REALity Volume XXXVI Issue No. 5 May 2017
By: Helen Ward
The federal government just allotted $7 billion over 10 years for “child care.” Who will benefit? The vast majority of families will benefit little if at all.
Daycare advocates have ensured that policies contain discriminatory definitions that explicitly exclude parental child care and preferentially fund institutional group care spaces. This is despite the fact that institutional group care is the most costly, least preferred and the most problematic for children’s mental and physical health.
The billions will flow in two ways: system subsidies like capital costs, operating grants, bureaucracy and advocacy, and fee subsidies to reduce parents’ expenses, typically paid on behalf of moderate or lower income families. Tax deductions will be available for up to about $7,000 in fees per child, $4,000 until age 15. (You read that right: daycare deductions for 15-year-olds.)
For a family with two parents in the top tax bracket with two young children in a daycare centre, the tax subsidy alone is worth over $6,500 per year. Add to that the value of the system subsidies at a super-subsidized daycare and clearly some families will be receiving public child care funding worth many tens of thousands of dollars every year while other families receive none at all.
Currently only about 15 per cent of Canadian children 0-5 are in daycare centres. Statistics Canada reports that higher-income families are more likely to use this arrangement. Taxpayers are funding higher-income families with huge subsidies for institutional child care at the expense of lower income families — including single parents — who prioritize parental child care.
To add insult to injury, reliable, peer-reviewed evidence does not support policies promoting increased non-parental care. We are told that regulated daycare is “high quality.” Meanwhile, research by daycare proponents themselves states that, “The majority of licensed daycare in Canada is of minimal to mediocre quality.” Research on Quebec finds 73 per cent of its daycare is “minimal to mediocre” quality.
Inadequate child-to-staff ratios are a major reason for this. British Columbia allows one staff member to care for four infants (in Quebec that’s five). The ratio is one per eight young children, one per 15 in school-age daycare and one per 22 in kindergarten. Yet peer-reviewed research shows these ratios mean about 50 per cent of children will not receive adequate physical or developmental care.
Neither does institutional child care improve children’s health, academic, social and emotional outcomes. We hear claims that institutional child care is beneficial but these findings are based on research over 50 years old involving extremely underprivileged, intellectually challenged children in an American inner-city. This was an experimental program that never involved long days in institutional daycare.
To efficiently fund child care we should fund children, not spaces and their massive related system costs. We could do this by increasing the federal government’s child benefit.
Why is this better? For one, this could eliminate child poverty. Daycare spaces cannot. Regarding gender equity, the state would respect women’s choices, rather than discriminating against mothers who prioritize parental care and rewarding those using institutional spaces.
Moreover, every family is unique. Each could use these funds to meet their unique needs and wants as they change over time, including paying for non-parental care. Child care funding should go directly and equitably to families for the sake of children.
Daycare activists are already upset because this latest funding infusion is not enough. To them, it will never be enough. To parents, however, $7 billion is plenty. If only they would ever get to see a penny of it.
(Helen Ward is a low-income single mother and President of Kids First Parent Association of Canada) Reprinted from the National Post on March 27, 2017