Commentary by Beth Lyons
This text was originally published by the Times & Transcript on September 30, 2016
The childcare debate is tough to follow if you haven’t witnessed the struggle to find and pay for childcare or read about the issue within the context of women’s equality. The debate can be alienating.
But childcare — like so many women’s equality issues — is so important that we can’t afford to push anyone away from the conversation because they aren’t an expert on the topic. Instead, we need to bring more people in—and we need to do it now so that these people can, in turn, bring childcare into the critical conversations that are taking place about the future of our province.
So, in that spirit, here are some basics you need to know about childcare:
In New Brunswick, childcare is provided by non-profits and private sector businesses for a fee. It’s expensive. Based on current information provided by the Department of Education, families could expect a full-time daycare space for a pre-schooler to run them $607.11 for September; for an infant, the price jumps to $711.69. Government subsidies are available to some families, based on income.
Despite these fees, most providers have razor thin profit margins. This is because there’s considerable cost involved in meeting government’s childcare regulations, including specific space allocation requirements, staffing ratios, etc. The regulations aren’t cumbersome for the sake of being cumbersome, of course—they ensure the health and safety of kids, which takes a lot of attention and effort.
That’s why government invests in childcare. Regulated childcare is an essential service that, without government support, would either disappear or only be available to the wealthy. In New Brunswick, public support to the sector exists in the form of wage top-ups and funding for staff training and the creation of new spaces.
You also need to know that most owner-operators of private childcare facilities, as well as the overwhelming majority of all childcare staff, are women who do this work despite abysmal pay because they are passionate about it.
So, the blunt truth is that this is a sector that will always require government support—which is fine, because we’re talking about a social good, a service that is essential to the social fabric of our province.
But, this is also true: the short- and long-term return on investment in childcare is fantastic for government.
When childcare is accessible, affordable, and high quality, women’s participation in the workforce increases since, after all, it’s still overwhelmingly women who stay home with kids. When women are able to enter the workforce when their kids are young, they are also likely to remain in it once the kids are older. Workforce participation means an increase in lifetime earnings, which leads to better health outcomes. This, of course, translates into tax revenue and health-care savings for the government.
There are also benefits linked to the kids themselves. High quality childcare helps even the playing field for kids who are marginalized by poverty and might otherwise enter the school system at a disadvantage. This contributes to better educational and future employment outcomes. We also know that childcare can be critical for new Canadian families as they integrate with communities.
Also on the note of kids: research shows that fertility is higher in jurisdictions where it’s easier for women to both work and have kids.
In case you’re wary of these claims, here are some hard facts from a TD Bank Special Report on early childhood education: childcare outside the home boasts of one of the highest GDP multipliers of all industries, returning a benefit of $1.49 to $2.78 for every dollar spent.
Given current concerns about New Brunswick — the need for a larger tax base, improved literacy and numeracy, and a reversal of our declining population trends — and the emphasis on strategic investments, why don’t we hear about childcare during government streaks of funding announcements? Add in government’s commitment to advancing women’s equality and this should be an obvious policy path.
One reason is that there are competing visions of what public investment in childcare should look like. There is, broadly, agreement that more spaces are needed (particularly for infants), that spaces must be more evenly distributed throughout the province, that staff wages need to go up, and that client fees need to come down. How we achieve this, however, is where the conversation gets particularly complicated.
Some want to see childcare under public educations, while others envision it as a service delivered by non-profits. Meanwhile, women who have built private sector facilities want to hold onto their businesses. Families want to know providers will listen to their concerns — some feel private centres do this best while others believe a mechanism similar to a district education council would best ensure they’re heard.
This is why we need more people talking about childcare. We need more folks jumping into this conversation at its highest level — new voices speaking up for childcare as an essential public good and bringing that message to government.
Even without consensus on an approach to childcare, we can work together to ensure government addresses this issue — this opportunity for New Brunswick.
Media contact: Beth Lyons, Executive Director, Voices of NB Women Consensus-Building Forum [email protected] Tel. 506-462-5142