Despite progress made by the NDP government, childcare costs still troubling for parents
Tia Kutchera Fox, Contributor
In September of 2018, the Provincial Government of BC implemented the Affordable Child Care Benefit (ACCB), replacing the previous childcare subsidy. The old subsidy provided up to a maximum of $750 a month per child for childcare if the parents’ net income was $40,000 or less. If the children were older than 19 months, that number would decrease based on the age, with the reasoning that older children are in school for part of the day and thus require fewer childcare hours. Some exceptions were available for parents making over the listed max income for a partial subsidy.
With the new ACCB’s eligibility for children 19 months or younger, the maximum amount per month per child is now $1,250, children older than 19 months but younger than 37 months have a maximum amount of $1,060 per month, children older than 37 months who haven’t reached school age are $550 a month, and finally school-aged children are $415 a month. While this is still more for parents than the “$10 a day” the NDP government promised as part of their election platform, as Sara Sutherland, manager of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Children’s Centre puts it, “It’s hard to see past the positive of what this would do for families.”
Sutherland has worked in the childcare industry in BC since 1992 – at CapU since 2015 – and has seen significant changes in the field. “In the early 90s and before you would come into the field almost like a trade, it was a certificate program at that time. It’s slowly grown so that there’s a diploma option still but there’s no longer at CapU an option of that trade-like certificate. People go for a minimum two years now and the majority of students are going into a degree.”
Sutherland explained that this change has also increased salary expectations. Educators in childcare are underpaid, and Sutherland says CapU loses two thirds of their ECCE undergrads to teaching which pays significantly more. Childcare is primarily covered by parent fees, and before the ACCB, the situation was challenging. “You can’t pay educators a fair wage if you are relying on parents to fund it. It’s $1,550 a month for full-time infant care. I had a family at that time with twin infants and twins in my 3-5 program. So they were spending … $3000 for their little infants, and another $2000 for the twins in my 3-5 program which is $5000 a month in care. It’s completely unsustainable. For her, as a woman, she knew that if she didn’t go back to work she would lose her place in that professional climb. So she and her husband made a decision that they would just take a deep breath and make this work. But when the Affordable Child Care Act came in, she actually burst into tears, because although it doesn’t solve it, it took that $1,550 down to $1,195, and then for her 3-5-year-olds it went from $990 to $880.”
This was only part of the problem with childcare costs. “The population of Vancouver grew. I think that the idea of one parent staying home radically changed because as we grew we got more expensive. So having the option, for most people, of a stay-at-home mom or dad is not affordable if you want to actually live in North Vancouver. As more families went back to work to have a double-income household, the demand for childcare grew and the number of spaces didn’t keep up. So the demand for childcare right now is heartbreaking. I probably have three people a day who drop in or call with just heartbreaking stories because they can’t find care.”
Sutherland says the system isn’t perfect and there are a lot of kinks to work out. In her opinion the implementation was rushed leaving many unknowns but, “I hate to criticize because it’s really the first time that anyone has tried to do anything. So it’s flawed, but it’s something! We finally have a government who is willing to sit down with educators… and they listened for the first time.” For parents whose income falls below the poverty line, CapU childcare now costs about $12 a day per child. As to what happens next, Sutherland says there are a lot of unknowns. “I think what most early childhood professionals are really thinking about is, how much of this is embedded so deeply so that it can’t be undone? If the Liberals are in next are families going back up to $1,550 a month? And that’s kind of the big question – what happens next?”