Child Care at the Crossroads
Childcare has never been comprehensively funded as a public service. Even though there have been endless studies showing the importance of high quality child care, public delivery has been sporadic. Quebec is the leader in building a comprehensive framework for child care with its $5-a-day child care program. The design of the program promotes not-for-profit delivery of centre-based care. The school-age program is run out of the schools and is publicly delivered.
Early Childhood Centres (Centres de la petite enfance) were created out of the existing non-profit child care centres and home child care programs. Each childhood centre is a regulated private corporation, administered by a board where parents hold a majority. The childhood centres mandate is to provide children aged four and under with quality early childhood education and child care services. They also may offer other services to families as well as specialized services in collaboration with other community organizations.
In 1997, the for-profit child care sector accounted for about 40% of the existing centre-based system in Quebec. They were encouraged to convert to not-for-profit administration. They are allowed, under specific circumstances, to rent out $5 spaces to Early Childhood Centres needing additional spaces. The Ministry subsidizes the difference in cost but to a lesser degree than what is being given to the not-for-profit sector.
These rental agreements are renegotiated each year and are subject to very stringent quality enforcement measures regarding ratios, staff training and salaries, programs, audited financial reports, etc.
The proportion of for-profit centres has decreased since the policy was implemented. Latest figures show that about 33% of the regulated centre spaces are still run by for-profit providers and will continue to decrease.
Predictors of Quality Child Care
You Bet I Care! is a national report which studied child care across Canada in 1998. Released in the year 2000, it showed that the best predictors of quality in child care are wages, training and government funding. Quebec has included all these important elements into its child care plan.
The study showed that not-for-profit centres tended to have higher wages and better working conditions the very conditions which are a key predictor of quality. Unionization rates Canada-wide were higher in the not-for-profit sector with 16.9% of the centres being unionized compared to 1% in the profit centres. Unionization is linked to better wages and working conditions.
In Ontario where there is a system of municipally-run child care centres as well as not-for-profit, and profit centres, provisions to encourage training were greatest in the municipal and not-for-profit sectors. Across Canada, training was higher in the not-for-profit sector.
Indirect predictors of quality according to the study were whether the centre was not-for-profit and staff satisfaction with their work environment. Stability of care-giving is another factor linked with quality in studies. You Bet I Care! showed that for-profit centres had higher rates of untrained staff and staff with training of less than one year.
Turnover rates are a predictor of quality. Workers in not-for-profit centres stayed in the field longest. In the not-for-profit sector, 47% of workers were in the field for more than five years compared to only 24% of workers in the for-profit sector. Turnover rates were higher for centres with low wages. These centres tend to be in the profit sector.
Not-for-profit centres rely on more parent involvement, a factor identified in previous studies as important for quality care. Not-for-profit child care with provisions for parent involvement on the board of directors provide a key structure to ensure parental involvement and accountability.
Not-for-profit Delivery Threatened
With the exception of Alberta, New Brunswick (where there is no official data) and Newfoundland, not-for-profit has been the dominant model of delivery for child care in Canada. Provincial policies have acknowledged the importance of not-for-profit delivery of child care services and funding of centres historically has encouraged not-for-profit delivery. Some provinces are shifting their policies despite the evidence that not-for-profit delivery for child care is the best model.
Ontario has had some public delivery of child care services through its municipalities. These centres are now under threat by downloading by the provincial government. The government has issued a toolkit to encourage municipalities to divest their municipal centres despite the high quality, decent wages and working conditions, and training provided. These centres deliver high quality care which is a model in Ontario. They have historically delivered services to families who could not afford child care and delivered services in hard-to-service communities, often with high ratios of children with special needs.
The for-profit lobby has been at work in Nova Scotia and Ontario to get hold of important wage subsidies provided to the not-for-profit sector. The loss of these grants will undermine the not-for-profit sector and erode the level of quality. Funds transferred to the profit sector will mean a loss of accountability.
Quebec private operators are now trying to undermine the Quebec family policy by trying to surcharge beyond the $5-a-day fees and obtain increased government funding. So far, the government of Quebec has been strong in promoting not-for-profit delivery.
Child care is at a crossroads in Canada. There are opportunities presented with the Quebec model and BC has followed its lead. Now Manitoba is considering a comprehensive child care program. However, there are the seeds of a movement to erode high quality, not-for profit care. Labour and coalition support for a national child care program is essential to develop child care as an important public service.