Premier Rachel Notley, alongside Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir and Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean, announced today the government’s first step towards improving access to affordable, quality and flexible child care in Alberta. Funding for 18 new, non-profit, early learning child care centers, located across the province, means that spaces will be created for 1000 children.
Key to the announcement was a maximum fee of $25/day, with flexible hours that meet the needs of diverse populations. Existing subsidies for low income families will continue, and so will wage top ups for trained staff.
A former Women’s Centre volunteer, Leah* talked about her experiences with child care over the years. She’s contributed to research and providing a gender lens to Early Learning and Child Care at the Centre as part of our advocacy efforts. Women in Calgary have been calling for more affordable, accessible, quality child care spaces so they can participate fully in society and in the workforce.
Several years ago, Leah got an email on a Sunday night informing her that her daughter, Cecilia, wasn’t welcome back to her day home the following week because she required more support than the other children.
Leah, like many women in Calgary, needed child care for her daughter so she could work. She picked a neighbourhood unregulated day home because it was the only space she could afford. After visiting the space and meeting the mother/daughter team who cared for the kids, she felt good about the care her daughter would receive and signed up. But child care providers have not had an obligation to work with high needs children, and gave no notice when they told her not to return.
For Leah, finding the next space didn’t take long, but cost and accessibility was an issue. It was only available part time, a long walk in the winter months and still cost hundreds of dollars a month. Leah’s sister was able to help a few days a week, which eventually strained their relationship. After spending 5 months on a waitlist, Leah was finally able to find a third child care facility that was close to home, licensed, had trained staff that were able to support her daughter’s anxiety, and carried a $1300/month price tag.
“It was the same as my rent, and I truly couldn’t afford it,” said Leah. “I felt like I wasn’t able to provide for my daughter on my own. I had a master’s degree and was working 2 jobs, but it still wasn’t enough.”
Across the province, there are only enough regulated spaces for about a quarter of children aged 0-5. The median cost for an infant in regulated child care in Calgary was $1,075/month in 2015. Many women are stuck choosing between unlicensed spaces, high fees or not participating in the workforce.
Minister McLean shared some more facts during the announcement. Half of moms who work part-time would work full-time if they had access to affordable child care. When women have access for affordable, quality child care, they continue to work and the economy grows.
“When women succeed, families succeed and our economy succeeds,” said McLean.
A few months ago, Cecilia started kindergarten in the mornings. Her father is now able to care for her after the half day in school. Leah thought about keeping her daughter in the same child care space, but holding that spot would cost the full $1300 and an extra transportation cost to be picked up from school.
Leah has been asking for more affordable, accessible child care since her daughter was born. While this announcement comes a bit late for her child, we know that 1000 new spaces is a meaningful step in the right direction. It is time for a publicly supported child care system that is accessible to all women, and we encourage further growth in the future.
*Names changed upon request.