Manitoba's daycare centres struggle to keep staff with some wages lower than retail
New report shows Manitoba lagging in access to child care spaces, subsidies for low-income families
MJ Farrow feels helpless. Some of her child-care workers could earn a higher wage in retail, and there's nothing she can do about it.
"When I can have a staff say to me, 'I can go work at Shoppers Drug Mart and make more money than I can working in daycare,'" — Farrow said she is left dejected.
She's tried to convince two employees at her Stars of Promise daycare in northeast Winnipeg to get more training, but they don't see the point.
"They told me: why would I do this when there's no money in this field?" Farrow said. "Why should I come out owing $10,000 or more in student loans, and get peanuts — $15.50 [an hour]."
WATCH | MJ Farrow says daycares are struggling to make ends meet:
Poor wages — like an employee of 20 years making around $20 an hour — is one setback facing non-profit daycare centres in Manitoba.
On Wednesday, the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba released a report card on a child care system it says is worsening. As salaries remain paltry, the waiting list for available spaces is growing and fewer low-income families can afford it.
Push for universal access
These are big blows to a sector already reeling from a provincial grant that's been stagnant since 2016, and by having parent fees capped by the province since 2013.
"If this government truly believes in their mantra of 'cradle to grave of Manitobans' then a robust and effective child care policy is part of this," Brianne Goertzen, a coalition member, told a news conference Wednesday.
At her 64-space daycare on Concordia Avenue, Farrow insists the status quo from government isn't sustainable. She wrote to government officials earlier this year as she struggled to make her budget work.
"It's really hard when … you're cutting everywhere and you can't give a raise increase of more than one per cent because you just don't have the money," Farrow said, referring to an aged stove, washer and dryer she cannot replace.
To find money, her daycare has resorted to continuous fundraising. They sell chocolates and chips. They hawk hot lunches twice a month. They ask for donations of toys and clothes.
"Everybody keeps telling us we're supposed to have quality care, and I don't understand how we can have quality care," Farrow said.
One employee, Carrie Hamelin, has a side business of making cakes so she can get by.
"A lot of times we're considered babysitters but, I mean, I would love to get a babysitter wage," she said. "Ten dollars a kid an hour, that's awesome."
Child care advocates say the sector is starved for funding. The coalition's report card concluded that Manitoba is performing at a worse or comparable level than it did in 2016 in numerous categories, from availability of spaces to the rate of new builds.
The report noted more than 16,000 children were on the waiting list at last check, higher than the over 12,000 kids in 2016.
It also said the percentage of low-income families who receive a subsidy has slipped from 23.7 per cent in 2016 to 17.2 per cent in 2019.
Goertzen says the answer to these problems are at the government's fingertips.
The NDP released a report in 2016 that proposed scaling parent fees based on income, and adding thousands more child care spaces — but the main thrusts of the report were never acted upon.
Instead, the Progressive Conservatives, which were elected that year, embarked on their own review that focused on the funding model. KPMG won the contract in 2019 after signing a non-disclosure agreement.
"If we already have something on the books, why would we be going to KPMG at this point in time, and why would we be making sure that this contract was private and confidential?" Goertzen said in an interview.
Cost dependent on income
She worries cost-cutting will take precedence over improving the daycare system.
Goertzen holds the previous NDP report in high regard. It sought ways to create a universally accessible child care system available to anyone who needs it.
The report pitched higher wages and a sliding scale for daycare costs — families below the median income would pay less than 10 per cent of their income toward child care.
The document also set a course for the government to realize its promise of building 12,000 additional child care spaces.
It suggested stand-alone preschool centres on school property — as well as spaces in post-secondary institutions and new Manitoba Housing properties — as possible options.
Waiting list was 16,000-strong
The province had 16,000 kids on the waiting list for child care spots, but the government removed the list from its website last year because it considered the estimate inaccurate since it included 1,000 spaces for children who hadn't been born, the province said last year.
The Tories promised in the 2019 election to encourage more home-based daycare and boost funding for those spaces. The Progressive Conservatives pledged a $500-per-month subsidy for 3,000 lower-income families to use for whichever child-care choice they see fit.
In a statement, the province said it funded more than 2,270 new spaces since 2016, with another 1,600 new spaces expected by the end of the fiscal year.
The new review will be released this spring. It will assess the effectiveness of current operating grants, parent fees and wages.
It will also provide "recommendations on the implementation of a new portable child care benefit for families to support accessing the child care of their choice," Families Minister Heather Stefanson said.
She said the Tories' review is distinct from the report from the former NDP government, "which did not consider other innovative options for providing child care."
NDP child care critic Danielle Adams said the province needs to ensure non-profit daycare centres are viable.
"With the freezing [of grants], which is essentially equated to a cut, it makes it harder for daycares to operate. It makes it harder for them to maintain staff, which ultimately makes it harder for them to provide child care for families in Manitoba."
WATCH | Ian Froese's report:
- An earlier version of this story indicated the report was released by the Child Care Association of Manitoba. In fact, it was released by the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba.Feb 26, 2020 8:15 PM CT