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Several B.C. areas among the worst ‘child-care deserts’ in Canada: report

Vancouver has 2.4 licensed child-care spaces for 10 children not yet in kindergarten

A new report points to gaps in British Columbia’s child-care system.

According to a new report from the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives, almost two of three B.C. children not yet attending Kindergarten live in so-called child-care deserts, postal codes with more than three children below school age for every full-time licensed child-care space.

In British Columbia, 64 per cent of all younger children live in such areas, the fourth-highest figure in Canada, behind Manitoba (76 per cent), Newfoundland and Labrador (79 per cent) and Saskatchewan (92 per cent). The Canada-wide figure is 48 per cent.

Vancouver is one of the worst child-care deserts in Canada with 2.4 spaces for every 10 children below school age. In Abbotsford, the ratio is 2.7 spaces for 10 children below school age while Surrey’s ratio is three spaces for 10 children below school age. The ratio improves outside the Lower Mainland. In Kelowna, it is 3.4 spaces for 10 children below school age while it reaches 3.9 spaces for 10 children below school age in Victoria.

Notably, these larger municipalities are better off than smaller ones.

“British Columbian children are less likely to be in a child-care desert if they live in its larger cities with more than 100,000 people,” it reads. “However, even B.C.’s bigger cities show a greater likelihood of living in a child-care desert than the national average.”

The report makes several recommendations, starting with better pay for early childhood educators.

“Without the staff, childcare is just an empty building, so the issue of the child-care workforce must be addressed without delay,” it reads.

Many graduates of ECE programs either do not work in childcare or leave the field after a few years, it adds.

RELATED: Fees in licensed child care in B.C. to drop by up to $550 a month by Dec. 1, says NDP

“The hours are often not very good, the pay is poor, working conditions and career ladders are unimpressive and early childhood educators don’t get the respect they deserve,” it reads. “So it’s no surprise that retention is a substantial issue and will remain an impediment to system expansion unless there are substantial changes.”

Not surprisingly, the report recommends steps that guarantee “decent wages” for all early childhood educators, including other benefits.

Seen against recent data that shows Vancouver with the highest rents in all of Canada, it only makes sense then that Vancouver is one of the worst child-care deserts in Canada, as defined by the report. The city is simply unaffordable for many child-care workers. The same can be said for other larger communities in British Columbia.

More broadly, the report calls for a fundamental re-think of childcare in calling for “much more public involvement” when it comes to funding, planning, delivering and ensuring accountability for childcare.

“Canada has decades of experience showing that relying on private funding…does not organically produce equitable, high-quality, affordable, broadly available and inclusive child-care systems,” it reads.

The report acknowledges the historic nature of the federal-provincial-territorial plan kick-started by British Columbia’s 2021 bilateral deal with Ottawa. That plan lowers the daily cost of full-time child care to $10 per day by 2026, creating 250,000 new child care spaces across the country by that same year.

According to the federal government, Quebec and Yukon have so far reached the $10-a-day goal, while the rest of the provinces and territories “still have have a long way to go to make their lower-fee child care available to most parents,” according to the report.

The report adds many of the benefits of lower child care fees can only be fully realized if the newly created demand can be met with a much improved supply of licensed spaces. The market alone cannot meet that demand.

“Much more public planning and public management will be required to ensure a more impactful approach,” it reads.

Otherwise, the promise of $10-a-day childcare will be “limited to the lucky few if rapid space expansion isn’t immediately pursued.”

British Columbia first launched $10-a-day childcare as a provincial initiative in 2018 prior to the agreement with Ottawa and 12,729 $10-a-day spaces currently operate across the province, ahead of its goal of 12,500 spaces by February 2023.

These spaces save average families up to $800 per month, according to the province.

B.C., with support from the federal government, is also helping about 69,000 families with the cost of child care at centres not part of the $10-a-day program through child care fee reductions of up to $900 per month per child.

Since 2018, B.C. has invested $2.7 billion in the 10-year ChildCareBC plan and the federal government is contributing $3.2 billion for child care through March 2026.

Minister of State for Child Care Grace Lore thanked the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“This report and its recommendations reinforce our ChildCareBC goals of improving access to affordable, quality and inclusive child care that families can rely on,” she said.

Since 2018, B.C. has funded the creation of more than 31,800 new licensed child care spaces, with 11,800 of these spaces operational and providing care for children, she added.

“Public funding supporting the creation of new child care spaces is focused on community investments that are long term and run by public, Indigenous-led and non-profit institutions,” she said. “We also prioritize child care as we build or replace schools and other provincially owned buildings.”

She also said that government is committed to developing and implementing a wage grid.

“We know that when we talk about spaces, we’re also talking about people, which is why we have taken action to recruit and retain ECEs – by helping with the cost of education, enhancing wages and providing better access to training and professional development, and streamlining pathways for international ECEs,” she said.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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