On May 22, Council received a delegation that presented on a Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care and Learning. I was excited about this delegation because kids and families have been my main life's focus, well, all of my life.
The Plan (developed by Coalition of Childcare Advocates with extensive public consultation) proposes an integrated model of early care and learning under the Ministry of Education that would support early learning for children and make child care affordable, when needed, for all families regardless of income.
It's been fully costed and if it was approved as proposed would offer $10 a day childcare to families earning over $40,000 a year and free childcare for families earning less. It has been endorsed by many organizations including municipal councils, the BC School Trustees Association, academics, parents and businesses, including the Surrey Board of Trade.
After the presentation, Council passed a motion that endorsed the plan 'in principle'.
In light of that support, I naively put forward a motion at the June 20th Council meeting to send a resolution to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to see if there was an appetite to support such a plan as a provincial body. Much to my surprise, that motion failed, after an amendment that took out reference to a 'public system' had failed -- both on tie votes. (One councillor was absent.)
As I understand it, the concerns expressed against the motion I put forward about plan were mainly about using public funds to help parents with the increasing costs of child care and early learning. People said they would rather find ways that more parents can stay home if they desire. (Personally, I don't think one precludes the other.)
Mayor Lefebure -- seeing the possibility for some kind of consensus between two groups who clearly wanted to bring some statement to UBCM on childcare -- brought forward a new motion on childcare to the June 26 Committee of the Whole meeting. That motion was defeated, and ultimately an amended motion that took out all reference to the Plan was passed.
It took quite a bit of council time -- turned out to be a much more loaded issue for people (including myself) than I could have imagined.
I won't pretend I'm not disappointed -- but in the end, I supported the amended motion, which passed unanimously.
Passing this less "loaded" motion may be better than not passing anything at all. It doesn't by any means preclude the Province from looking carefully at the Plan themselves -- which in these fiscal times would be prudent. No sense reinventing the wheel. There must be at least some aspects of the Plan that are worthy of consideration and implementation, considering the study and thought that have gone into it.
If BC is truly going to put "Families First," then the issue of safe, affordable, quality child care must be at the top of the agenda.
This one little motion and all the drama it caused reminded me of something (in what could be described as an "in your face" kind of way.)
Making public policy is difficult, even messy -- a huge challenge -- and often requires far more compromise and takes far more time than anyone would have imagined. From the outside, issues and "right" decisions look pretty black and white. Once a person sits at a staff or elected member's desk, everything is shades of grey.
We are all so different -- and the way we see solutions to a common problem are very divergent. Compromise is often the only way to move things forward.
For instance, it was suggested that the ideal situation for pre-school children lies with the traditional two-parent family, with the mother staying home.
There are families that both desire this and can afford it and that's wonderful. However, we're long past the day when it was possible for most folks to have mother raising the children while father makes the income. A stable, loving two-parent household can produce a positive outcome to be sure, and kids and parents should have that ability -- in an ideal world, if that's what the parents want. But the traditional nuclear family is by no means the only situation that can produce a positive outcome.
It can (and does) happen in two-parent households with both parents working -- full time or part time. In two-parent households with married parents, same-sex parents, or parents who live common-law. In households with a single parent who stays home, or works full time, or part time. Or with two single parents, sharing the parenting responsibilities between them. Or with grandparents providing the primary care.
There are many faces to a stable, loving family that can produce a positive outcome for children. And on the other hand, no matter what form the family takes, there no guarantees.
Children need love and consistency. Good nutrition, rest and play. Safety and security. Children need community. They need roots and they need wings. Children can get these things from all kinds of households. No particular configuration has a monopoly on good parenting skills.
However, for many different reasons, almost one-third of BC's children -- kids from each of these configurations, and from the disappearing middle class -- arrive at school developmentally vulnerable. The cost of this to the education system is climbing.
Hillary Clinton is credited with popularizing the African saying, "It takes a village to raise a child."
We are the village. If our children get what they require to be developmentally ready for school, it helps them become healthy adults -- who contribute to the village that helps to raise the next generation, and so on and so on.
In 2009, the Business Council of BC commissioned a report - "15 by 15, A Comprehensive Policy Framework for Early Human Capital Investment in BC".
That report indicated that while each family is unique, they all have three overarching needs in common. They need time, they need resources, and they need a range of supports to help them educate and care for their children.
In this age of increasing pressures on young families, these needs can only equitably be met through some kind of public policy.
Sadly, for all the wealth of this nation and the pride we take in our progressive social policy, Canada ranks last among the world's developed countries in investing in its children. In BC, child-care services currently reach 95,000 children a year -- and government (our society, whom government represents) contributes $5.6 million, or
$60 per child per year.
Yet we fork out over $110,000 a year to house a prisoner in Canada.
And almost every Canadian over the age of 65 receives the Canada pension, whether they need it or not. We care for the vulnerable at the other end of life -- when they are once again not able to fully function on their own -- with subsidized care of all kinds, including help with rent.
Yet our children, who are most vulnerable at the beginning of life, haven't received the same level of commitment. BC, which has led the nation in child poverty for a decade now, only has licensed child-care space for 20% of our kids. And the Province hasn't invested any capital funding for new childcare centers since 2009.
Our young families are being squeezed at every turn. In North Cowichan, more than one-fifth of our homeowners and renters are paying above the safe maximum (30% of the family's income) for housing -- and then between $200 and more than $900 a month per child. Child care is the second-largest family expense in North Cowichan after housing -- yet the Provincial subsidy for low-income families hasn't changed since 2007.
Many parents don't have the choice to stay at home with their children. And one-sixth of North Cowichan families are headed by single parents who can't go to work without full-time child care.
Among our two-parent families, 400 (or one in 16) are living below the poverty level. Even if families can afford child care in the Cowichan region, we've actually lost licensed child-care spaces -- more than 400, or 21% of our capacity, since 2007. (Social Planning Cowichan 2011) And because childcare workers are not paid a living wage many leave the field in order to do so.
The years before six set in motion factors that will determine the quality of our children's future lives -- and the quality of the future labour force.
How we address the needs of children determines their readiness to take up the duties and responsibilities of adults. It also largely determines down-the-road costs of major public programs, such as policing and prisons, health care and welfare.
Some people wonder why a municipal council would get involved in the child care issue. Municipal councils are advocates for the needs of their community. Lobbying for the things they can't directly provide.
We are the level of government that is closet to the people and regularly see the impacts of the policies (or lack of them) of more senior governments on our residents.
If you'd like to see the Plan get serious consideration, or if you have another idea for addressing the child-care crisis in BC -- please consider writing your MLA and the Premier and telling them. That's democracy in action.
And on a lighter note -- check out this link to a funny and informative 10-minute film, "A Day Without Childcare"