Childcare Choices

With the federal election fast approaching childcare has been getting some attention as an election issue. The Childcare Advocacy Association of Canada has asked that we Take the Pledge to Vote Childcare. They provide information about where all the parties stand so voters can make informed decisions.

I usually prefer to stay out of politics and just use my blog to highlight my adventures with the children in my licensed family childcare home but this is an important issue and so I wanted to share some stories of the people I have met throughout my years in childcare. These are not all the choices available – just some of the home based options that I have experienced over the years as a parent before I became a licensed childcare provider and throughout my childcare career.

There is a young mom speaking in broken English – she is very excited because today is her last ‘Intro to Family Childcare’ class and she will soon be on her way to becoming a licensed childcare provider. She has developed her business plan and is looking forward to becoming a productive citizen in this amazing country she now calls home. Realizing her dream of opening her own business will also provide quality childcare to others in her community so they can attend school and go to work.

There was the young man who went to college and earned his Early Childhood Educator Diploma. He worked in a childcare center for several years – his female colleagues valued having a male role model in their facility. His employers, the children he cares for and their families all speak very highly of him. He and his wife have their first child and he decides to open a licensed family childcare home so he can stay at home with his child and still continue to work in the job he loves. Even with his excellent references and the high demand for childcare he has difficulty filling spaces. Many parents are reluctant to place their children in his care because a man staying home to care for children is not the norm.

Another provider in an upscale neighbourhood lives in a beautiful 3000 square foot home most of which is off limits to the children she cares for. She has a dedicated childcare space in her basement. She offers a very structured academic program geared toward older preschool and school-age children. She is very selective about which children she will enroll. When she does have a vacancy she screens through many applicants to find a child that will fit in to her program well.

A couple living in the inner city are both licensed family childcare providers. Together they care for children 24/7 and accommodate parents who work various shifts.

Now, at this point I’d like to say that I’ve met some absolutely excellent unlicensed childcare providers who are operating within legal numbers. An unlicensed childcare home is not regulated in any way other than ratio/max number of children in care – no more than four children under 12 years of age of which no more than two are under two years of age including the providers own children.

Some offer wonderful environments and fantastic programming but are simply uninterested or unwilling to put in the effort required to become licensed. If they are only providing care for preschool children the one extra child (four for unlicensed, five for licensed) isn’t much of an incentive. Especially once you take into consideration that many unlicensed providers charge higher fees than those licensed providers whose fees are set by the province.

Most unlicensed providers and the parents who enroll their children in these programs are unaware that these programs require additional commercial insurance – without it their standard homeowners insurance is void if they operate a home based business licensed or not. Business insurance is required for licensed providers yet even with this separate insurance some providers still have issues with getting basic homeowners insurance.

Let’s now consider some of the illegal unlicensed childcare providers I’ve come across over the years

The young mom on mat leave after the birth of her second child. She also cares for two children of a friend of hers to help out just until she goes back to work. With a total of only four children including her own she is within legal childcare numbers – but she’s not reporting her income to EI.

In the parking lot of a middle class neighbourhood an older woman loads 14 kindergarten and school-age children into the side door of her minivan. It is raining and she doesn’t want them all to walk today – she’s a good driver and she’s only going a short distance so not using seatbelts is OK. She is not licensed to care for these children and most of the parents are aware of this but there is no before/after school program in this school, all these parents need to work and she only charges $5/day. The children will probably just watch TV for the hour or so until their parents get home.

The wonderful mother of three preschool children. She also has three other unrelated infants in her care. Infant care is very hard to find so these parents are thrilled to have found her. Everyone here is aware that this unlicensed facility has over the legal number of children allowed but the parents have no concerns regarding the quality of care their little ones are receiving. Hopefully there will never be an issue. This type of over numbers, unlicensed reflects on the character, values and integrity of those who chose it. It also paves the way for more unlicensed providers.

Ultimately I think I’d like to see ALL childcare facilities be required to be licensed. That might eliminate some of the confusion parents face regarding choosing childcare. All restaurants require licenses and inspections – it doesn’t matter if they are part of a large chain, a small family owned/run business or a mobile truck/cart – good or bad they have a license and rules they must follow in order to keep it. Why is childcare not given the same value – are the children not important?

I know, licensing is a Provincial issue – not a Federal election concern but just for a moment let’s think about that. In my little neighbourhood there are at least four unlicensed childcare providers for every licensed provider. Most of these unlicensed providers are operating within legal numbers but few are reporting their income.

Let’s just say these numbers are the same in all the neighbourhoods across the Province. For this supposition we’ll also assume all these licensed & unlicensed providers averaged are making the same amount of money that I do. Say none of the unlicensed providers are reporting income and paying taxes. Now, pretend all those unlicensed providers across the Province suddenly became licensed and started paying the same taxes that I do. The total new tax revenue from Manitoba would be about…….

$6,916,000.00

Now imagine what that number could do if it was put back in to a universal childcare system.

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