Stepping Forward – or Back?

With the Conservatives now in power there is a lot of apprehension about the future of childcare in Manitoba.  I’ve heard comments that I should be happy/excited – after all, during the election campaign the Conservatives did claim to support licensed family childcare. You can read more here

In that article the Conservatives propose  “Increasing operating funding for licensed, home-based child care spaces by 70 per cent for infants, 68 per cent for pre-school aged children and 15 per cent for school aged children”. Those increases to operating grants sound impressive and would result in approximately an 11% increase to my total annual income however there is no mention of the time period over which those increases could occur.  To put that into perspective, through NDP training and funding initiatives my personal annual income has increased by 44% over the past 12 years.

The Conservatives also claim that there are “550 fewer home-based child care spaces in Manitoba today compared to 17 years ago. This reduction in spaces is due in part to the cumbersome regulatory regime which governs the development of child care facilities in Manitoba.”   and they propose “Simplifying the process governing the opening and operation of child care facilities with a focus on home-based child care spaces.”

Yes, there are definitely fewer licensed family childcare homes than there used to be and it may be due in part to the licensing regulations but those regulations are there to benefit the children.  I’m absolutely positive there would be more home based ‘pharmacies’ if there weren’t so many regulations involving opening licensed pharmacies too.  I’m also certain many people would willingly choose to use the services of unlicensed, untrained, home-based pharmacists but I’m not certain that would be a good choice either.

I don’t think the problem is that it is too hard to become a licensed family childcare provider but rather, it is too easy not to.  Yes, there is a legal limit of four children under the age of 12 in an unlicensed childcare home but with no enforcement of that law unlicensed, uninsured, over numbers, childcare homes are a lucrative business – just like unlicensed/illegal pharmacies.  Maybe the Manitoba Conservatives should follow the lead of Ontario and crackdown on rogue unlicensed providers

I don’t believe an increase in operating grant funding will encourage unlicensed providers to pursue licensing.  Not if they can charge higher daily rates than funded homes.  Not if they are unable to meet minimum licensing standards. Not if they can operate above legal numbers without repercussions.  As long as unlicensed childcare continues to be a profitable option there is little incentive for home based providers to become licensed no matter how much the process is simplified.

The current minimum standards and licensing process are not obstacles for providers who are truly looking at childcare as a career.  It can be a daunting process for those who have no experience with the system and are trying to tackle it alone. Even 20 years ago – under a Conservative government – it took me nine months to complete the licensing process and I had several childcare mentors who helped me.  Many currently licensed providers would be eager to assist new providers through the licensing process but there isn’t (but should be) a mandatory mentorship program. Childcare coordinators already have too little time to adequately visit existing facilities – who is going to be able to license and offer support to new childcare homes?

I do agree that opening licensed family childcare homes is a more cost effective way to increase the number of licensed childcare spaces compared to the cost of opening centres.  However, I also believe that simplifying the licensing process will reduce the quality of those childcare homes.  The minimum licensing standards are not that difficult to achieve – poor quality licensed homes and centres exist even with current regulations.  Good quality centres and homes are not content with simply adhering to the minimum licensing standards – they CHOOSE to go above and beyond what they are required to do and strive to provide the best care for each individual child.

Sure, Sally is a great stay-at-home mom who wouldn’t mind having a few extra children hanging around with her kids while she does the laundry.  There’s room on the couch in front of the TV and a swing set out back if they want to go outside.  Babysitting is a great way to earn a little extra cash – her mom did it too back in the day.  But it is 2016 and we’ve worked really hard to show that early childhood education is more than just babysitting.

If quality wasn’t a concern then the easiest, most affordable childcare solution might be to simply double the current ratios for all childcare facilities.  No additional buildings.  No additional equipment.  No additional trained staff.  No additional licensing coordinators.  Just twice as many children crammed into existing programs.  Like magic – thousands of more childcare spaces.

Yet quality IS a concern and making it easier to open licensed family childcare homes isn’t going to provide more quality childcare – just more temporary babysitters.  Maybe all women should just quit their jobs and stay home with their own children.

Whichever option you choose it might just be a step backwards.

What do you think?

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