Nova Scotia’s share of the new federal program amounts to about $137 million over five years, about 40% more than what has been spent on regulated child care over the last five years. The infusion of new money presents an opportunity for Nova Scotia to make major improvements in our child care system.
However, to take full advantage of this opportunity the provincial government must provide leadership and commitment to developing a child care system that will provide immediate benefits to parents and children while contributing to a brighter future for all Nova Scotians.
- The government needs to recognize that investment in good child care will bring a return to the province as a whole, but that poor child care will have a negative effect on our future;
- The government must ensure that new federal funding is used to strengthen and expand the community-based, non-profit child care as the basis for a universal system;
- Provincial policy must acknowledge the critical role of the early childhood educators, whose daily interactions with children shape the quality of the child care experience;
The Need for Action
Although the overwhelming majority of women with young children have been in the workforce in Canada for at least a generation, government policies toward child care have failed to recognize that reality. In 2003, there were 1,223,000 children aged 0-5 with mothers in the paid labour force, but there were regulated child care spaces for only about 35% of them.
Canada’s record in caring for the young children of working mothers has been found wanting by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which has pointed out that countries like Denmark (78%), France (69%), Belgium (63%) and the U.K.(60%) do a much better job of providing child care for young children.
If Canada’s record is poor, Nova Scotia’s is worse.
- In 2003-04 there were only enough child care spaces in Nova Scotia to accommodate 14.8% of children 0-12 years of age whose mothers were in the work force. Nova Scotia had the third lowest percentage among the ten provinces, well below the national average of 24.4%;
- More than 85% of children 0-12 with working mothers were cared for in unlicensed or informal care arrangements in 2003;
- At $149, the Nova Scotia government’s expenditure per child 0-12 for regulated care was the fifth lowest in Canada and a mere 30% of the national average expenditure of $500 per child;
- Nova Scotia parents paid 73% of regulated child care costs in Nova Scotia. Only one province had higher user fees.
- Both subsidy rates and cutoff points for subsides are among the lowest in Canada, meaning the low income Nova Scotian parents pay more for child care than those in other parts of Canada;
The trend lines in Nova Scotia are not good, either. All provinces are making some progress in increasing the number of child care spaces available, but Nova Scotia is not keeping pace with the rate of progress elsewhere. For example, in 1992 Nova Scotia was at 90% of the national average in terms of spaces per child 0-12; in 2004 it was at just 50%. Similarly, the increase in regulated child care spaces in Nova Scotia between 1992 and 2004 was 18%, the second lowest of any province.
Nationally, the number of regulated child care spaces doubled between 1992 and 2004. A lot of the improvement in national statistics is a result of expansion in Quebec. However, not only Quebec is moving ahead. Between 1992 and 2004 Nova Scotia increased its spending on regulated child care by 74% - our neighbours in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador increased their spending by 286% and 465% respectively over that period.
Low wages are an issue for the child care sector in most parts of the country. Figures compiled from the 2001 census indicate that annual employment earnings for Canadian child care workers were $16,167, less than half the $33,470 average for all occupations. In Nova Scotia they were even lower. Depending on qualifications, Nova Scotia’s centre-based child care workers were between 10% and 30% below the Canadian average – with the largest disparity between teachers with a bachelors degree or better.
Low wages and their impact on staff retention and turnover have been the subject of many reports over the years. The most recent was the Nova Scotia Child Care Funding Review which in 2001 identified wages as the most pressing issue facing child care in this province.
The structure of the child care sector is also a concern in Nova Scotia. The failure of successive governments of Nova Scotia to invest in non-profit, community-based child care left a vacuum that has been filled by the rise of for-profit operators. About 45% of child care spaces in Nova Scotia were provided by private operators in 2003-04, up from 40% a decade earlier and more than double the national average.
Studies show that for-profit centres provide lower quality care than community-based non-profits. There is a real danger that trade agreements such as NAFTA will make it difficult to keep foreign-controlled ‘big box’ child care operators from moving in if there is further expansion of the for-profit child care sector.
