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Hundreds of thousands of families in Canada live in daycare 'deserts,' report says

An estimated 776,000 Canadian children live in areas of the country without enough available daycare spaces, suggests a new report that outlines the statistical flip side of high child-care costs in some parts of the country.

Plans submitted by most provinces and territories show about 9,700 new spaces will be created over 3 years

The study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says 44 per cent of all school-aged children live in so-called 'child care deserts' where the number of children outstrips the available spaces in licensed homes and centres. (Mike Dotta/Shutterstock)

An estimated 776,000 Canadian children live in parts of Canada without enough available daycare spaces, according to a new report that outlines the statistical flip side of high child-care costs in some parts of the country.

The study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which was released Thursday, says 44 per cent of all school-aged children live in so-called "child-care deserts" where the number of children outstrips the available spaces in licensed homes and centres.

The study didn't take into account unlicensed daycare because there is no exhaustive list of spaces Canada-wide.

The researchers found cities in provinces that take a more active role in regulating child care were more likely to have broader coverage, compared with those provinces that took a hands-off approach to regulation and let the market dictate prices and locations of spaces. 

Patterns 'don't reflect what parents want'

As a result, fewer than five per cent of children in Charlottetown and Quebec cities were under-served, according to the report. In comparison, the researchers found every child in Saskatoon lived in a child-care desert.

"Most of the patterns in the market system reflect what providers want; they don't reflect what parents want because providers locate where they want to locate," said David Macdonald, a senior economist at the centre and author of the study.

"It illustrates the other side of child care." 

The study also found daycare spaces were crowded around Canada's urban cores and less prevalent in suburbs and rural areas.

Toronto's child-care spaces were concentrated around the Yonge Street corridor leading up to Highway 401. Beyond that stretch, the study coverage rates dropped. That means that parents may be doing a double commute daily — to and from daycare, and then to and from the office.

The situation in Brampton, Ont. is one of the most dire. Ninety-five per cent of the city's children do not have access to a daycare centre, according to the report.

"That means parents are on a waiting list to try and find child care, they're having to use unlicensed care or rely on family even though that may not be their first choice," said Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare. "They're having to commute with kids or they're having to off shift with their parents."

Denise Henry, who runs a licensed home daycare in Brampton, has seen first hand how needed childcare spaces are.

"There's one parent that told me that she spent almost eight months trying to find a daycare and she interviewed many but she wasn't satisfied," she said.

Henry's own allowable limit is six children. She says she's had to turn many parents down because her own spots are full.

'A lot fewer deserts' in Quebec

The same wasn't true in Quebec. On the island of Montreal, there were enough spaces for the number of children and the same was true in the surrounding areas.

"Quebec shows a bit of a different model, and that's in part due to the fact that the province is much more involved in child care there — not only setting the fees, but also planning where these centres should go," Macdonald said. "You end up with a lot fewer deserts."

The Trudeau Liberals are providing federal cash for child care to the provinces and territories over the next 10 years, the first three of which are subject to funding agreements.

Plans submitted by most provinces and territories show that approximately 9,700 new spaces will be created over the next three years as a result of federal funding. That number doesn't include Ontario and Quebec, whose plans don't break down the precise impact of federal funding.

Some of the spaces that are being created will target under-served communities, while others will target marginalized populations like those living in low-income and recent immigrants. Other spending will create daycare spaces for parents working irregular hours like shift work.

The report says smart public policy is needed if the federal and provincial governments want to meet their grand promises on child care.

With files from CBC News

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