Who’s looking after the kids? Child care policy in Canada

Last night, I attended my first meeting as a Board member of the child care facility that my son attends. I have always been impressed by the level of commitment displayed by those involved in this field – either as professionals or as volunteers. It has been a long time since I sat around a table with like-minded persons to discuss specific child care related issues. When my teen was a pre-schooler, I sat on the Board of her child care Co-op in Guelph, Ontario. It was a learning experience to be sure. Difficult to access funding programs, uncertainties about the funding and always discussions about subsidized spaces were the common topics of each Board meeting.

In the intervening 13 years or so, it might be expected that the issues had changed. After all, we are purported to be a caring society. One that veers a little to the left in the sense that, in general, we believe the state has a role to play in the care of our kids.

Imagine my surprise when 75% of the conversation around the table last night was geared to accessing funding programs, uncertainties about the funding and discussions about subsidized spaces.

OK. I wasn’t really that surprised that nothing has changed – at least not for the better.

Canada’s child care system was and continues to be a patch work quilt of jurisdictions and agencies. Cities and town, provinces and territories. Not-for-profits, for-profits and Co-ops. Public agencies and private. It’s all over the map. As much as we like to brag about our system of health care, we should be equally ashamed of how we have allowed government after government to trivialize or downright ignore the need for a consistent and well-considered national child care policy and the programs to implement such a policy.

The Conservatives have seen it fit to bail out automakers but scoff at the idea of a national system.  Here’s your C-note a month, parents. Now shut up. GM? You need cash? Well c’mon into my office. Minister Flaherty will fix ya up!

The Grits and Dippers have acknowledged the need for a consistent policy in the past. They recognize the basic fact that a child care system that is comprehensive and professional benefits all. It is not only the parents who benefit – especially lower income folks who, in the absence of subsidies, would be forced to stay at home with their kids instead of working to supplement already meager incomes – but all of society does so. Whether you are a parent or not, giving kids a head start will help them become intelligent and productive contributors to society. The kids of today will be our doctors, engineers, and teachers of tomorrow. They will also be paying taxes to support the social systems (e.g., health care) THAT WE WILL ALL DRAW UPON AS WE GET OLDER.

So I don’t want to hear any crap from those who have chosen NOT to have kids about the whole inequity of it all.

Ergo, I am pleased to see that Iggy is reiterating the pledge to work toward a new way of doing things.

The Liberals were in the midst of delivering on a $5-billion national child-care program before they were thrown out of power in the 2006 election. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives came to office, that program was abandoned, in favour of the $100-a-month cheques to Canadian parents known as the Universal Child Care Benefit.

Ignatieff said that if the Liberals are returned to government, that money will keep flowing to parents, but a national child-care program will also be phased in, as soon as the budget can handle it.

“They give the money to families, fine. Anything that helps families is a good idea. But there aren’t the spaces. If you don’t create the spaces, families don’t have a choice. That’s what we’re saying.”

While I realise that the economic shitstorm and the CPC’s fiscal ineptitude has created a scenario where it will be difficult for the Grits to deliver immediately on this pledge, I do hope that they have in place a detailed plan to implement as soon as budgetary conditions permit.

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15 Comments to “Who’s looking after the kids? Child care policy in Canada”

  1. trashee says:

    @Ken
    On everything you said and more – I heartily agree.
    BTW – nice to see the QC language law struck down by the Supreme Court today, eh?

  2. Ken says:

    The one thing I do agree with you, Trashy, is this: If a plan is put together, it should be implemented nationally. I am tired of provinces doing their own thing. Healthcare should be nationally regulated, securities regulation should be national, trade should be national… the list goes on.

