MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Child Care Choices in the Legislature

Today, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Child Care Choices in the Legislature. You can watch the video here, or read the transcript below.

Thank you to the member for Chilliwack-Kent for expressing the condolences of this House to the family and those affected by the recent toddler death.

I absolutely agree that we do want good child care choices for parents. Let’s just talk about the choices that parents didn’t have for the last 16 years. In all of those years, parents didn’t always have the choice to return to work if they wanted to — parents like Janet, who couldn’t resume her career as a nurse because there was no child care space to be found.

Where does choice go when the cost of child care would eat up most or all of a parent’s paycheque, making it really no choice about returning to work — especially for low-wage earners, most likely to be women? In those 16 years, where was the choice for parents who were forced to take any spot they could find? We do know the tragic story of Baby Mac. Having to choose child care that you’re uncomfortable or unhappy with is not a choice.

In 16 years, parents didn’t always have the choice to have more children, because they didn’t know how they could manage on one salary or pay the child care fees for two or more children. I’ve heard the stories of nurses and other shift workers in my community who’ve had to decline work and jeopardize their career paths. We’ve heard all kinds of heartbreaking stories from parents over the lack of options for quality, affordable child care. Really, parents haven’t been given much choice over the last 16 years.

Our government is giving them those choices by committing more than $1 billion over three years to begin to implement a new universal child care system in B.C., a system that will provide parents with access to affordable, high-quality child care whenever and wherever they need it. That’s what choice looks like.

There’s been a lot of unhelpful fearmongering and the spreading of misinformation, but far from restricting choice, our universal system will expand those choices. Parents should be able to choose which child care arrangement works best for them. Whether parents choose a nanny, family-based care, a child care centre or other options, this new government’s goal is that when fully implemented, our system will provide a variety of quality, affordable choices for parents.

Of course, not all parents want or need child care. Those families will continue to have access to child tax benefits and early learning programs provided by government, such as StrongStart.

We’ve already started giving those choices back to parents by making child care more affordable. In April, we introduced a child care fee reduction program, directly reducing fees for licensed child care by up to $350 per child. The majority of child care providers have opted in, and we have already put money back into the pockets of parents.

Since implementing this program, we’ve heard from a mother with two kids close in age who said that by the time her two kids were five, they calculated that without the fee reduction, they would be $40,000 in debt because of child care costs. Our new child care fee reduction program meant that she would save close to $700 a month, relieving a huge financial burden on this one family. We’ve also heard from parents saying that with more affordable child care, they’re now considering having more children — a joy for these families that you cannot put a price tag on.

Starting in September, families earning up to $111,000 a year can also benefit from a new affordable child care benefit. Eligible parents earning up to $45,000 per year will effectively pay zero for licensed child care, and parents earning up to $80,000 per year will be paying $10 a day or less with both programs combined. This is just year 1 of a ten-year plan.

With 22,000 new spaces over three years, parents will have more choices and shorter wait-lists. We will be investing in home care and in private and non-profit child care centres. We will be increasing the number of trained early childhood educators, expanding the number of child care spaces and further reducing fees until every parent truly has a choice of who will care for their child and will not have that choice made for them due to affordability, lack of spaces or for any other reason.

L. Throness: Continuing our conversation, I think there would be real value in the government gathering information, going to B.C. parents and asking them: what do you really want in terms of child care? I met with community leaders in Chilliwack who work with child care, and they said: “Just give parents more choice. That’s what parents want.”

I did a bit more research on this, and here’s what I’ve found. In 2015, Rick August, a social policy analyst with Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, affiliated with the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan, examined this question by looking at three empirical studies on child care preferences carried out over a period spanning nearly three decades. They were a 1988 national child care study by Statistics Canada, a 2001 provincial study conducted by Saskatchewan social services and a 2013 national poll sponsored by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.

Now, I don’t have time to discuss each one in detail, but Mr. August notes that parental desires are consistent. The 1988 study, featuring over 24,000 respondents, said that parental preferences were very strongly weighted towards home and family, with only about a quarter indicating a preference for a licensed child care option. In 2001, a study was conducted in Saskatchewan with 1,273 respondents. Over 60 percent preferred in-home or family daycare rather than licensed daycare.

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada conducted a poll in 2013 — an expensive, scientifically representative poll with over 2,000 respondents from all across the country, completed by an independent contractor. It found that ideally, nearly two-thirds of parents of preschool children would have a parent provide care for their child in the family home. Of these two-thirds, more than 60 percent would choose a relative if a parent was not an option.

Here was, to me, Mr. August’s most important conclusion. The three studies examined in his policy brief suggest that focusing child care policy on a single model, the state licensed and supervised child care centre, is substantially at odds with the perspective of most parents of young children. This has remained the case through a quarter century, when the licensed daycare industry has dominated public policy discourse on the subject.

Now, it could be that times have changed. It could be that, with the passage of time, parents would now prefer more licensed care. And that would be fine. It could also be that British Columbian parents differ from other regions of the country and prefer a more group-based approach to child-raising. And that would be fine too.

My point is this. Current public policy approaches child care policy from the top down. We have started with what the government wants instead of starting out with what parents want. In my view, we need to do a comprehensive survey of parents in B.C. to find out what kind of child care they want, and then we simply need to follow their direction.