Andrea Mrozek and Helen Ward: There's no need to create more daycare spaces
Last week, the British Columbia government announced $33 million for the creation of 3,800 new child care spaces. The reason? A purported shortage of daycare spaces.
But why have provincial government officials not examined their own research. A Ministry of Children and Family Development Performance Management Report published in March 2016 reveals significant and consistent surpluses in daycare spaces, dating back to 2003. Vacancy rates are, on average, hovering around 30 per cent.
Hard to believe? The evidence is there. The Ministry of Children and Family Development presents the data in the form of “utilization rates” — the percentage of spaces used, rather than the percentage vacant. Over the span of more than 10 years, utilization rates have never been higher than about 70 per cent.
As noted in Daycare Vacancy Rates in British Columbia: The Untold Story, in places like northeastern B.C. you get a vacancy rate of almost 43 per cent and in the Kootenays it’s 45 per cent. Put bluntly, in the Kootenays, almost half of daycare spaces are vacant.
The lowest vacancy rates are in the Vancouver-Richmond area at 24 per cent. That means that in the area with the highest child care utilization rates, roughly a quarter of spaces are still available. The next lowest vacancy rates are North Fraser and South Fraser at about 25 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.
This is not to say that finding the right space is easy. Like many aspects of child-rearing, finding high quality, non-parental child care that suits a family’s situation can be stressful. However, given provincial government’s own numbers, it is clear that vacancies exist across the province. At the same time as there are vacancies, there are advocacy groups working hard toward increasing funding for non-parental child care.
In the last provincial election, the New Democratic Party ran on a campaign of $10-a-day daycare and the creation of thousands more daycare spaces, alongside the hiring of more early childhood educators. The B.C. Green party promised free non-parental child care as well as $500 per month for parental child care. This has far more to do with ideology than evidence-based decision-making; there are many who believe the creation of publicly funded and run daycare is the only way to offer child care.
A fairer approach to child care would broaden its definition to include parents. Child care is the care of a child, regardless of how or where that care takes place. Governments should direct child care funding directly to parents, rather than building more spaces where they are not needed.
And when governments prefer to fund daycare centres, rather than directing funding directly to parents based on income, it’s the richer families that benefit the most. Higher-income families are more likely to use daycare centres than lower-income families, according to Statistics Canada. “In general, parents belonging to a higher income household were more likely to have used some form of non-parental care. More precisely, about two-thirds (65%) of parents with an annual household income of at least $100,000 used child care for their preschooler. This was nearly double the rate recorded for households with an income below $40,000 (34%),” writes the author of the Statistics Canada report.
Simply put, preferential funding for centre-based child care discriminates against those who cannot or prefer not to use that form of care and creates an incentive for parents to use the subsidized care. It is important to note that only 18 per cent of children up to age four are in daycare centres or preschools, according to Statistics Canada. Why preferential funding for only one type of care? And why persist in creating more spaces, when existing spaces are sitting vacant? Evidence-based policy demands better.
Andrea Mrozek is program director of Cardus Family. Helen Ward is President of the Kids First Parent Association of Canada. They are co-authors of Daycare Vacancy Rates in British Columbia: The Untold Story