  3. trashee says:

    @Ken
    We would not avoid those horrible instances anymore than Dunblane or Columbine could have been “avoided”. There are warped beings in our midst and no intervention of any sort matters. These things happen.
    Dunblane especially has had profound impact on my life. The thought that a man, a “non-breeder” could walk into a Kindergarten class in small village in Scotland and kill all of those tall and not, without a real reason, has bugged my nightmares for many years. I have come to terms with this my accepting that these things are sometimes unavoidable. Just like those poor kids in B.C., shit happened.
    But if the literature shows that early intervention may, just may, make one individual steer away from decisions like the types that ended in Dunblane or Columbine, however slim the odds may be, then it is worth the expense, isn’t it?
    I stand by my original arguement. The state sometimes should intervene in the rasing of children for the best of society. And a national and comprehensive strategy is the best way to achieve this.
    If I ever run for Council, I ask that any one of you feel free to run against me and join me at the podium in an open debate. It would be fun.

    Or we could just do beers. 🙂

  4. XUP says:

    Let’s hypothetically say there’s someone who has grown up with severe mental health issues that went undiagnosed until well into his adulthood. Then he began a regime of various drugs to try and stabilize his condition. In the meantime they found several other physical health issues. It’s been a couple of years and things seem to be levelling out. He hasn’t attempted suicide in a while, he’s more or less stabilized on the drugs. He lives on social assistance – not really fit for a job. Then there’s a girl who ran away from an abuse home, lived on the streets for a while, got into drugs, etc. got pregnant and now has a 3 year old child (who’s been in foster care a few times) and an psychotic ex-boyfriend who regularly comes by to beat her, burn her house down and so forth. She holds down a part-time minimum wage job. The two meet fall in love and 2 months later she’s pregnant. They’re sooooo happy they’re going to be a family. Neither of them have even finished high school. How did countries like Germany and China get people to only have 1 or 2 children? There must have been financial incentives and/or punishments. Just like they started the baby bonus here to encourage people to have kids. Money is our only tool of coersion. So, instead of encouraging people to have more kids than they can afford by offering to help look after these kids, we could offer them financial incentives not to have kids??

  5. trashee says:

    @XUP
    I agree with you in principle XUP. But most human beings are not as gifted with the common sense that you and I possess.

    I didn’t suggest that you were directly advocating selective breeding. But if procreation is not a right, then I suggest that selective breeding may be a consequence in a society under the right (wrong) conditions.

  6. Ken says:

    If not a right, then what is it? A privilege? Like driving? If a privilege then by extension someone or something must set the rules about who is and is not granted this privilege. Does the state impose a means test to assess whether or not one should be allowed to have children?
    What if they “breed” anyway? Do we sterilize them or throw their children into orphanages, as you suggest? Do we really want selective “breeding” based on a means test? What is to stop the adjudicator from including not only pecuniary means as a criterion but the colour of one’s skin.

    If you’re wanting the state – i.e. us, the taxpayer – to provide assistance to those who can’t afford children, then perhaps the state should have a means test.

    The way you avoid racial issues is by making the means test purely financial: They need to have a minimum income, they need to be able to afford to buy a minimum amount of food & clothing, perhaps work for an organization that has health benefits, at least one parent needs to be working full-time.

    You then become “licensed” to have children.

    It sounds horrible, but perhaps we’d avoid the stories about fathers killing their children “to send them to a better place (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2009/10/21/bc-merritt-murder-trial-schoenborn-testifies.html) or parents letting their children freeze to death (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/saskatchewan/story/2008/11/03/pauchay-trial.html).

    I can see where Squid is coming from when he says “breeders”, and I’m hoping I’m one of those parents he respects 😉

  7. XUP says:

    I never suggested selective breeding. I just said that people who do not have the capacity to care for a child shouldn’t have one. It’s just wrong. Why would you bring a child into the world if you can’t even provide the basic necessities of life? Why did you choose to have a child when you were in such dire circumstances? Why not wait until you’re more stable? That’s common sense. And why should we pay because you demand the right to reproduce whenever you want? It’s this thinking that lets so many men off the child support hook. They have the right to go around impregnating women, but then don’t have the desire and/or money to support the children they make and “someone else” has to step in. Children are human beings and you shouldn’t create a human being unless you are able to make a commitment to that human being that you are going to provide the best possible life for him or her.

