There’s been amazing progress on child care in B.C. over the last few years, so why are child care advocates concerned now?
Our province led the country by being first to introduce $10aDay child care programs in 2018. Families now pay no more than $10 a day in about 13,000 spaces across the province, and for those not yet in a $10aDay space their fees have been reduced by up to $900 a month. These are huge improvements on affordability for families with young children, with fee reductions for school-age programs coming in September.
And historically under-valued early childhood educators now receive a $4/hour publicly funded wage enhancement, with opportunities for post-secondary tuition bursaries. Plus, the province has funded the creation of more than 30,000 new licensed child care spaces since 2018 with another 30,000 committed with the help of the feds by 2026.
So, with all this progress, what are our concerns?
Along with others, we are sounding the alarm because the pace of progress can’t stop here. Licensed child care is still only available to less than 25 per cent of B.C. children, and low educator wages remain the driving force behind the sector’s recruitment and retention crisis. To meet the promise of $10aDay child care for all, B.C. must take steps now to keep child care on track.
The first urgently needed action is to begin implementing a province-wide publicly funded competitive wage grid for early childhood educators. It’s obvious to everyone working in the child care sector that creating new child care programs doesn’t help if there are no qualified educators to provide care. According to the Evaluation of the Early Care and Learning Recruitment and Retention Strategy in British Columbia, 45 per cent of child care employers report they are losing more staff than they can hire.
Six other provinces are now implementing ECE wage grids - B.C. committed in its agreement with the federal government to develop a wage grid and Minister of State for Child Care Grace Lore’s mandate letter says she’s expected to develop the timeline for implementing a wage grid - but there’s no sign of it yet.
The second necessary action is to plan for the expansion of new licensed child care programs. For the thousands of parents feeling desperate on waiting lists, new spaces can’t come soon enough.
Government listened to advocates when we recommended they move child care into the Ministry of Education. Now that move has happened, and B.C. is well positioned to use the capital planning resources of the education ministry to expand child care with school districts and municipalities. Instead of waiting for individual applications for New Spaces funds to trickle in, B.C. can use a community planning approach to ensure new programs are created where they are needed, and ensure United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) commitments to Indigenous rights are consistently upheld.
After over a decade of underfunding, resulting in escalating parent fees, growing waiting lists and poverty wages for educators, in 2017 only $240 million was spent on child care in B.C. The 2023/24 B.C. budget for child care is $1.6 billion (half provincial and half federal dollars). You’d be forgiven for not knowing about that significant increase, though, because no new targets or timelines have been announced this year to meet government’s goal and the public’s demand for a universal affordable child care system. The funds are there - now they have to be used wisely.
The $10aDay campaign has made such a positive impact since it was launched in B.C. that it was adopted by Justin Trudeau. Now all provinces and territories are implementing $10aDay child care as part of Canada-wide early learning and child care agreements across the country. Other jurisdictions are catching up to and even moving ahead of B.C. in using their federal dollars to lower fees and raise wages.
Children, families, and employers need governments to be successful in the goal of creating an equitable quality $10aDay child care system. Premier Eby has inherited a good start on developing a child care system along with unprecedented federal funding commitments - now is the time to ensure meaningful progress continues.
Sharon Gregson works with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC and is the provincial spokesperson for British Columbia's $10aDay child care campaign.