Nfld. & Labrador

Cheaper (and more) child-care options needed for aging N.L., says advocate

Quality, affordable child care isn't just an issue for parents, says Robyn LeGrow of the Jimmy Pratt Foundation — it's an issue for the entire province.

'If we're in this position now you can only imagine what we're going to be like in about 20 years'

The Children's Centre in St. John's is a non-profit and offers some of the lowest rates in the city. (Here & Now)

Child-care costs aren't a social issue — they're an economic issue.

That's the message from both a parent and an early childhood education advocate who say addressing the cost and availability of child care in Newfoundland and Labrador is key to attracting and keeping young people in the province.

"The high cost of daycare and the difficulty in raising a child in this economic environment that we're currently living has made this an unsuitable place for people to raise a young family," said Robyn LeGrow, an early childhood education advocate with the Jimmy Pratt Foundation.

Jillian Slade, a mother of two boys, told Here & Now that paying for child care for her four-year-old and five-month-old almost leaves her and her husband at a monthly deficit.

"It doesn't make sense for me to stay home. We're a dual-income family. We need two incomes in order to pay for our house, pay for our vehicles," Slade said. 

"There's some desperation in the working class, which is kind of disguised by a house and two vehicles in the driveway."

Jillian Slade, who has two young children, says the cost of full-time daycare for both is more than her monthly mortgage payment. (Here & Now)

From $700 to $1,000 a month, per kid

In St. John's, the median fee for preschool dropped 13 per cent after nearly half the child care centres in the city signed on to the province's new set-fee system, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

The median cost of care for infants, or kids under two, was $977 a month, which falls in the middle of the pack.

The median monthly fee for toddler care — kids from 18 months to three years old — was $726, the ninth-lowest of the 28 cities. 

Care for preschool-aged kids, from two-and-a-half to five years old, set parents back $760 a month, the 11th-lowest fee in the bunch.

For comparison, monthly fees for all the age groups in Quebec cities were all under $200. In Winnipeg, both toddler and preschooler care cost under $500 a month.

Robyn LeGrow, an early childhood education advocate with the Jimmy Pratt Foundation, says quality, affordable child care would benefit the province. (Here & Now)

Seventy-nine per cent of St. John's centres have a waitlist, and 17% of those centres charge a fee to be on it, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report.

The Jimmy Pratt Foundation believes the best thing for children is publicly funded early childhood education, including full-day kindergarten, junior kindergarten and daycare for the youngest children, said LeGrow, who added international research supports that position.

The province offers a a subsidy for families making $32,000 or less, and Slade's family doesn't qualify, she said. But even those who do have a hard time, she said. 

"There's many people who work at the minimum wage point, and they're unable to pay other bills and get a child to the daycare program," he said.

Slade said she has went back to work earlier than planned after having her second child a few months ago. Family is taking care of him until she and her husband find him a daycare spot. When they do, they'll be paying two full-time daycare bills.

That will cost more than their mortgage, she said. 

'It would literally be life-changing'

Other provinces have brought in additional investments in child care or early childhood education. Newfoundland and Labrador implemented full-day kindergarten a few years ago, and Ontario offers full-day kindergarten and junior kindergarten.

In Quebec, the provincial government sets a flat fee for children in most child-care centres, at a maximum of $20 per day, and supplements that with public funding. And last year British Columbia began a pilot program offering child care at $10 per day to 1,800 children.

It would literally be life-changing for people.- Jillian Slade

Child-care subsidization may cost money, but LeGrow said it could also help to reduce demographic trends in a province where more people died than were born in 2018, and to keep people in the workforce as an aging population retires.

"If we're in this position now you can only imagine what we're going to be like in about 20 years," she said.

Slade said freeing up money otherwise spent on child care would allow families to spend it in other places and stimulate the local economy — a family like hers has no disposable income for a couple more years at least, she said, due to child-care costs.

"It would literally be life-changing for people," she said.

Government is working on it, says Hawkins

Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Al Hawkins says government is working on lowering daycare fees and that their efforts have already succeeded, as falling costs reported in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study show.

In 2014, St. John's had the second-highest childcare costs behind Toronto, he said. 

"We've now moved to the middle of the pack."

Al Hawkins is the minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

He credits a government program in which daycare operators charge parents a set, maximum fee and government provides a subsidy to fill in the gap.

That change, combined with operating grants, is helping to bring the cost down, he said.

"Affordable child-care centres is where we want to go," he said. "We still know ... we've got a bit of work to do."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Here & Now

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