The Case for Affordable Child Care
The Walrus|January/February 2021
The pandemic has underscored the need for a national child care program
ANNE SHIBATA CASSELMAN

JENNY DAGGITT is a cardiac surgical ICU nurse, and her husband, Patrick, is a computer programmer. In 2017, when Jenny was three months pregnant, she put herself on thirty-three wait-lists of every and any type of child care, from community daycare programs to unlicensed outfits run out of people’s houses, within a thirty-minute walk from her home in East Vancouver. By the time her maternity leave ended, a year and a half later, she had heard of an opening at only one of the operations but deemed it sketchy. Hiring a nanny, which, in Vancouver, could cost more than $30,000 per year, was unaffordable. So Patrick took paternity leave and Jenny picked up overtime to make up for the lost income. Eventually, they figured out a way for Patrick to work part-time and for Jenny to work twelve-hour night shifts and weekends so they could pay their bills and care for their daughter and not completely stall Patrick’s career.

“I sleep when she’s napping and go to work as soon as he gets home,” Jenny explains. It’s not just that the Daggitts can’t afford to live off one income so the other parent can stay home with the baby. “We have two people working and we can’t afford the what-ifs that come up,” she says, breaking down their budget. Even if they had been offered a spot somewhere that felt safe, the fees would have been exorbitant. “It’s crazy that it costs more to put your kid through daycare than it costs to put them through university,” she says. With the median cost of infant daycare at $1,400 a month in Vancouver, the annual cost of child care for a one-year-old can be nearly 2.5 times that of undergraduate tuition.

The Daggitts are more than an anecdote: they are emblematic. Most families with kids are working longer hours for less pay than they did a generation ago, reports the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Add the dismal availability of licensed child care spots and soaring daycare costs that run bills of $10,000 to $20,000 a year across the country, and it’s no wonder that Canadian families feel disillusioned. A 2019 Statistics Canada survey found that one in four parents changed their work schedule, worked fewer hours, or postponed returning to work after parental leave because of difficulties finding child care. For one in ten parents, the cost of child care precluded their use of it.

This is a big problem and one that the pandemic, with its unerring ability to pull at the most threadbare of society’s seams, has further exposed. Before the pandemic, there were approximately 2.4 million children under the age of five in Canada, and there were licensed child care spots for only a quarter of them. Now, three out of ten child care providers aren’t even sure they’ll reopen after many were forced to close and lay off workers during the lockdown. Experts conclude that our patchwork of child care options is failing to deliver the quality early childhood education that’s shown to benefit young minds.

Canada now faces an urgent cost of inaction. The pandemic has exacted a steep toll, on women and single mothers most. Over March and April, 1.5 million women in Canada lost their jobs. The number of mothers who worked less than half their usual hours due to personal circumstances, such as caring for children or reducing shifts, has increased by 70 percent since the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada. And, for those “If what who weathered the juggling act, the strain was considerable. One-third of Canadian women reported that they had considered leaving their job to focus on responsibilities at home.

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