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Child-care programs need more cash, says researcher, as N.L. releases review of operating grant

Children's backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C. on May 29, 2018. Several child-care centres across Ontario have had to close their doors for varying lengths of time recently due to staffing shortages. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Children's backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C. on May 29, 2018. Several child-care centres across Ontario have had to close their doors for varying lengths of time recently due to staffing shortages. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Children's backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C. on May 29, 2018. Several child-care centres across Ontario have had to close their doors for varying lengths of time recently due to staffing shortages. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Children's backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C. on May 29, 2018. Several child-care centres across Ontario have had to close their doors for varying lengths of time recently due to staffing shortages. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A child-care research says the new national system will need more money to increase wages and extend benefits and pensions to workers. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

A child-care researcher says the new $10-a-day system needs more cash from the federal and provincial governments in order to raise wages and improve working conditions for early childhood educators.

A review by Deloitte consultants of the operating grant program that funds regulated child-care centres and some day homes in Newfoundland and Labrador has identified room for improvement, including enhancing benefits for ECEs in order to entice people to stay in the profession, since they often don't have pensions or benefits, like paid sick leave.

Researcher Martha Friendly says benefits, along with better wages and working conditions, along with benefits, are also important in recruiting and retaining workers needed to expand the child-care system.

"But to raise the wages of the people working in the sector, it's quite possible that there's going to have to be more money," said Martha Friendly, executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, a non-profit research institute based in Toronto that advocates for an equitable child-care system in Canada.

"Most of the money has been spent on making it more affordable to parents," she said. "Where is the money coming from for the workforce? And the only two sources that I can think of are the provincial government or the federal government. They're not going to be making cupcakes to raise the money."

Martha Friendly is executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, a non-profit agency based in Toronto that researches issues in the childcare sector in Canada.
Martha Friendly is executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, a non-profit agency based in Toronto that researches issues in the childcare sector in Canada.

Martha Friendly, executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, says wages, benefits and improved working conditions are key to recruiting and retaining workers. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

In late December, Nova Scotia announced wage hikes, benefits and a pension plan for the province's early childhood educators.

Child-care workers in Nova Scotia will be eligible for group health benefits as of May, and the provincial government there will pay employer contributions, amounting to $12.3 million for the health plan and $8.8 for the pension, while workers will pay five per cent of their wages into each plan.

"I thought the Nova Scotia model of a pension was actually quite good," said Friendly. "So I hope that that's the kind of thing that [Newfoundland and Labrador will] be looking at."

Martha Friendly is executive director of the Childcare and Resource Unit in Toronto, which authored a recent report on early childhood education and care in Canada in 2021.
Martha Friendly is executive director of the Childcare and Resource Unit in Toronto, which authored a recent report on early childhood education and care in Canada in 2021.

Friendly would also like to see demand forecasting to plan where and what type of child-care services are needed. (CBC)

Substitutes, simplification and other improvements

Other suggestions include adjusting funding rates to inflation, developing a provincial wait-list, extending full-time hours for centres, considering a substitute ECE program, and simplifying and streamlining services for child-care providers.

"I think that that's the kind of thing that is majorly important in shifting from this kind of diffuse patchwork market to a system," said Friendly. "It could be really simplified."

She says the push to expand the child-care system also needs to be more assertive, with demand forecasting to determine what services need to be built out and where in order to prevent what's known as child-care deserts, where demand far outstrips supply.

Proper demand forecasting is necessary, said Friendly, because there are extremely few infant spaces for families, 56 per cent of child-care services are clustered in the St. John's area, and the province has regulated child-care spaces for only 14 per cent of kids under 12.

In 2021, Newfoundland and Labrador signed on to the federal government's $10-a-day child-care plan, with a $347-million dollar agreement until 2025, and promised to create 6,000 new child care spaces, along with a pre-kindergarten program.

In a statement, Education Department spokeswoman Angela Picco said the department is working to implement recommendations from the report, "including the recommendation to explore ways to enhance employee benefits."

Picco says there are about 8,600 child-care spots in the province operating at $10 a day.

"The Department of Education remains committed to creating 5,895 new early learning and child care spaces by fiscal year 2025-2026 as per the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement," reads the statement from Picco.

Picco said the Education Department created 1,200 new child-care spots in 2023, or about 20 per cent of the 6,000 the provincial and federal governments have promised by 2025.

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