"I have tried 5 different babysitters. I wish I could send my child back to the daycare centre; he loved it there - but when we lost the subsidy we had to leave. We can barely pay our rent and buy food."
It may come as a surprise to hear this statement in 2004 from a Canadian family. After all, the federal government has increased funding to the provinces for early childhood development programs -- of which child care is a cornerstone --in every year since 2001. Yet this is only one of many concerns raised recently by parents in Surrey/White Rock as part of a community consultation.
The fact is that, in spite of three years of increased federal funding for early childhood development (ECD), child care in BC has not improved. Community members tell us that things have instead gotten worse for most middle- and low-income families.
How can this be? A close look at the BC Government's reporting to Ottawa explains the puzzle.
In an agreement put in place in 2000, the federal and provincial governments made a joint commitment to improve and expand ECD programs, including child care, for children aged birth through six. The agreement included a federal funding commitment to BC totaling $290 million over a 5-year period beginning in 2001/02.
Unfortunately for BC families, when the current government took office, it began to shift the province's early childhood development priorities away from child care. While it has increased support for some initiatives --including research, community forums and grants to charitable organizations -- it has done so using a combination of the new federal money for ECD and money from direct cuts to child care.
The province's own reporting acknowledges that in the first two years after the joint agreement was signed, BC received over $83 million for ECD -- and at the same time cut an astonishing $23 million from child care subsidies for low- and moderate-income families.
In 2002/03 alone, the BC Government increased spending on its preferred early childhood development priority areas by $44 million. Thirty eight per cent of this money came from increased federal funds. The other 62 per cent came from substantial cuts to child care and other ECD programs deemed to be of lower priority.
The provincial government's stated commitment to child care as "a cornerstone of early childhood development" stands in sharp contrast to the reality of its funding decisions. While the programs that benefited from increased spending are important and worthwhile, they should not be funded at the expense of child care.
"All these other services are fine and good, but I need child care."
Families, service providers and community members have not spent the last two decades urging the federal government to take a leadership role in funding child care only to have our provincial government spend the funds in other areas while it guts this essential component of BC's overall early childhood development program.
And this is only part of the picture. When we factor in the elimination of the province's low-cost, universal program for school-aged children (six to 12 years of age), the child care situation is even worse.
The research is clear. Access to quality, affordable child care promotes healthy child development and supports families as they work, study, parent and participate in their communities.
"They say they want us to work. They say they want us to be good parents. They say that we should give our children the chance to learn...but then they cut the programs we need."
Ninety per cent of Canadians think we should have a nationally coordinated child care plan. This goal is both achievable and sustainable. Countries across Europe have made quality, publicly funded child care a reality for years. Shamefully, of 22 affluent countries -- including the UK and US -- Canada has the lowest percentage of three- and four-year olds in licensed child care or education.
This year, the federal government will again increase funding for early childhood development. May is child care month in BC, and this increased federal commitment should be cause for celebration. Instead, our provincial government's approach to spending federal funds on 'anything but child care' has left British Columbia's families off the guest list.
Lynell Anderson, B. Comm., C.G.A., is a consultant and the BC Director of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada. Rita Chudnovsky is the Facilitator of the BC Child Care Advocacy Forum and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.