  8. trashee says:

    @XUP
    Of course it is a right! How can it be otherwise?

    Procreation is the most basic and the most important of all of our functions as human beings.

    If not a right, then what is it? A privilege? Like driving? If a privilege then by extension someone or something must set the rules about who is and is not granted this privilege. Does the state impose a means test to assess whether or not one should be allowed to have children?

    What if they “breed” anyway? Do we sterilize them or throw their children into orphanages, as you suggest? Do we really want selective “breeding” based on a means test? What is to stop the adjudicator from including not only pecuniary means as a criterion but the colour of one’s skin.

    Do we really want to consider such a slippery slope – not a chance. Do we really want to revert to 19th century views on childen and parenting? I’ll watch Oliver Twist if I want a taste of that.

    That is why it has to remain a right; regardless of their means or of their suitability as a parent. There are of course implications. If they do not have the means, then it is up to the community, or the state, to provide for the basic needs. If they are unsuitable as a parent, then it is up to the community to either teach the parent how to improve or to make up the parent’s deficiencies through the use of programs and support.

    As an aside – when I returned to Grad school, I did so with an 18 month old in tow. Grad students don’t earn very much and I managed to procure as many TA’s, RA’s, awards, bursaries, etc. that I could qualify for. My daughter’s mother also worked her keister off in a very demanding job.

    Yet we needed a subsidized day care spot for 2 years. We could not live on the income that we were bringing in at the time. No way. So, should I have chosen to not go to school until the kid was older? Should I have gone deeper into debt to pay for basic needs? Should my wife (at the time) stayed home and applied for social assistance?

    No. I made the right choices, have paid back several times over in taxes what I accepted as a subsidy. My daughter is healthy and well-adjusted (for a teen). And my life is better. And I did sacrifice.

  9. XUP says:

    I think when Squid was using the term “breeders” he paired it with the adjective “irresponsible” to make a point — people who spawn children they don’t have the means to support. I don’t believe that reproduction is a god-given right, but that seems to be how it’s seen. Really, why should poor people who can’t even feed themselves be allowed to have kids? Of course we can’t prevent them from doing so, but we also shouldn’t be encouraging them by providing programs that make it easy to do so. Like Squid I also don’t care for the early institutionalization of children. I don’t think that gives them a better start in life than spending their first 5 years or so with a close family member. Unless you can afford something really good, daycares are horrid places. Even the really good ones; even junior kindergarten doesn’t provide what being home with mom or dad or even grandma can provide to a young child. Even if that means you only have one income coming in for a few years – give up your car, get a smaller apartment, quit smoking – whatever it takes. I don’t know what’s going on with 6 year olds who are joining gangs, but something is obviously wrong with the parents there that’s not going to be righted by giving them some free child care a few hours a day. These kids need some 24-hour a day supervision, guidance and structure in their lives. Maybe we ought to take this all a few steps further and bring back orphanages – 24 hour daycares for parents who can’t afford to look after their kids?

  10. trashee says:

    @Evolving Squid
    Ah Squiddude, as with most things regarding social policy, you and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum. 🙂
    And, oh yeah… we don’t really like the term “breeders”… I know you’re not one of these folks but in my experience those who use demeaning terms to describe those of us who have kids are the kind of people that one wouldn’t want to spawn in any case…

  11. In effect, I do believe in a national child care policy. here it is:

    “You have the kids, they’re your problem. good luck.”

  12. I disagree about government-provided child care.

    At the lowest end of the income spectrum, it benefits everyone to provide a level of child care. Let’s face it, if the parent(s) are on welfare, we’ll be paying for it one way or another and if paying for it now helps the parent(s) get off welfare later, that’s probably good. However, what benefits society the most is that people understand that raising children is a heavy, AND PERSONAL responsibility. You have a kid, it’s your problem to pay for it. That should weigh heavily on every person’s mind when they do the horizontal mambo.

