According to parents and child care providers, it's very difficult to get a licensed child care space in Saskatchewan.

It's no surprise. The province is currently ranked last in the country when it comes to the percentage of licensed child care spaces available to children.

Hemant and Michelle Naidu ran into that problem first hand. The couple applied to get into several daycare centres when their oldest son was a baby.  It took three years before a centre confirmed a space was available.

"I'd heard that it was really difficult," Michelle Naidu said. "When you call, some of the centres will give you an approximate wait time, like, it's six months to a year. Other ones won't even give you a wait time, because generally, they don't know."

That story is borne out by a recent study conducted by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The latest numbers, from 2012, show 7.6 per cent of children 0-12 years old in Saskatchewan will receive a licensed child care space. The national average is almost triple that number, at 20.5 per cent.

That means many of the province's children are cared for in unlicensed homes.

"I know there was a lady in our area that had 27 children in her home. So, naturally, those children would not have been looked after properly."
- Doris Gutzer, Saskatchewan Association of Child Care Homes

Licensed vs. unlicensed

The debate over licensed vs. unlicenced child care spots has raged for years.

While licensed child care spots are regularly inspected by the provincial government, unlicensed spots are only examined if someone makes a complaint against them.

Doris Gutzer said that has led to abuses of the system. Co-chair of the Saskatchewan Association of Child Care Homes, as well as a 35-year-veteran of the licensed system, Gutzer regularly hears stories of abuse.

"I know there was a lady in our area that had 27 children in her home," she said. "So, naturally, those children would not have been looked after properly. There wouldn't have been proper snacks, proper meals, and the diapering wasn't there as well."

Other than the province funding more licensed child care spaces, Gutzer would like to see more attention paid to regulating unlicensed homes.

"What I would like to see, personally, is if the government somehow regulated the non-licensed child care," she said. "Whether the parents have to report to somebody, where the children are going, whatever methodology they want to use. But there has to be some sort of accountability."

What next

This year's provincial budget offered no new licensed child care spots.

David McGrane, a political science professor at the University of Saskatchewan, believes that places the province even further behind.

"We've had a mini-baby boom here in Saskatchewan due to increased immigration, and due to the echo that is the baby boomers' children starting to have children themselves," he said. "It really hasn't kept up."

McGrane said the number of licensed child care spaces have been neglected for decades, but the problem has become much more acute in the past few years as the province's population expands.

Ultimately, McGrane said the lack of child care spaces affects all of society.

"We have labour shortages here in Saskatchewan, and one of the best ways to reduce labour shortages is to get more people working," he said. "And when you have a good quality child care system, that means you allow more people, particularly women, to enter into the workforce."