National Daycare: A Fair and Sustainable Strategy

It is getting harder and harder for families to make ends meet, and most two parent families require that both mom and dad work.  Given the cost of daycare, it is understandable that government assistance is required. I think the goal should be to open opportunities for parents by helping them to offset the cost of childcare.

Sweden is one of the countries that is referenced frequently in the case for national daycare. The preschool portion of their system (which is basically what the NDP and Liberals had agreed to back in the day. Preschool daycare only.) costs the government about $10,500 Canadian per child per year according to the OECD. This doesn`t seem unreasonable, however, it is important to remember that this is what the existing Swedish system costs, as the preschools are already in place. In Canada, our costs would likely run considerably higher initially because of start up and implementation costs to build the system. Numbers have been thrown around up to and sometimes even higher than $30’000 per child per year.

As I see it, the problem with the subsidized daycare approach is that Preschool funding is limited in who it helps. It also could present similar problems to what we sometimes see in other public systems, where services are diminished while costs keep rising so access maybe denied and would-be users are wait-listed. We want a strategy that is efficient, works and doesn’t leave people out that need the help.

I think that a strategy that provides geared to income benefits to parents to assist with the cost of childcare is the right approach to take. Many parents that need assistance make childcare choices that won’t fit the subsidized spaces model.  Many parents use another family member (in my case we often use my retired mother), or tailor work schedules between mom, dad & babysitters so that daycare isn’t needed very often. Many homes have one parent that stays at home due to unemployment, while the other works. When children are under a year it is very difficult to find providers that want to care for that age group. This can force one parent to stay at home, and single parents face even greater challenges. The need for assistance is undeniable in many situations that don’t fit the shape of subsidized daycare. If we give a direct benefit to parents, we do have to be careful that it doesn’t discourage employment. I think it is unlikely to occur in most cases, but not impossible.

Obviously, the benefit I propose will not address a shortage in spaces, but if parents want more spaces, the private sector will likely respond. If it is known that this childcare benefit will be put into action, it is very possible that entrepreneurs may see it as a business opportunity and create spaces in advance. No matter what is done, parents will always find a way to make sure that their children are cared for, whether in a daycare setting or not. Government should help with the costs of childcare so that opportunities are available to more families, but government isn’t needed to provide the spaces too, anymore than it is needed to put children to bed.

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