Childcare dilemma heats up as summer looms in pricey Vancouver
With the summer holidays just around the corner, many working parents are wondering how they can afford nine full weeks of care for their school-aged kids.
For parents, the ministry offers a monthly $55-tax benefit for each child under the age of six, and childcare subsidies based on income. According to its rate tables, the maximum subsidy for an infant is $750 per month and $635 for toddlers, which still leaves parents with a hefty bill if they’re paying average Vancouver prices for daycare.
“You have to be so poor to qualify for subsidy that even if you do qualify there’s no way you have the rest of the money available to make up the difference between subsidy and the real fee,” says Gregson. “So we’re seeing fewer and fewer subsidized families in licensed childcare programs simply because the subsidy is so completely out of date with the actual cost of the fee.”
Summer camp is out of reach for many kids
Indeed, more and more parents who can’t afford licensed daycare are using creative ways to find cheaper child supervision; a quick search on Craigslist reveals dozens of local families in need of care providers, sitters, and live-in nannies.
It’s sad when parents resort to online advertisements, says Gregson, who believes hiring through search engines like Craigslist can bring unknown, unqualified strangers into the home.
“That should not be the kind of care that British Columbian families depend on just so they can go to work,” she explains. “It would be a misnomer to call it a ‘choice'; there’s no choice when you have to use the only childcare arrangements you can afford.”
It’s a harsh reality for many families, including Barker and her son. For weeks, she’s had her eyes on a summer sailing camp she knows he would love but instead she’s looking at inviting a student tenant into their home in order to afford basic daycare for August.
There is a fairly large wealth gap at her son’s school, and in the summertime, he starts to notice.
"It becomes the haves and the have-nots,” she explains. “Kids are going away on vacation, and he asks, 'How come we don’t go away?' He is aware, and will bring certain things up.”
But she emphasizes how lucky her family is; even when times are tough they have everything they need. Not all Vancouver parents can say the same, especially single mothers.
In Vancouver, up to 29 per cent of a woman’s income is spent on childcare, a rate only surpassed by nine other Canadian cities. Factor in the 30-per-cent wage gap between men and women, and the burden of childcare becomes even heavier.
“I’m basically the working poor,” says Barker. “I work my tail off and pay my rent, put food on the table and pay for car insurance and gas. I have pretty much nothing at the end, and I pay for childcare.”
But there may be light at the end of the tunnel for B.C. parents; more than 6,000 people have signed the CCCABC’s $10 a Day Child Care campaign, which proposes a cap on provincial childcare costs. A similar model has worked successfully in Québec, where less than seven per cent of a woman’s salary goes towards childcare thanks to government subsidy.
Playgrounds fill up in the summer as parents try to keep their kids occupied. Photo by Joshua Berson
It would be a great solution to the B.C. childcare crisis, says Viveca Ellis, co-founder of the Single Mothers’ Alliance BC.
“The $10 a Day Child Care plan will hugely benefit our entire economy overall by boosting women’s labour force participation and strengthening early childhood development,” she explains. “Our children do not deserve to be left in unregulated childcare settings, and it is our fundamental responsibility as a society to provide the highest quality childcare possible.”
As of press time, the Ministry of Children and Family Development did not return media requests on the viability of the $10 a Day Child Care plan, or whether it would consider such an option.
Until it does consider greater subsidy however, Vancouver children will continue counting the days, while their parents continue counting their cash on the brink of the city's summer holidays.