Hamilton's lack of childcare is costing taxpayers: advocate

Hamilton is lagging behind most other cities when it comes to affordable childcare, a local advocate says. And our economy is suffering because of it.

Hamilton has 168 licensed childcare spaces for every 1,000 children, advocate says

Jodi Dean is still looking for accessible childcare for her seven-year-old daughter, Madison. But there's a shortage of affordable, accessible childcare in Hamilton, advocates say. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton is lagging behind most other cities when it comes to affordable childcare, a local advocate says. And our economy is suffering because of it.

Judith Bishop, a Hamilton child-care advocate, told councillors on Monday that the city trails areas such as Sudbury, Niagara, and London when it comes to licensed spaces per 1,000 children.

It’s not only impacting Hamilton’s social fabric, but its pocketbook, she said. Studies show that the return on investment is $7 for every $1 taxpayers spend on providing childcare.

When you provide childcare, both parents can afford to work, a third person is employed, and all three pay taxes.- Judith Bishop, Hamilton child-care advocate

“When you provide childcare, both parents can afford to work, a third person is employed, and all three pay taxes,” she said.

Hamilton has 168 licensed childcare spaces for every 1,000 children, said Bishop, who is a former Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustee. This is according to 2013 figures.

That same year, Niagara had 175, London 186 and Sudbury 281, she said.

The city has 10,068 licensed childcare spaces. And availability varies widely in different areas of the city, with more affluent areas generally with muh better availability. Ancaster fares the best. It has licensed childcare spaces for 32.2 per cent of children under 12.

But in north lower Hamilton – Wards 2, 3, 4 and 5 north of Barton Street – there are 1,755 children and zero licensed childcare spaces, she said.

That makes it harder for parents to work, Bishop said. Single parents are hit the hardest.

When Quebec provided widespread affordable childcare, its poverty rate declined by 50 per cent, she said.

Bishop cited lack of political will as a reason Hamilton is lagging. But councillors took a step toward remedying that on Monday.

Even if the progress doesn’t happen in time for my daughter, if it happens in time for other moms, that’s amazing.- Jodi Dean, a mother searching for childcare

The emergency and community services committee voted to lobby the provincial and federal governments for a childcare strategy. Staff will also report back on possible ways to close Hamilton’s childcare gap. The former decision was moved by Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4, the latter by Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3.

Judith Bishop says if the city put more money toward affordable childcare, more parents would be able to work and it would have an economic spinoff. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Each year, city council tells staff to keep departmental budgets as close to zero as possible. So the city spends only what it gets from the province without making its own investments, said Joe-Anne Priel, general manager of community and emergency services.

Jodi Dean, an east-end resident, has a seven-year old daughter with epilepsy and severe osteoporosis. She told the committee about her struggle to find licensed childcare that will take her daughter. Dean is studying to be a social service worker at Mohawk College, and has been relying on family and friends to help when her daughter isn't in school.

Dean has a work placement this summer, and is scrambling to find a space. 

She was pleased that the councillors listened.

"I thought today was a step," she said. "When I left, I thought 'wow, somebody listened.'

"Even if the progress doesn’t happen in time for my daughter, if it happens in time for other moms, that’s amazing."


Available licensed spaces, by area

(As a percentage of children under age 12)

  • North Hamilton Mountain (parts of Wards 6, 7, 8):  18.8 
  • South Hamilton Mountain (parts of Wards 6, 7, 8): 15.3
  • Stoney Creek Mountain (urban): 15.3 
  • West Lower Hamilton (Ward 1 west of Highway 403): 29.6
  • Central Lower Hamilton (Wards 2, 3, 4 south of Barton Street): 12.4
  • East Lower Hamilton (Ward 5 south of Barton): 10.1
  • North Lower Hamilton (Wards 2, 3, 4, 5 north of Barton: 0.0
  • Lower Stoney Creek (urban): 14.2
  • East Flamborough (Waterdown): 14.7
  • Ancaster (urban): 32.2
  • Dundas: 19.5
  • Hamilton rural areas (west Flamborough, Binbrook): 4.9
  • Total for Hamilton: 13.8

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