This post was written by Chelsea Detheridge, member of the Women’s Centre Social Policy Committee
Some say it takes a village to raise a child. But statistics show that, in reality, it is typically only half the village that does this work. Whether as a single parent, a partner expected to put aside her career to raise children, or a child care professional, women perform the majority of child care. This can have significant impact on a woman’s ability to lead a full life in the public sphere.
As is common in fields dominated by women, employment in child care is often undervalued and usually pays less than a living wage. This often leads to high turnover, fewer opportunities for professional development, and can also create a stigma around those who choose to do this work. It is important to note that certain groups, such as immigrant women and women of colour are more likely to fill these undervalued and underpaid roles.
Women engaging in work outside of the child care industry can be similarly impacted. They often work part-time or in low-paying occupations or positions due to limited child care options or the overwhelming cost of full-time care. This creates another barrier for women, especially lone mothers already over-represented in poverty, to earn a living wage and cover their basic needs.
Women’s ability to do paid work is tied to how much unpaid work they perform. More often than not, child care arrangements, including finding suitable care and ensuring the child arrives and is picked up on time, fall to women. Once children are at home, women spend more time caring for them. Over the last three decades, men have increased the time spent caring for children, but women have increased it more, so the gender gap remains unchanged. This unpaid work and emotional labour take up time and energy that could be put towards other public or private pursuits.
In Alberta, there is one child care space for every three children younger than five, on average. Looking more closely at postal codes, some families live in areas that fare worse than that, areas referred to as ‘child care deserts.’ More than half of Calgary’s children live in such ‘child care deserts,’ where more than three children are competing for one space. Earlier in 2018, Alberta added an additional 4500 affordable childcare spaces to those created under a pilot project in 2017. These spaces offer high quality care for a maximum of $25 a day. While this program holds great promise and addresses many of the above issues, there is room for improvement.
Even when child care is available and affordable, there continue to be barriers to access, as care does not always fully encompass the needs of all women or families. Not all child care facilities are created equally – they operate with different hours or care for certain age ranges. Beyond that, parents may want a provider that is culturally inclusive, such as honoring Indigenous traditions.
The Women’s Centre continues to host discussions around what child care should look like to address the wide range of needs women and families have. Our issues discussions’ participants, as well as our social policy volunteers, agree that child care needs to be flexible, affordable, inclusive for children from all backgrounds, and paying a fair wage. Women’s full inclusion in the public sphere, as well as their economic security, depend on a robust child care program that meets these needs.
If you are looking to access child care through an Early Learning and Child Care Centre, you can search for one using the Government of Alberta’ s website or find out more about upcoming locations in your area. You can also access the guide to choosing appropriate and high-quality child care.