New Federal Initiatives
After more than a decade of neglect the child care climate in Canada began to improve with the federal-provincial Early Childhood Development Agreement (ECDA) in 2000, the Agreement on Early Learning and Care in 2003 and the $5 billion program of 2005. While the $5 billion over five years falls short of what is needed to create a comprehensive, affordable system, initiatives of the last five years represent the first concrete steps by the federal government after two decades of promises.
These steps came about because of a growing realization that the pre-school years are vital to child development and that investment in high-quality child care can pay large dividends to society as a whole. The Early Years Study, conducted for the Ontario government in 1999 by Dr. J. Fraser Mustard and the Hon. Margaret McCain examined scientific evidence about the relationship between early brain and child development and learning, behavior and health later in life.
The authors concluded that the period from conception to six years of age “is equal to, or in some cases greater in importance for the quality of the next generation than the periods children and youth spend in education or post-secondary education.”
Another influential study was by two economists from the University of Toronto, Gordon Cleveland and Michael Krashinsky. The 1998 study estimated a cost of $5.3 billion for high-quality regulated care for all children 2-5 with parents in the work force, and an enriched nursery school program for children cared for primarily by their parents at home. The benefits to children and parents alone were estimated at $10.6 billion – $2 for $1 – without including the value of new employment provided by child care workers and the tax revenue gained from moving child care out of the underground economy.
Another factor leading to revived political interest in child care was the ground-breaking decision by the Quebec government in 1996 to implement a universal child care system in that province.
There has also been a growing awareness of the link between high quality child care and unionized staff (now limited to about 23% of the workforce, mainly in Quebec).
A study released in 2002 found that staff turnover rates were significantly lower in unionized centres and that unionized centres scored higher on overall program quality measures.
The Child Care Human Resources Sector Council brings together child care and labour organizations to address human resource issues. The Sector Council has also noted the importance of the work environment (wages, benefits, working conditions and a stable workforce) to program quality, and the role that unionization plays in increasing opportunities for professional development and creating working conditions that support improved quality child care.
Nova Scotia’s Inadequate Response
New federal-provincial child care arrangements are based on the QUAD principles – standing for Quality, Universality, Accessibility and Developmental care. The Nova Scotia government’s response to the new child care initiatives has not lived up to those principles.
High quality and an emphasis on child development go together by definition. The You Bet I Care! study, a national survey of child care centres conducted in 1998, concluded that there were three main indicators of quality in child care centres:
- Higher wages;
- Training in early childhood education;
- Auspice, that is whether a centre was non-profit or for-profit.
Training is important, but as the Nova Scotia Child Care Funding Review pointed out the most pressing problem is low wages, which makes it difficult to retain or recruit trained staff or to attract students into the child care field. The funding review made its recommendations on increasing wages in 2001, as Nova Scotia was signing the first of three agreements with Ottawa.
Under those agreements, Nova Scotia was to get almost $100 million of new dollars for child care from 2001 to 2008. During the first three years alone – 2001-2004 – the province received nearly $37 million in new money for early childhood development. Only $19 million of that went into regulated child care. And close to 40% of that $19 million was used simply to restore funding to the level it was at in 1998 – before cuts reduced it in 2001 to the lowest per child in the country.
As for dealing with the key issue facing child care in Nova Scotia as identified by the Funding Review – stabilization of programs through increased staff salaries – the impact of the new child care agreements has been even less. About one quarter of the new funding of nearly $37 million has gone into improved salaries.
Other provinces – New Brunswick (23%), Quebec (34%) and Manitoba (35%) – have reported significant wage increases between 2000 and 2004. Nova Scotia has released no comparative figures.
However, a recent CUPE survey showed that unionized early childhood educators in Halifax were paid an average of $19,128 in 2004, versus $33,160 in Ottawa and $32,105 in Toronto. Moreover, despite the evidence of lower quality care in for-profit centres, that sector has been growing in Nova Scotia, with support from the provincial government. In 2000 Nova Scotia introduced portable subsidized spaces, which follow the child either to for-profit or non-profit centres.
In addition, the government has changed its policy since 2001 to allow for-profit centres to apply for salary, training and expansion grants. The Nova Scotia government’s failure to take needed actions on the key factors that affect quality and child development calls into question its commitment to those QUAD principles.
