• Eran Sandler, Creative Commons

    Beyond Daycare: Providing Options for Young Parents

    We need a comprehensive childcare program with a variety of options to ensure strong, healthy, and happy Canadian families.

    A few weeks ago, The Vancouver Sun featured a front-page article on the issue of daycare costs in British Columbia, referencing a report from the Surrey Board of Trade. The report presents the case for providing $10/day childcare for British Columbians, and calls on the federal government to create a national child-care program. The argument presented is largely an economic one, focussing on the need to ensure that young parents are able to participate in the workforce. While this is an important point, we need to also look at the social, health, and other benefits of supporting young families in our country, and to provide parents with childcare choices, including the option to stay at home.

    There are strong arguments in favour of subsidized daycare programs as well as evidence of their benefits from as nearby as Quebec. In that province, parents of all economic backgrounds can access provincial childcare for only $7/day. This ambitious 2.2 billion dollar program has seen spectacular results over the last 15 years, including a 22% rise in working mothers, an 81% rise in after-tax income to families, a 50% reduction in parents on welfare, and a 50% reduction in child poverty. These results mirror other countries where investments in childcare have boasted long-term economic returns.

    While the program in Quebec is not without flaws (for example, there are still not enough spaces for all of the province’s children), its economic results are evidence enough for subsidized childcare options across the country. There are also many other compelling arguments for providing quality daycare for our nation’s children: it can help parents achieve a healthier work-life balance, contributing to happier relationships and reduced health problems, and it provides children with an early start to their education, the benefits to be seen for years to come.

    But daycare is not the only way to support young parents; there are many benefits to providing extended parental leave for mothers and fathers who want to care for children at home. The benefits of longer parental leave include economic returns such as higher rates of employee satisfaction and higher employee retention, as well as many health and social benefits. For example, allowing parents time off to take care of their kids has been shown to contribute to the long-term health of children, lower rates of depression in women, increased fertility rates, and when parental leave is shared between mothers and fathers, it can contribute to greater gender equality.

    Scandinavian countries frequently top charts for having the “happiest” people in the world and being some of the “best” places to live. They are also some of the best places to be a parent. In Sweden, parents get 480 days of paid leave, 60 of which must be shared between both parents, and in Norway they have just over a year of paid leave plus the option of an additional year unpaid. In Finland, parents are entitled to a childcare allowance if they choose to stay home with their children for up to three years. They are also entitled to shorter work hours until the end of the child’s second year in school at age 9 (since formal schooling only begins at age 7 in Finland), as well as subsidized daycare.

    The federal Liberals call for a national strategy to provide universal early childhood education and care that ensures no child is excluded due to cost or any other reason. The economic and social benefits of such a program are clear, but I hope that the conversation does not stop there. Young parents must have choices, including the option to raise their children at home without fear of losing their jobs. We should also look at options for providing subsidies to grandparents, nannies, and others who provide childcare as is currently being debated in Australia.

    Today’s children are the future of our country. Investing in childcare, including affordable daycare, extended parental leave and benefits, and other family supports, should be of utmost importance for all Canadians. Since each family is unique, we need a comprehensive program with a variety of options to ensure strong, healthy, and happy Canadian families.