Posted February 28, 2018
Ontario must replace its patchwork of child care services with a universally accessible system of high quality care that is affordable for all families, say low- and moderate-income parents who responded to a survey in the run-up to this spring’s provincial election.
High parent fees, wait lists for space and fee subsidies as well as the lack of programs with hours that accommodate increasingly precarious work schedules are among the problems raised in the survey being released Thursday by Ontario ACORN, a member-supported anti-poverty group.
“Parents care about child care, and they are going to vote accordingly,” says a report on the survey, titled “Head, Shoulders, Fees and Woe: The devastating impact of high child care costs in Ontario.”
“They are looking to the provincial parties to take leadership on the issue of affordable child care, to make Ontario a province where parents can afford to raise families without compromising on basic necessities.”
The report, based on surveys of 212 ACORN members across Ontario over the past two months, notes more than 90 per cent of respondents said they are likely, or very likely, to vote for a candidate who makes child care a priority in the 2018 election.
None of Ontario’s three political parties has an adequate plan to address the problem, adds the report, to be released at a downtown Toronto child care centre.
Ontario has the highest child care fees in Canada, with parents having to shell out an average of $1,236 a month for infant care. In Toronto, monthly care for infants tops $1,758.
ACORN wants fees geared to parent income and capped at $10 a day or about $216 a month for all age groups. It is also calling for more provincial funding for public and non-profit child care centres to help raise worker wages and keep fees low.
Over 61 per cent of survey respondents who use full-time, licensed child care pay more than $1,200 per month and many said it meant they had to cut back on food and extra-curricular activities, and rely on food banks to make ends meet. The high cost also prevented them from saving for their children’s education and having more children.
More than 60 per cent cited high fees as a barrier to accessing licensed child care while 42 per cent said there is not enough licensed care in their area.
Almost 38 per cent of single mothers surveyed, including Scarborough parent Sonali Shah, said the high cost of child care prevented them from working.
“I had to pay private babysitters when I went to job interviews. For years, I suffered financially because I couldn’t get (affordable) child care,” said Shah, 41, who lived on welfare with her son, Jiaan, for almost four years.
When she finally got a child care subsidy, Shah says she volunteered and worked as an unpaid intern for nine months while looking for a full-time job, so she wouldn’t lose her subsidy.
Her search paid off last fall when she was hired as an accountant for a tow-truck company in Toronto’s west end. But unreliable public transit means she has to leave work 45 minutes early to pick up her son by 6 p.m. from his licensed after-school program.
“I am taking a pay cut to get to the daycare in time,” she said in an interview. “At least I have a job. But I wish daycare hours were more flexible.”
Most survey respondents were in two-parent households where both spouses worked full-time, earning combined incomes of more than $85,000. The majority of single parents had incomes between $10,000 and $40,000.
Of those surveyed, 18 per cent receive a fee subsidy and 5 per cent are on a subsidy wait list.
One Toronto parent surveyed for the report said the lack of affordable care in the city means her mother-in-law, who lives in London, Ont., has to stay with the family to care for their young child or take him to London when she needs to be home.
“This has put a lot of strain on our family and is not ideal for anyone involved,” the parent wrote.
The Liberal government has promised to create 100,000 licensed spaces for children under age 4 by 2022 and has increased spending on fee subsidies and wage supplements to boost child care worker pay. Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris has signaled a desire to transform the current patchwork of services, but the Liberals have yet to introduce any measures that would create a universally accessible system, ACORN says.
A proposed child care tax rebate included in the Progressive Conservatives’ campaign platform — now in doubt due to the party’s leadership crisis — would do nothing to help low- to moderate-income families, an ACORN spokesperson said.
To get a rebate you have to have enough money to pay for care in the first place, she said.
The NDP has said new provincial funding should go to public and non-profit programs only. But the party has said nothing about how it would transform the system.
ACORN Canada, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, champions the interests of low- and moderate-income residents and has more than 113,000 members in 22 neighbourhood chapters across the country.
Article by Laurie Monsebraaten for the Toronto Star