own on the heels of the OECD report. It, too called for Read More ..ney. The association wants Ottawa to commit at least one per cent of GDP - or about $10 billion - for day care within 15 years. The report argues:
"The amount is a ' modest and minimum' investment for the one-third of Canadian youngsters under 6, compared to the 6% of GDP now devoted to educating older children."
But the report also warns that devoting so much public money to child care would likely attract foreign corporate day-care chains, eager to be part of a growing market. The report recommends Ottawa ensure that the money it spends on day care be earmarked for the public/non-profit system.
It wants the federal government to pass legislation that protects provinces and territories that wish to expand services in the public/non-profit sector from being challenged by foreign for-profit chains that want to get into the act.
Those concerns are echoed in yet another report. This one - by two economists from the University of Toronto - found that the quality of care at non-profit centres averaged 10 per cent better than day-care centres established to make money.
Gordon Cleveland and Michael Krashinsky looked at 325 day-care centres across the country. They examined 42 different components of child care on a scale of one to seven. Components included personal care such as diaper changes, the educational character of toys, and how well information is exchanged with parents.
While most centres got mediocre rankings, the top-ranked ones were mostly non-profits and the bottom-ranked ones were commercial.
The report also concluded that sole proprietors provided the best care among the commercial operators. Incorporated businesses (a single centre or part of a chain) provide lower quality care. Partnerships and other commercial providers provide much worse quality on average.
"I' m not a politician and I don' t know all the ins and outs of policy. But what I do know is that quality matters. It' s hard to get quality in for-profits. A 10 per cent increase in quality at non-profits is very substantial," Cleveland told CBC News.
StatsCan weighs in
Just a few days before the federal-provincial day-care summit, Statistics Canada released new figures on day care in Canada. It found that, in 2001, 53 per cent of Canadian kids received some care from someone other than their parents. That' s up from 42 per cent in just seven years.
About 25 per cent of those children were enrolled in a day-care centre as their main care arrangement, but a growing number are now being cared for by relatives. Over the same seven-year period, the proportion of kids cared for by a relative grew from eight per cent to 14 per cent. The proportion of children who were looked after in someone else' s home by a non-relative fell from 44 per cent to 34 per cent.
And it' s not just an urban phenomenon. The growth in the use of day care is even more pronounced in rural areas. StatsCan says in 1994, 36.5 per cent of rural kids used some form of day care. By 2001, that rate had grown to 50.5 per cent.
The OECD and the federal government hold the Quebec system up as a model for the rest of Canada, but the program has had its critics.
There are nearly 235,000 children enrolled - but waiting lists at day- care centres across the province contain about 35,000 names. Some centres have stopped adding names to their lists.
The Action dmocratique du Qubec called the program a "Soviet-style" service and said the waiting lists are typical of a socialist system. The ADQ' s 2003 election platform called for $30-a-day vouchers for parents, which they could spend on public or private care.
Quebec's largest employers' group, the Conseil du patronat, suggested a similar plan that would give families a $5,000 allowance for each child to spend as they please.
Alberta has expressed its opposition to a national day-care system. The provincial government says it's concerned national standards mean a lack of choice. The province says it would rather take its share of the money and set up its own system - one that would allow parents to spend day-care dollars where they see fit.