Wednesday, 8 October 2014

More than just child's play

I've been asked frequently during this campaign about how to get more Londoners working. Previously, I shared my thoughts about supporting small businesses and start-ups so that more people are able to create meaningful work for themselves. Another important way to help is to remove barriers that prevent people from seeking employment.

One of the major barriers for people getting (back) to work is not being able to find affordable childcare. I've seen this happen to London families myself. 

A few years ago, a friend of mine moved back to London with her toddler son. Because she couldn't find work right away and didn't qualify for employment insurance (EI), she had to rely on Ontario Works (OW) while desperately trying to find a job. 

When she decided to further her education by going back to school, she was unable to find daycare for her son: the waiting list would take almost a year before she could be considered. Unable to find work and unable to go to school, she remained on OW despite her best efforts. She eventually landed a low-paying job that paid incrementally more than OW, but was only just enough to cover private childcare while making a few dollars at the end of the day.

After over a year, she had a small amount of savings and enrolled in courses, but still could not obtain a subsidized daycare spot and had to continue the private method. The delay of having to find or afford childcare means she is now years behind where she could have been in her career and finances.

Her story is not an unusual one. London does provide childcare subsidies for qualifying low-income families, but there is currently a wait-list of over 300 children, and that list is expected to grow. Without a subsidized spot, daycare costs between $40 and $60 per day, per child. That’s the reality for most families who use daycare.

Full-day kindergarten is great news for parents in a lot of ways, since it eases some of the challenge of caring for four- and five-year olds; however, it also increases the challenge of caring for younger children. I sat down with a London childcare provider last week. She explained that it takes more resources to care for younger children, since there’s a higher mandated ratio of Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) to children the younger they are. Since kids are in full-time school at a younger age, daycares are increasingly made up of infants and toddlers. Daycares require more staff and have higher operating expenses per child as a result.

Childcare providers receive funding from the province and from municipalities, which provide about 20% of the funding. Provincial funding will decrease by about $2M in 2016, once full-day kindergarten is fully implemented.

While daycare will be caring for fewer children, they will require more staff and have higher expenses per child. More of the existing funding will go to providing the same level of service, which means there will be less funding available for subsidized child care spots. The wait-list for subsidized daycare is expected to grow.

If London really wants to get people working and keep them there, we need to provide childcare options to parents. As your councillor for Ward 6, I will push for a plan to eliminate the childcare subsidy wait-list, so that no one has to say no to a job because they can’t find someone to look after their child.

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