British Columbia·Point of View

B.C.'s child-care system is broken. Will any political party follow through on a promise to fix it?

Whatever government takes the reins after the election desperately needs to address our current child-care system in B.C. Because it is broken. 

A lot of promises have been made to parents, but I wouldn't hold my breath

Child care can be a struggle for many families financially — and that's if they can find a space at all. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.


In the lead up to the election, all parties have made various promises to help parents with child care. But does this mean parents' child-care dreams will finally come true? 

I'm not holding my breath.

It's been 50 years since the Royal Commission on the Status of Women recommended national child care. But here we are in 2020, still paying, on average, nearly $1,000 a month to cover care for our children that is hard to come by and often less than ideal. 

It's a huge financial strain for families, especially those who are low income or single parents. Though some do qualify for the subsidized care and the limited $10-a-day child care initiative, for many it's not just the cost of child care that's the issue, but also the lack of space.

Limited availability means they have to choose between their children or their careers.  Amanda Burnette started the Waitlisted Project B.C. to amplify the voices of people struggling to access affordable, quality child care across B.C. 

She hears so many heartbreaking stories and so many of them have the same message — there is just not enough space. 

"I think about the mom in Tofino who had a baby and couldn't get into the daycare ... and so she lost her position," said Burnette. "She was basically forced into poverty because of her lack of access to child care."

So what are the party promises, and how do they compare? 

B.C. Liberals

  • $1 billion to bring $10-a-day child care to families with annual household incomes of up to $65,000.
  • Families with incomes up to $125,000 would pay a stepped up rate from $10 a day.
  • Online provincewide electronic child-care application system that all providers getting government funding would use. 

B.C. Green Party 

  • Increased budget for child-care programs.
  • $300 million more into preschool for three- and four-year-olds.
  • More spaces and free child care for working parents with kids under three.
  • $500 a month to families with children under three and a parent who stays at home.

B.C. NDP

  •  Expand $10-a-day child-care to an additional 22,000 spaces.
  • Child care included when government builds a new school or housing complex.
  • Work toward universal pick-up/drop-off school care to cover the full typical work day.

Some families struggle more than others

Of course, some families struggle more and that includes people who face higher rates of poverty — which is often, disproportionately, Indigenous women and women of colour and, often overlooked, recent immigrants to the country.

Many need training and credentials to work here but without child care they miss out on opportunities and much needed wages. 

Thea Lopez is a volunteer for the Immigrant Women's Advisory Committee for Pacific Immigrant Resources. She and her husband, both nurses who immigrated from the Philippines to B.C., are still struggling to take the steps that would allow them to continue here in nursing. 

"An immigrant woman's path is different from a Canadian woman's path to child care. We know, once we come here, we have a long way to go to get to our profession. But how can we do the job if we are stuck at home, because we don't have access to child care?" asks Lopez.

As Lopez points out, her expertise as a front-line worker would be incredibly valuable during the pandemic if she was able to work full time as a nurse. 

One size doesn't fit all

But it's not just enough to open space — there needs to be dedication to making sure those spaces are suitable for all children no matter what their needs. 

Michelle Boshard is mom to two children; her teenage son is non-verbal and has autism. From day care and beyond, just having space for a child isn't adequate. There needs to be enough early childhood educators trained to provide specialized care and deal with the unique challenges many kids can face.  

 "They don't have the capacity to deal with special needs in early childhood," says Boshard. "So, no matter how many seats you have ... there is still an unaddressed issue of capacity to support special needs kids. Right up from daycare all the way into school."

Boshard would also like child care and early childhood educators to fall under the Ministry of Education just as K-12 grades do, instead of  the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The Greens and NDP promise to do that, while the Liberals say they'll make a new ministry for child care. 

Whichever government takes the reins after the election, it desperately needs to address our current child-care system in B.C., because it is broken. The pandemic has only increased the pressure on all families to find care.

And there needs to be a shift in the way we view child care. Early childhood educators and care providers can't be viewed as glorified babysitters, they need to be highly trained, adequately compensated and and held to regulated standards.

Child care has a ripple effect into employment, gender equity, the economy and the future.  Kids in child care today will be in charge one day, so let's make sure we fully protect and take care of them every step along the way.

About the Author

Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.

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