    If people took more responsiblity for raising their children, there’d probably be less of them, but environmentally that would be a good thing. It would mean we’d have to think about rejigging our social systems so they don’t function on a pyramid scheme basis where people in at the bottom reap all the benefits while people who come later get it in the rear, and how the whole system only works if population grows without bound.

    I simply don’t care that two yuppies want 3 kids and both work to maintain a 3500 sq ft house in the suburbs, an SUV, a Mini Van, a big home theatre and an annual vacation to Disney-*. If their kids cut into the lifestyle that’s a choice they made. Taxpayers don’t owe them day care to live in the style to which they’d like to become accustomed. Children are a sacrifice.

    By socializing child care, irresponsible breeders are effectively stealing from people who can’t have kids, or who responsibly had only the number of children they could or wanted to afford. I have a lot of respect for people who raise their kids out of pocket, and very little for people who figure the system owes them child care and a boat-load of tax breaks.

    I oppose Pre- and Junior Kindergarten as well, which I see as thinly-veiled child care with no obvious benefits of education. I make that claim based on what I see as the products of the education system of the last 25 years… young adults now don’t seem to be any smarter/better educated/more literate/socially or economically advantaged than people who didn’t have it… it’s just a sneaky way to get day care past people who would otherwise oppose it.

    On the flip side of this, however, I am a strong supporter of public education. I think it is in everyone’s best interest to put money to effective use in the education system. It’s a travesty that old people are exempt part of their property taxes that go to education in Ontario. Even though I don’t have children, I’m happy to pay taxes to support education. But I’m not interested in paying for any form of general day care.

    I’m pretty much with XUP on this one. It’s a big part of why I don’t have kids. I wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices that I feel are necessary.

  13. trashee says:

    I am not at all advocating that all of us should receive public monies to send our kids to pre-school care. I can afford to pay full fees and happily do so. But folks like us are in the minority. There are families who are really struggling to stay off the welfare rolls and to do so must necessarily find care for their kids while at work.
    In fact, I’m not directly talking about money at all (though I recognize that any discussion of a new system must necessarily address funding). I am talking about the need for a national strategy that meets the child care needs of all of those who require it and clarify and codify the funding structure that care agencies must access in order to provide spaces to those who require subsidies.
    Yes XUP, putting more funds into education for kids in later years is important. But study after study points out that if kids -especially those at risk due to social/economic circumstances – are well grounded in organised care from the get-go. Would you believe that 6 and 7 year olds talk about getting into gangs? You betcha they do. And if it were not for the Agency that I am involved with, and many more across the country, kids like these would end up getting involved int hings that they should never be a part.

    Oh. And I’m not at work today. Been off with pneumonia for the past week – so I’m bored and able to post and comment to my heart’s content… no energy to do anything else.

  14. XUP says:

    I sort of agree with Ken. Ideally, I believe if you have kids one of the parents should be their care-giver at least until they go to school. You lose one income and someone takes a hit on their career, but it’s usually what’s best for the child. If neither parent is willing to do that, then they pay for day care. Exceptions would include single parents whose only source of income in their job – but even then it should depend on the single parent’s income. I raised my child alone and paid big time for after-school care and summer day camps, but I figured that was my responsibility. The government didn’t force me to have a child. I think we’d be much wiser to put more funding into education. If we are concerned about benefiting society we need to give our kids a better education and more viable post-secondary opportunties. More affordable colleges/universities; apprenticeships; internships, etc.

  15. Ken says:

    Let me throw some cold water on you there, Trashy… I have kids, and I don’t think it’s up to the government or the taxpayer to further subsidize my choice. I use private daycare and pay the full freight of it. The extent of the subsidy I get is declaring it as a deduction on my taxes.

    If there are families out there that need help, then I’m willing to discuss that, but in all honesty – you, me and many of our friends don’t need our deserve taxpayer dollars to take care of our kids.

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