The Province: Protesters demand improved child care for poor

B.C.'s child care subsidy program is not working for the working poor of Surrey, says community group B.C. ACORN.

Sara Salaway, a Surrey mom who heads B.C. ACORN's child care committee, led a protest Tuesday outside the Surrey office of the Ministry of Children and Families.

"The working poor looking for child care, it's a difficult task," Salaway, a mother-of-two, told The Province.

She said child care costs are typically $700 to $900 a month and the government subsidy -- which ranges from $200 up to $750 per month -- is not available for families earning more than $38,000.

"If they make more than [the threshold] they don't quality for any kind of help," she said.

Salaway also said it's hard for families to find out information about the subsidy program, and wants to make it easier to obtain. "It's word of mouth," she said. "You need to know the services are out there."

Next month, B.C. ACORN intends to ask the City of Surrey to open a municipal-run childcare centre, which would be run as a pilot program by the municipality, in a partnership with the community.

"Our idea is to open a government-run childcare centre," said Salaway. "We want the community to come together and say 'look, we need child care.' "

In B.C., childcare centres are not government-run, but are subsidized by families and taxpayers.

Adrienne Montani, B.C. co-ordinator of child-care-advocacy group First Call, agreed the $38,000-income threshold is too low for families.

"That's not a lot of money for a family of four. I think it's too low. It should be higher," she said.

And the subsidy doesn't cover the full cost of care, she added.

Montani said making parents apply for subsidies is not the way to go to build a childcare system.

"In Europe, people have an entitlement to a universal childcare system that may be free or extremely low cost, yet with high quality," she said.

The B.C. government is adding $26 million to childcare subsidies over the next three years for 28,000 children per month.

Children and Families Minister Mary Polak said access has been vastly improved.

"When it comes to access, it's improved monumentally in B.C.," said Polak.

She said the income-threshold was raised from $21,000 to $38,000 a few years ago, and it's reviewed yearly.

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