As for universality and accessibility, the provincial government has taken some steps, slowly increasing the number of subsidized spaces and providing additional supports for children with special needs. However, it has never committed to development of a universal system, nor established any benchmarks leading to creation of a system open to all children at a cost that’s affordable to all families who need it.
The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada has suggested that the starting point of a universal system would be the provision of enough spaces to accommodate all children between 3 and 5, and 50% of children outside that core group whose mothers are in the labour force. Based on 2003 population figures, just to reach the starting point for children 0-5, Nova Scotia would need nearly 23,000 regulated spaces, about double the number now available for pre-schoolers.
The Manitoba Model
Some provincial governments have responded much more positively to the federal initiatives than Nova Scotia, in particular Manitoba. While Nova Scotia conducted behind-the-scenes consultations, Manitoba is spending its share of the 2005 agreement to advance child care in that province. Manitoba is also a “have less” province with a population just slightly larger than that of Nova Scotia, striving to build an economic future without the benefit of great natural resources.
In response to the challenges, Manitoba has embarked on an ambitious early learning and child care program because, as Premier Gary Doer has put it:
“Building for the future means that our youngest children are raised by caring adults and given equal opportunities to develop, start school ready to learn and grow into the leaders of tomorrow.”
As shown in Table 2.4, 2.5 and 3.5, Manitoba in 2004 already had 50% more child care spaces per capita than Nova Scotia, spent nearly three times more per child care space than Nova Scotia, and had one of the higher wage rates in the country.
Despite these achievements, Manitoba announced two-year plans in November, 2005 to use new federal funds to:
- Raise annual average salaries for teachers to the $27,000-$30,000 range;
- Add 3,000 spaces in existing non-profit centres;
- Provide funding to support the building, renovation or expansion of 50 child care centres;
- Address parent fees for subsidized families and freeze maximum fees (about 20% lower than Nova Scotia) for all families.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The Nova Scotia government’s Child Care Funding Review made the case very powerfully in 2001.
“Average working families cannot afford to pay the full cost of quality child care. Caregivers will no longer help pay for the system through their low wages. The supply of quality, licensed child care is in short supply and is not increasing; many people are spending their days in care-questionable arrangements. A market-driven, fee-for-service child care system, developed in an ad hoc, piecemeal manner cannot meet the needs of children or families.”
As the report noted at the time, a comprehensive, quality system, available to all children at a reasonable cost, will not be built overnight. The Early Childhood Development Agreement and the follow-up National Framework provided the Nova Scotia government with an opportunity to move forward on a universal child care system. The government missed that opportunity, but the new national plan gives them another chance - and increased financial means.
We can’t afford to miss this time. Nova Scotia has lagged badly behind other provinces and is in danger of falling further behind, to the detriment of our children and our future.
The recommendations that follow are not a blueprint for a comprehensive child care system for Nova Scotia. However, these are steps the Nova Scotia government needs to take to begin the process of building a high-quality universal early childhood education system:
- Ensure that increased federal funding for child care is directed only towards licensed, regulated centres.
- Follow the advice of the Child Care Funding Review and the example of provinces like Manitoba and move immediately to substantially increase the salaries of early childhood educators.
- In consultation with workers and the child care community, develop a comprehensive human resources strategy involving wages, benefits, working conditions, recruitment, training and professional development.
- Take immediate steps to ensure that the child care sector in Nova Scotia remains community-based.
- Freeze licensing of for-profit child care centres and facilitate the conversion of for-profit centres to non-profit status over a five-year period.
- Provide start-up supports to encourage development of community-based non-profit child care, particularly in rural communities where service is often non-existent.
- Set as a ten-year goal the provision of high-quality, universal early childhood education, establish annual targets and provide timely annual progress reports on the achievement of those targets.
- Consult with the community, parents, child care providers and schools and other interested groups to develop an integrated, community-based delivery model that includes child care and other early childhood development programs.
- To ensure accessibility, set goals for reducing parents’ share of the total cost of licensed child care to 20% from its current level of more than 70%.
- While increasing its own funding to meet established targets, Nova Scotia should join with other provinces to advocate for increased federal support for child care, working towards a 40-40-20 federal-provincial-parents’ split of child care costs.