6 min Read

Childcare at a Crossroads

When DDA first started providing childcare, children with special needs were rarely welcomed into typical child care programs in the community. In recognition of the importance of enriched services during the early years, DDA filled the void with specially-trained child care workers who worked exclusively with children with special needs. Soon after, we recognized the importance of integration in the development of children with special needs, so all our child care programs were comprised of 50% children with special needs and 50% typical children. Then the ideal composition was determined to be 25% special needs children and 75% typical children. About 20 years ago, supported childcare was introduced to allow families to pick whatever child care center they wanted, with the provincial government subsidizing the cost of one-to-one workers for specific children. At about the same time, the provincial government began to offer incentives for non-profits and private companies to open new spaces, a development that continues to this day.

So, things have changed dramatically since our first days of venturing into child care! There are more and more child care spaces developed in the province and every child development center can now be a special needs childcare center. This kind of inclusion was our goal from the beginning and now we are becoming victims of our own success! When we started providing child care, we were funded 100% by government. Child care agencies no longer funded by government, other than the odd grant. Parent fees have virtually become our only source of revenue for child care. Low-income families and those with special needs children can apply for subsidies and purchase their child care anywhere. Some of DDA’s child care centers now have vacancies rather than waitlists, even in our special needs spaces.

Due to large deficits that have accumulated over the past ten years in some of our childcare programs, the Board had to make the difficult decision to close our Waterside child care center, with a target date of August 31, 2017. We have also agreed to continue to operate the program at a significant deficit in order to keep parent fees low until the closure. Our deficits at Waterside have totalled over $610,000 over the last ten years and costs continue to escalate while parents often struggle to pay the full cost of child care. The Board has also requested senior staff develop a child care strategy, as a few of our other centers are also operating in deficits and we need to find a way to turn this around.

The 12 families impacted by the closure were naturally surprised by the news. While answering their queries, we realized there were quite a few myths about childcare in the community today that need to be dispelled:
Myth #1: The government FUNDS childcare
Although the government subsidizes families who have children with developmental disabilities and families with low incomes, there are few subsidies available to child care operators other than some small grants. Our capital costs, like playgrounds and vehicles, are not funded. The annual expenses at Waterside, for example, total $255,000 per year – of this, government funds $36,000, or $3,000 per child per year.

Myth #2: There are long waitlists in child care
This was true for many years but with the B.C. government’s incentive grants to create more childcare spaces now in their second decade, thousands of new spaces and centers have opened throughout the province. These new services operated by non-profit agencies and private companies have created higher levels of choice for families and competition for existing operations. At the reporting level, we used to monitor wait lists but we are now monitoring vacancies as competitors who do not have to pay union wages or for pension plans draw prospective families away from more established centers. Wait list numbers are also deceiving. When spaces do become available, families often have already enrolled in a different center. Some families want child care services on specific days, at specific times, in part-time spaces that are much more difficult to accommodate. As vacancies arise, we often don’t have children on our lists of the appropriate age. Our special needs spaces also often go unfilled. Since we do not receive parent fees when spaces are vacant, we lose precious funding.

Myth #3: The goal is to keep child care affordable
Although child care providers understand the burden placed on young families by high child care fees, there are no offsets from the public purse to keep fees affordable. Since Vancouver is the third most expensive city in which to live in the world, securing appropriate real estate and recruiting employees is very difficult. Some childcare centers are now operating exclusively for wealthy parents, charging up to $3000 per month.

Myth #4: Unionized Child Care workers are reasonably compensated
Although our workers are covered by a collective agreement, they do not make a “livable” wage for the City of Vancouver. Fees for families are high from their perspective and child care often costs more than college or university tuition. For some families, the cost of childcare prevents one parent from returning to work. Since fees are the only source of funding for centers and there is only so much capacity for families to pay fees, child care workers have been chronically underpaid for years. They provide a service that is nothing less than the early development of our children, our future, but are not rewarded with wages that reflect this important job. At DDA, we pay union wages, but with benefits these are considerably higher than what some of our competitors pay (or what families can afford) and still they do not amount to a liveable wage in Vancouver and Richmond.

Business in Vancouver recently (January 27, 2017) reported that the high cost of daycare in Vancouver is keeping women and men who want to work out of the labour market while their children are young. They cited a study recently released by the Early Childhood Educators of BC and the Centre for Spatial Economics that demonstrated $10 per day childcare would cover the cost of its implementation, citing: “A typical annual rate for a toddler in B.C. is $11,100. Subsidized at $10 per day, the average annual rate for daycare for a toddler would be just $2,600.” This would then free up more parents to work and pay taxes.

Business in Vancouver further stated: “The BC NDP is promoting a $10 per day daycare program – a program it calculates would cost the government $1.5 billion annually” by raising taxes for British Columbians making $150,000 a year or more. “The Ministry of Children and Family Development said the tax increase …. would generate only $200 million per year in additional revenue, leaving a shortfall of $1.3 billion.” Although Quebec offers $7 per day daycare, the province has some of the highest tax rates in Canada, higher than those in BC in every category other than tobacco. On the other hand, rather than spend tax dollars on childcare, the current provincial government recently announced they are planning on reducing taxes for British Columbians, giving their budget surpluses back to B.C. families. People in BC seem averse to increased taxes based on previous voting patterns, so the probability of $10 per day childcare in B.C. is low. The article concluded that overall, Vancouver is no longer affordable for young families, a fact that we all must accept.

By Alanna Hendren