Manitobans want more child care, and we want it now

Winnipeg writer Joanne Seiff provides a list of suggestions for the provincial government on how to improve — and add more spots to — Manitoba's child care programs.
Results from a new Probe Research poll show more than half of Manitobans want more publicly-funded child care spaces at a subsidized cost rather than a direct top-up from Ottawa. (CBC)

A recent poll showed 52 per cent of Manitobans favour Liberal/NDP plans to subsidize new childcare spots, while those with kids under the age of six prefer a cash payout.


​​Our children are only infants once. This looming deadline is a time bomb. Unless you have a secure daycare spot, things become dire when maternity leave ends – unless you have a reliable babysitter or a family member who can watch your kids.  

Many women give up their jobs because they can’t find anyone to watch the baby. When giving up that job, new moms risk losing seniority, wage equality, job security and self-identity.

Child-care workers earn abysmally small salaries. We offer them our offspring at their most fragile, but we do not value these workers financially.- Joane Seiff

If you’re looking, infant spots are the hardest ones to find. As children age, more spots become available in child-care facilities that provide care beginning at age two or three. There isn’t enough childcare for children of any age (roughly 12,000 children lack care), but those with infants struggle most. 

While NDP leadership candidate Steve Ashton wants Manitoba to be a model for a national child-care program, calling it the Medicare of the 21st century, many families are wary. This campaign sounds fabulous, because he bills it as providing real options, including 24/7 care. However, the government cogs turn slowly and that doesn’t align with families’ real needs. If given a choice between cash in hand within the next six months and an indefinite campaign promise, many will choose the former.

Unless you have a large family or a low income, the child subsidies don’t pay for much. Cash is helpful if the family sacrifices a second income so one parent stays home as a caregiver.  Still, the cash doesn’t replace meaningful early childhood education.

As Conservative critic Ian Wishart notes, supporting new spaces is good, but it’s essential to find sufficiently trained workers capable of caring for our province’s children. Here’s where another problem arises.

We don’t value child-care workers

Child-care workers earn abysmally small salaries. We offer them our offspring at their most fragile, but we do not value these workers financially. If we’re going to call for a national childcare program, it might begin with subsidies for both families and for child-care workers’ salaries. 

Sound pie in the sky? Well, it is a campaign promise, but 2014 budget consultations regarding early learning and child care have already listed these problems, with little progress made. 

For instance, the extensive licensing regulations have apparently seen little in the way of amendments or change since 1994. When a small, stand-alone non-profit daycare tries to negotiate this, they face regulations designed primarily for larger daycares associated with public schools. 

It’s hard for smaller daycares to stay afloat and provide good care without administrative support, but if we want good childcare quickly, these smaller facilities are important.  

What are short term solutions to this quagmire?

Answer the daycare providers’ questions

Obviously, if we support good, licensed care, there needs to be someone available to quickly answer those daycares’ questions. 

Yet, when trying to work out the qualifications of an individual child care worker, it can be impossible to get to the right person to answer the question. One preschool director remarked that it took five years to figure out the right phone extensions, and that many of the part time employees worked unpublicized hours. 

There’s no general answering service to help resolve concerns, and many qualification regulations apparently aren’t clear.  A preschool director must read between the lines and can’t immediately get information about what is required or what makes an employee “well-qualified.”

Prioritize licensing requests

It’s hard to gain new licensing for the care of younger children, even if one is already licensed. 

One daycare wanted to adjust their licensing to include 18-month-olds and up, rather than 22-month-olds and up. Months later, that request is awaiting an answer. One reason for this is that the Manitoba Ministry of Family Services is not just in charge of child care, or foster care, or disability services.  It has a whole host of overwhelming responsibilities.  It’s often in the news lately. 

Are they stretched too thin to manage our province’s child-care crisis?

One example is Manitoba’s childcare registry. When my family tried to use it, we were told multiple times by officials and childcare providers that it didn’t work. Some childcare providers kept private wait lists, and others told us to manipulate registry information about our children’s ages to get a spot.  We were even contacted and offered ONE spot. 

When I asked about my other twin, I was told that the provider assumed that was a typo. They had deleted the second kid from the list since he had the same birthday.

Publicize new spots

The NDP is proud of its goal to open thousands of child-care spots. If the child-care registry is imperfect, try other approaches.

When new spots open, announce it to media outlets. Tell everyone where the spots are, when they open for registration, and if families will have a chance at daycare.

Alert parents to options ahead of time

As the budget recommendations mention, new parents shouldn’t be surprised by this situation.  Offer clear information about child care to pregnant women at pre-natal visits. Along with breastfeeding support, the province should offer help in finding new moms child care so they can go back to work if they choose.

Enable unlicensed daycares to become licensed

When searching for home daycare spots, I heard that the licensing requirements seemed too daunting.  Many parents end up with undependable part-time babysitting.

If there is some licensing process for home daycares, there’s a way to introduce safe practices into the many currently unlicensed places where our children end up.

In the long term, we should follow through on all the consultations that have already taken place.  Revise those regulations, modernize the system, and prioritize clear, efficient administrators who can offer safe child-care placements. 

Boost childcare workers’ salaries, clarify expectations for their qualifications, and show them that they matter as our children’s first teachers. 

Manitoba must think about families with these looming deadlines. Should mom or dad quit jobs to take care of the toddlers? 

We can’t afford to force every family into making this decision. Manitoba needs these valuable employees/parents and their taxes. It’s time to prioritize our needs.

Joanne Seiff is the author of two books and the mother of twin preschoolers.


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