The solution to child care is not more money. It’s improved services

An agreement struck on a short-term deadline to release $1.3bn in long-term funding from the federal and provincial governments may not be as helpful to Ontario child care as Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Families, Children and Social Services Lisa MacLeod might think.

Last week federal and provincial leaders announced a compromise as leaders of the most populous province and the second most populous met to address the $3.4bn deficit in the Ontario Ministry of Children, Youth and Families.

However, this temporary funding has a huge catch. Only 30,000 children could benefit from new funding based on a survey by the Ontario Association of Child Care Providers. That means 300,000 children would have to wait to receive any financial help, and any additional $1.3bn funding for infrastructure would be delayed until at least 2021.

A primary reason the Ontario Ministry of Children, Youth and Families failed to address child care affordability and accessibility is that Doug Ford’s government ended the Ontario Child Care Program, which offered subsidies to low-income, working families in need.

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According to United Way Toronto, a 2014 United Way of Toronto report showed that only 49% of full-time child care spots were in affordable, quality, child care centres and that 69% of families felt they could not afford these programs. The study shows that child care has become the focus of high poverty rates in Ontario. Of the 1.3 million people who live in extreme poverty in Ontario, more than 160,000 live in child care.

According to Unicef, Canada is the world’s fifth-largest child-care consumer, with an expenditure of $7.4bn a year. Canada spends just 2.5% of its gross domestic product on early childhood education and care, one of the lowest rates in the developed world. If Canada fully supported its child care system, it would generate over $20bn a year to pay for both fiscal and social policy.

This is money that could be invested in actual child care, or in reducing the deficit. Too many kids in Ontario’s child care program are stuck in deplorable spaces that don’t provide sufficient spaces for kids, or they aren’t able to attend high-quality programs that meet the needs of their learning and social development. These spaces are most often in areas outside Toronto and other major centres.

Annual funding for child care is inadequate. According to analysis by Thomas Whyld, a professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, provincial budgets in Canada should have funded the program more accurately. According to Whyld, child care budgets in Ontario are based on the wrong scenario, both for the needs of children and the fiscal reality. To work, the picture needs to include all children’s needs across the province. There is also a need to have more families utilizing child care.

Governments agree that as the country grows, as many Canadians move from rural and remote areas to the metropolis, to those who live in the most northern and other outlying regions of the country, that the number of child care slots needs to grow to support those children who need to be closer to families.

The federal government’s own pre-election 2014 budget called for “regional child care systems” in remote communities. The provinces, along with the Canada Child Benefits and Shared Parental Benefits, contribute to the needs of child care, as well as the wages of child care workers. As the countries experiences one of the fastest growing infrastructures of houses of residence and supports, more needs to be done to ensure that child care is a priority.

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This is why the Ontario Ministry of Children, Youth and Families failed to give low-income working families a subsidy that supports child care in Toronto as part of their previous budget, which was cut in 2017.

With hundreds of thousands of kids in need, there is a federal and provincial role to make the child care system a priority. Instead of judging agreements on a deadline, we need to work together to actually improve the child care experience across the country. The solution is not simply “give more money to the federal government”.

This is the first step, but child care workers know that the problems exist and will not be solved easily. Working with child care workers, the federal and provincial governments need to stop posturing and make a deal on child care. At the very least, our federal government should provide $150m in annual funding to address the

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