Withdraw profit from childcare

The federal government’s historic funding agreements with the provinces to provide parents with affordable, nonprofit child care could mean a massive expansion of public services the likes of which hasn’t been seen in decades. In the face of this expansion, private operators in Nova Scotia continue to press for expansion of for-profit child care.

The Pan-Canadian Plan for Early Learning and Child Care

With the Pan-Canadian Plan for Early Learning and Child Care, the federal government has set a goal of halving child care fees by the end of 2022 and reducing average fees to 10 $ per day by 2026. Nova Scotia was one of the first provinces to sign on to the plan, signing an agreement ahead of the summer 2021 election. The agreement also includes funding to increase the number of spaces in daycare by 1,500 in 2022 and an additional 9,500 by 2026.

For many families, $10 a day day care will be life changing. Before the Pan-Canadian Plan for Early Learning and Child Care, parents in Halifax paid an average of $996 per month for infant care, $890 for toddler care and $880 for preschool education . Under a $10-a-day system, families will instead pay an average of $200 a month for care, saving parents hundreds of dollars a month per child. Already, since the program was introduced, average fees in Halifax are expected to be reduced to $540 for infants, $510 for toddlers and $508 for preschoolers in 2022. Although this will only reach not meet the federal goal of reducing fees by 50 percent by the end of 2022, it is making substantial progress in reducing fees.

A patchwork system

The lack of investment in child care services over the past decades has created a patchwork system of care. Child care in Nova Scotia includes a free public preschool/kindergarten program staffed by early childhood educators, non-profit child care centers run by volunteer boards or run by community agencies, home day care centers and child care centers for profit. All approved facilities, including non-profit, home-based and for-profit centres, are eligible to receive government funding in the form of operating grants and wage subsidies.

Under the Pan-Canadian Plan for Early Learning and Child Care, for-profit providers can access funding for their existing spaces, but are not expected to receive funding to expand. Private centers wishing to expand are encouraged to convert to a non-profit model.

Earlier this summer, some for-profit child care centers sent a note to families saying that private operators were forced to shut down or operate outside of the federal-provincial agreement (and therefore dramatically increase fees) because they cannot make a profit in a system that limits fees for parents and sets the salaries of early childhood educators.

Many for-profit operators are small businesses started by trained early childhood educators who work in the center providing direct care. Some operators are more “big box” style child care franchises that see child care as a profitable business.

Recently, the media has attempted to frame for-profit daycare as a feminist issue, as many for-profit daycares are owned by women. However, taking the profit out of child care is really the feminist approach. No one should generate private profit from a service that most women need to access employment.

Justice for Early Childhood Workers

In 2017, the provincial government introduced a two-tier salary and benefits structure for early childhood educators with the introduction of the new pre-primary program for four-year-olds. Pre-primary, a universal, free and mainly school-based program for four-year-olds, staffed by early childhood educators, began rolling out in 2017 and was available to all families in September 2020.

Although pre-primary was an important expansion of access to care, it created a two-tier system for early childhood educator salaries and benefits. Child care workers at licensed child care centers have not seen their wage floor increase since 2016, when a wage floor of $15 to $19 was set based on education and training. This wage floor was set based on 2012 data, meaning that the wage floor did not represent a decade of inflation. However, pre-primary child care workers receive higher hourly wages than child care centers can pay and have access to public sector health and dental benefits and a pension. These benefits have not been extended to child care workers in licensed child care centers, even though they often offer the same program as preschool educators. Early childhood educators are also expected to work fewer hours than ECEs in licensed child care centers and are more likely to be union members.

The new federal-provincial agreement promised a wage increase for ECEs, but the new wage scale has not yet been released. As the Nova Scotia Conservative government says a new compensation framework for ECEs will arrive this fall, child care centers are struggling to attract and retain staff, forcing some child care centers to cut hours or leave vacant places.

Children are not cash cows

Ultimately, child care shouldn’t be a business. The Pan-Canadian Plan for Early Learning and Child Care is right to move away from a for-profit model for early childhood care and education. We don’t expect our P-12 schools to be a business, so why should educating children under five be any different?

One can profit from child care, while recognizing that private centers run by early childhood educators have played a role in the provision of child care. Providing private operators with good jobs in a non-profit system, including benefits and pensions that provide retirement security, is a fair approach to compensating them, while eliminating child care profits.

Public resources should aim to make child care free and accessible to all children and families. This means child care in urban and rural communities. Flexible childcare for full-time, part-time and shift workers. Child care that is inclusive and supportive of children with disabilities. Indigenous and Afrocentric run child care centres. It also means child care centers where the educators and staff who work there can afford to feed their families and enjoy good working conditions, pensions and benefits. None of these things require our child care centers to have a profit margin.

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