Parent Fees & Private Childcare

So, I wrote this post more than a week ago, published it, reread it, didn’t like it, removed it, rewrote it – twice, and I think now it might be at least a little closer to what I want to say. Writing is hard sometimes.

Childcare is an important issue for many parents in Manitoba – more specifically, the lack of access to quality, affordable childcare. I’ll admit that during the last provincial election I got more than a little excited when the PC government promised to streamline the licensing process to encourage more family childcare providers to become licensed – it is not often that the government puts any focus on home based childcare. Sadly, they then froze grant funding and encouraged newly licensed unfunded providers to charge higher parent fees.

Now I will also think parent fees could be increased to help offset all the increases in expenses faced by childcare facilities. I thought this article by Tom Brodbeck was interesting. Even in my lower income area most unfunded and/or private, unlicensed home based providers charge parent fees that are much higher than my parent fees – and parents pay it. In higher income neighbourhoods and daycare deserts unfunded/unlicensed homes often charge considerably more. Maybe it is a parent’s ‘choice’ to put their child in private, unlicensed/unfunded care with higher parent fees – or maybe it is their only available option.

Funded family childcare providers like me are not allowed to raise our parent fees if we want to keep our funding. In a funded childcare facility parent fees for a preschool child are only $2.70 per day higher today than they were 22 years ago when I first began my childcare career. Over those years I have received increases in my operating grant funding so that it is now 28% of my gross income instead of just 5% of my income 22 years ago. Still, even with that grant funding and parent fees combined my income is still less than that of most private home daycares – about $13.38 per hour for hours I spend with the children – prep, cleaning and paperwork are all unpaid hours.

So yes, I am horrified when I hear a politician say they want to create portable subsidies for low income families to use in private childcare facilities because I know that even with portable subsidies those parents will still be paying much more than what they would pay in a funded, licensed facility – which already accept subsidized families. The problem is there are not enough funded licensed spaces – so the politicians say they will increase the number of licensed childcare spaces but if they don’t fund them then the parent fees will need to be increased in order to cover the costs of operating.

Even funded childcare centres are finding it difficult to attract or retain staff with the current set parents fees. When I hear politicians promise to lower parent fees to make childcare more affordable for parents I want to scream ‘Do you have any idea how much additional grant funding it will take to compensate for lower parent fees?’ Or are you planning to lower wages too and drive more ECE’s out of licensed care.

Trained ECE’s are already leaving their jobs in childcare centres and some of them are choosing to open private, unlicensed childcare homes. I fully understand the allure of home based childcare but with no funding available for new providers there is no financial benefit to becoming licensed – in fact they will probably earn more being unlicensed/unfunded and only accessible to higher income families willing/able to pay higher parent fees. There are no numbers available as to how many unlicensed childcare homes there are because there is no way to track that because they are unregulated. There are only just over 200 licensed home based providers in the whole province – far fewer than there were when I first became licensed.

Many parents and even politicians do not understand the difference between licensed and private childcare homes. When I was talking to a politician on my doorstep and mentioned that I was a licensed family childcare provider they said they had met a couple of other providers on my street – they couldn’t tell my if they were licensed or not ‘but they had business cards’. *sigh* Not licensed – there are no other licensed providers on my street – or any of the streets around me – that is easy to check here.

It is true that licensing does not guarantee ‘quality’ but I think ‘unlicensed’ is also ‘unprofessional’ even, or maybe especially unprofessional if you are a trained ECE. Many parents may not understand the difference between training and licensing and not realize that their trained private provider is in fact not licensed. In Manitoba a private home childcare provider, trained or untrained, may not care for more than four children under 12 years of age including their own children. Yet, I know many trained ECE’s whose only experience is in centre based care and who are surprised to learn that child/caregiver ratios are different in home based childcare. I also hear from many parents who are unable to find licensed childcare and have placed their child in a private home but are unsure how many children are actually being cared for there.

Yes, training enhances the quality of childcare but it is licensing and funding that enable childcare to be accessible and affordable. Private childcare is not affordable nor accessible especially for low income families even if there was a subsidy available. I don’t believe families of any income level would choose unlicensed care if there was enough licensed care available.

Maybe what should be suggested is that childcare waitlists and enrollment forms should include information about each family’s income level so licensed funded childcare facilities could weed out all the high income earners who were using up all the childcare spaces with low parent fees when they could really afford the higher fees in the private centres. I’m sure that then we’d hear a lot more public outcry that it is not fair that licensed care is only accessible to low income families.

So, I love my job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else and so far I can still pay all my bills and I get to play outside and I get paid in hugs every day so I shouldn’t complain – right? There are so many other people who are worse off than me – but really, that is my point. Even though, like other licensed funded facilities, my parent fees haven’t increased and my grant funding has been frozen for the past three years and my expenses have increased – I can still provide childcare to low income subsidized families.

Yes, I could drop my funding and raise my parent fees and still be licensed but earn more money – but then I’d have to exclude low income families and I won’t do that. I will continue to pay 22% of my taxable income back to the government because I know paying taxes is important for everyone. Then I’ll use my remaining $2400 a month to pay my ever increasing bills so I can be here for the families that trust me to provide care and education for their children while they go work to pay their bills and their taxes. I also really, really hope that the government then uses all those tax dollars to help those who don’t have as much as I do instead of offering it to those who already have more than they need.