Child Care: A Key Election Issue for Families in B.C.

With a federal election called for September 20, 2021, a Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care system is a critical election issue. This week’s HELP Child Care blog post outlines some key data – from parents and caregivers themselves – highlighting why.

As outlined in previous blog posts from HELP, last April, the federal government announced historic investments in a national early learning and child care system. As of August 2021, eight provinces/territories, including B.C., have signed Bilateral Early Learning and Child Care Agreements with the federal government toward this end. Each of the bilateral agreements signed to date adhere to the principles outlined in the federal Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework which includes a commitment to high-quality, accessible, affordable, flexible, and inclusive early learning and care for all.

It is clear the need for high quality and accessible child care is high. Recent HELP data collected from parents and caregivers of children aged from 12 months to school entry through the Toddler Development Instrument (TDI) and Childhood Experiences Questionnaire (CHEQ), suggest that for the vast majority of parents and caregivers who would like to use child care, there are significant challenges.

Of the 1,166 B.C. parents/caregivers of toddlers that completed the TDI between September 2019 and September 2020 and for whom questions about accessing non-parental child care were applicable, 74% reported that “availability of spaces” was a challenge, followed by 53% indicating “cost.” Only 11% chose “no challenges.”

For parents and caregivers of children starting kindergarten, 87% that completed the CHEQ in the fall of 2020 (1,459 persons) indicated that they experienced challenges accessing child care, with the same top two barriers identified – “availability of spaces” (79%) and “cost” (59%). Moreover, 47% indicated that they had “less” or “much less” access to consistent child care during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic (between April and Oct 2020). 

These figures should be surprising, but they are not. More child care spaces are needed and at a cost families can afford. HELP data reinforces the urgency for B.C. to accelerate its plans for a universal child care system (Child Care B.C., Caring for Kids, Lifting up Families: The Path to Universal Child Care), now that the federal government is providing an additional $3.2 Billion to B.C. over the next five years for Early Learning and Child Care.

The Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada 2019 report by Childcare Resource and Research Unit (CRRU) outlines “two decades of federal child care initiatives 1984-2005” (p.11) detailing the history of close but failed attempts to create a national system. This track record not only highlights the long-standing child care crisis, but also that the election this fall cannot be taken lightly – a national early learning and child care plan is, once again, at stake.

Below are links to helpful articles by experts on child care policy to unpack the details.

  • In this Generation Squeeze blog, Gordon Cleveland, emeritus professor of economics at the University of Toronto, member of the Expert Panel on Early Learning and Child Care Data and Research and Gen Squeeze contributor, outlines clearly the core debate around child care in this fall 2021 election family tax credits vs. direct funding to child care. Tax Credits vs. Direct Funding: What’s Best for Child Care?
  • To find out more about the details of the Bilateral Early Learning and Child Care Agreements between the eight province/territories that have signed with the federal government as of August 2021, check out the CRRU articles in their series: Building a Canada-wide early learning and child care system.