Dear Indira Naidoo-Harris,
RE: Consultation on Early Years and Child Care Strategy (EYCC)
I am writing on behalf of CUPE Local 79, the largest municipal union in Canada representing over 20,000 City of Toronto employees. Local 79 members provide Early Learning & Child Care Services at publicly operated child care centres across the City of Toronto, as well as services through the Toronto Home Child Care agency.
Local 79 would like to offer its support to the Ministry’s commitment to create 100,000 new licensed child care spaces, with additional investments for child and family programs across the Province. We have also requested to be part of the City of Toronto’s consultations on child care initiatives, including its proposal for a city-wide centralized child care wait list, as they impact our members.
High quality, affordable early childhood education is an essential pillar of public social policy. It has the ability to support and impact social development, inclusion and health, combat child and family poverty, foster labour and economic growth, and promote women’s equality. This letter will discuss some of these issues under the four strategic pillars identified by the Province for discussion questions in Building a Better Future: A Discussion Paper for Transforming Early Years and Child Care in Toronto.
The Province made great strides in improving access to child care when it recently banned providers from charging fees to be placed on a wait list – something City of Toronto child care centres have never done. Long wait lists, when coupled with additional fees, reduce access to child care.
The Province can improve access to child care by supporting the creation of centralized wait lists across municipalities. In anticipation of the Provincial ban on fees, the City of Toronto has moved forward with its proposal to develop a centralized wait list. A centralized system would improve equitable access to child care, simplify the process for parents, provide more options, ensure transparency, equity and accountability, and offer valuable information for childcare sector planning. Municipalities could track and share data with each other and the Province to improve child care systems, provide real data to inform legislative change, and incentivize providers to become licensed.
Given these benefits, the Province should direct some of its additional funding for child and family programs to municipalities providing publicly operated childcare to establish centralized wait lists.
More choice and flexibility is needed to respond to the growing diversity and complexity of family needs, composition, and work arrangements. It is increasingly difficult to balance the responsibilities of work and family in the absence of a child care system that responds to the changing realities of families.
Investments in child care have a significant impact on the labour force. It allows greater participation of parents (usually women), which stimulates economic growth. A study for the City of Toronto, City of Toronto Licensed Child Care Demand and Affordability Study, found that when child care costs are limited to 10% of family income, the probability of main caregivers being employed full-time increases to 60% from 47% under current conditions. This economic stimulus contributes to the reduction of child and family poverty and promotes women’s equality.
Factors such as non-traditional work schedules, location of child care centres, safety, the number of affordable subsidized spaces and culturally appropriate programs need to be examined regularly to ensure the child care system is responding with timely and appropriate action to the needs of families.
According to the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, the affordability of child care in Ontario is pretty dismal. Ontario has the highest child care fees in the country at over $1,000 per month and only 18% of child care spaces across Ontario are subsidized.
The City of Toronto study also found that licensed childcare was unaffordable for 75% of families in the city. Further, most families would choose licensed care over private but the current average cost for baby/ toddler is prohibitive at $20,000 per year. To make matters worse, families in more precarious employment arrangements often don’t qualify for fee subsidies and struggle more to afford child care. Consequently, families can also end up in precarious employment when unable to find child care.
At the start of the 2016 school year, there were 11,526 children on the wait list for a child care fee subsidy in Toronto. The study calculated that if you take current demand for childcare in 2015 and maintain this same proportion of subsidized spaces in 15 years, the City would require a $342 million capital investment for child care by 2031. Fee subsidy costs to the City of Toronto under its 20% cost share would be an estimated $19 m in that year.
While demand for licensed child care is high, an increase in spaces alone does not address the problem of affordability. The Province’s commitment to create 100,000 spaces does not ensure any of these spaces will be subsidized. Access and affordability are inextricably linked. Growth has to simultaneously address affordability. The Province needs to increase the number of subsidized spaces and make child care more affordable across the board.
While the Province recognizes the importance of ECEs in child care settings and having educators who foster positive, caring relationships with quality programs and opportunities for professional development, the Early Years Act is still a minimum standard of care.
Having more staff available would further the development of good quality programming, and staff, child, and family interactions. Quality child care is achieved through a well-trained, well-compensated workforce. Across the sector, 45% of ECEs make less than $20/hour, and 67% of other program staff make less than $15/hour. Child care is costly when it is not funded appropriately, and low wages are further subsidizing this cost. This is unacceptable for workers and hurts service provision. Without decent work and wages, the sector will continue to struggle to retain qualified professionals. At the same time, the Province needs to look at the issue of gendered work in the profession and how this may be keeping wages down across the sector.
Child care needs funding that will support quality programs that nurture children during their very important stages of development, better wages, increased affordability and accessibility.
Local 79 represents over 1,000 workers in the City of Toronto’s Children’s Services Division. Our members are committed to providing the highest level of care and accountability. We look forward to the opportunity to grow the number of publicly operated child care spaces in support of the Province’s child care growth strategy and encourage broad consultation as the program is established. Local 79 would also like to acknowledge our support for the larger goal of creating a national child care program with publicly operated child care as the anchor.
If you would to discuss any aspects of this letter, please feel free to contact me directly at 416-977-1629 ext. 223.
Thank you for your consideration.
c: Fred Hahn, President CUPE Ontario