Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 21, 2005
Day care plan forgets too many
Canadians will likely get a closer look at how the federal government intends to spend $5 billion a year on a national day care scheme when the government brings down its budget on Wednesday.
But even now, there ought to be concerns. Social Development Minister Ken Dryden has already said the government will fund for-profit day care centres, even though it is widely agreed non-profits provide higher quality child care. There is also concern that the $5 billion will fall far short of what is needed to provide a universally accessible program.
More to the point is the degree to which Canadians - especially parents - see day care as desirable. In Alberta, only 12 per cent of preschool children are cared for in day-care centres. Six thousand of the 26,000 day care spots in the province are now unfilled.
A recent survey conducted for the Vanier Institute for the Family found that 90 per cent of Canadians believe that, in a two-parent family, the best alternative is for one parent to stay home to care for the children. Yet, Dryden has said his plan will make no provision to subsidize families where one parent forsakes a paying job to care for the kids at home.
In the Vanier Institute survey, parents said day care centres were their last choice for child care. Virtually all mothers employed outside the home - married, cohabiting or single parents - said they would work part-time or not at all if they could afford to do so.
All of these facts and opinions raise the issue as to whether Dryden's day care plan will be something Canadian families want and need.
What Canadians do most assuredly need is an end to child poverty. As often noted, the House of Commons voted unanimously in 1989 to end child poverty in Canada by 2000. It was a promise successive governments have done little to implement.
Ending child poverty and equipping parents to better raise their own children are steps that would do more to improve Canada's future than just about anything else one can imagine.
In Alberta, 98,000 children live in poverty. Yet, the province has the lowest minimum wage in Canada, only recently saying it will phase in an increase to a still-too-low rate of $7 an hour. Despite the recent outcry over the ridiculously low maximum of $850 a month paid to the severely handicapped, the government has still not increased that rate. And for those on support programs who receive the federal Child Tax Benefit, the provincial government claws it back.
This is a prescription for perpetuating poverty, not ending it.
The federal government is raising that maximum Child Tax Benefit to $3,243 by 2007. Campaign 2000 - an organization supported by the Canadian bishops - says the maximum should be raised to $4,900 per child if Canada is serious about ending child poverty.
We do need more subsidized child care. We need it specifically to enable single parents to enter the workforce or receive job training, if necessary. But we also need to know that 45 per cent of children living in poverty in Canada have parents who worked the whole year; they are not on welfare.
We need more Headstart programs and more centres where medical professionals and social workers can help parents get the help they need raising their children. Canada must also take seriously the Auditor General's recent report calling for massive improvements to aboriginal education.
Some will complain this is too costly. But it may well be less costly than Dryden's day care plan. And it will certainly be more effective at reducing child poverty and giving children a better future. Every dollar spent on child development can save up to $7 in future health care, social services and prison costs.
Even this approach will be incomplete if we do not tell teens that sexual abstinence before marriage and good marriage preparation are two of the most important things they can do to avoid raising their children in poverty.
This is a comprehensive plan for sharply reducing child poverty. If we want our country to have a bright future, we ought to take it more seriously than piecemeal approaches that may cost a lot, but bear little benefit.
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