Despite the transformational investments that have been committed to child care through the Canada-Nova Scotia Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, parents continue to face high fees and extreme uncertainty about whether they will have access to child care at all.
Broken promise on spaces
Last month, it was reported that the Houston government failed to meet Nova Scotia’s target of opening 1500 new licensed child care spaces. Only 400 new spots were created, less than one third of what was committed. But according to the Nova Scotia NDP, when accounting for lost spaces, only 14 new spaces have been created for infants and toddlers.
While the Conservatives drag their feet on this commitment, parents are scrambling for child care they need desperately.
In child care Facebook groups, there are several posts a day from panicked parents looking for a child care spot. When someone posts about opening a home daycare, there are dozens of comments within the hour hoping to get a spot.
Without the promised spaces, many parents have no choice but to pay the higher fees of an unregulated home daycare or a private nanny because they simply cannot find a spot at a licensed child care centre or regulated day home.
And for some parents, primarily women, the child care crisis puts returning to work in jeopardy.
This was not the promise made to parents when we were told affordable child care was finally on its way.
For-profit care not the answer
While some have called for an expansion of for-profit centres, the reality is that for-profit care leaves parents vulnerable to profiteering.
Last week, some parents went public about paying $1380 deposits months ago for a “guaranteed spot” at a for-profit centre and being told just weeks before their children were scheduled to start that there was no spot for them. The child care centre in question, Kids and Company, is a corporate child care provider with 120 locations across North America.
Opening the door to creating more spaces in private child care, will undoubtedly attract more of these “big box” child care companies looking to make a profit off of the child care needs of families.
Without delivering on the promised new spaces, however, private child care will continue to expand through the growing demand for unregulated day homes and private in-home caregivers.
ECE wages and benefits still too low
The Houston government has tried to skirt responsibility for their failure, saying labour shortages and supply chain issues are to blame for the lack of spaces. In reality, it is the government’s own policies that are stalling progress.
In October, the Tories introduced a highly anticipated new wage scale for early child care educators. But even with wage increases, many ECEs will still be making poverty wages. Under the new wage scale, ECEs now make between $19.10 and $24.39 based on their level of education and number of years of experience.
At the time, Margot Nickerson, President of CUPE 4745, which represents ECEs at non-profit centres in Halifax, called the wage grid “ill-conceived,” saying, “[The federal and provincial government] are sending a message that ECEs only deserve to scrape by and are not deserving of decent wages. The top hourly wage offered by the government is where wages should start off.”
In health care, the government has announced bonuses to attract and retain staff, but while similar shortages exist in child care, these workers are still expected to make due on low wages.
To make matters worse, the Houston government has not produced a promised plan to ensure all child care workers have access to health care benefits and a pension. Currently, there is a significant gap in the benefits offered to school-based early childhood educators who teach pre-primary, and child care workers in licensed child care centres.
Tim Houston doesn’t get it
Despite a lot of promises, the failure of the Houston government to deliver on their commitments to parents shows how little they understand about the importance of childcare to working people, particularly women.
Case in point, in response to a question about opening just 14 more child care spaces for infants and toddlers in the last 18 months, Tim Houston responded saying:
“I just want to assure those Nova Scotians who are seeking child care, we understand…The investments that are being made and those working in the sector, those are important. The spots that we can open, maybe it is only 14…We’ll do what we can. Nova Scotians know that we’re working hard on this file. We’ll continue to work on that file just as hard as we can.”
Why does Tim Houston think it is ok to suggest we accept 14 new child care spaces, when he promised 1,500? Because Tim Houston, and most men in positions of power, don’t understand how central child care is to women’s ability to work, and therefore, to our economy.
For example, Tim Houston’s constant refrain is that he was elected to fix healthcare. Well, who does he think works in healthcare? Women. Eighty-four percent of healthcare workers are women. So, Tim, you cannot fix healthcare without fixing child care.
As nurse Marya Boast wrote in the Chronicle Herald recently, “I work two days a week in cancer care. Why, you ask?…I have small children and one of them is not yet school age and needs daycare. However, daycare availability is limited in my area…My daughter gets part days of care and we are on a waitlist for full days. My other two children finish school at 2:30 each day and have no after-school care.”
Parents deserve better
Affordable, accessible $10 per day child care has the power to truly transform the lives of many families in Nova Scotia. There are basic and creative solutions the government could be working on to make this transformative change happen.
Raising wages and providing benefits to child care workers is a start. The government could guarantee good jobs for any child care worker who graduates from a recognized program (as has been done for nursing students). There are innovative ways to create new spots such as providing incentives for municipalities, Mi’kmaq communities, or other public bodies to open up new spaces; piloting government-run centres through the regional centres for education; or offering cultural and community groups start-up support to create child care spaces for the communities they serve.
Parents deserve the $10/day child care program they were promised and there are ways to get there. But the Conservatives stubbornly refuse to listen to parents and child care workers and do what needs to be done.
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