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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 4, January/February 2006

Not-for-profit child care needed

by Sylvia Bishop

For 25 years, child and youth advocates have worked tirelessly to establish a national childcare program that is licensed, accessible, not-for-profit, and regulated. In that same time period, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of mothers with young children who are in the work force as well as an increase in the depth of poverty and the number of working poor. Families most in need of universal child care have waited a long time to see this program established.

The federal government’s announcement that more than $600 million will be given to BC for the establishment of childcare services is welcome. However, the announcement also raises several issues and concerns.

With the expanded mandate of the Ministry of Education to now include early learning, public libraries, and healthy schools, there is a concern that federal childcare dollars will be used to fund these and similar programs such as early literacy.

Another concern is early childhood learning and child care being split between two ministries. The announcement by the premier of cabinet assignments in June 2005, established the Ministry of Education responsible for early learning and the Ministry of Children and Family Development responsible for child care.

Dividing the services into two ministries demonstrates the government’s misunderstanding of how early learning and child care are fundamentally intertwined. This is a shift from a holistic approach of early childhood development to one with a very narrow focus.

Quality child care is early learning whether delivered in preschool, family, or centre-based childcare settings. Research supports what early childhood educators and school teachers already know—the way to support children is to encourage them to develop socially, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Young children learn through play and a narrow focus on "academic readiness" is not the way to go.

At issue is the notion that early childhood preschools and childcare centres have a different focus—one on care and one on learning. This notion is wrong. BC’s licensed preschool programs are delivered by early childhood educators who have the same training and qualifications as those who work in licensed childcare centres. The main difference is that preschools are part-time programs that children attend for a few hours, two or three days a week. To suggest that preschools are about learning while child care is about caregiving is false and misleading.

Another issue is the focus on preschools to the exclusion of older children also needing care. Families and their children need stable quality child care for the full working day. In 2003, more than 126,000 BC mothers whose youngest child was under the age of five were in the paid labour force. Labour force participation rates are higher for mothers of school-aged children. Preschools are an important part of a comprehensive range of childcare services in a community, however, they do not meet the needs of most working families.

Childcare advocates are sending four key messages to government:

  1. Federal funds should be used for a publicly funded system and not a user-fee system.
  2. Childcare planning should be accountable and credible, and the community should set the priorities for new growth and development.
  3. BC needs to end the divide between early learning and child care.
  4. BC needs to restore the provincial childcare funding cuts and make investments in licensed school-aged child care the top priority for these funds.

As teachers, we understand the importance of the whole child. We know a child’s social, emotional, and intellectual development is fostered in those early years of her or his development. We can confidently support quality accessible licensed child care because we know the positive affects it will have.

The BCTF, working jointly with the Coalition of Childcare Advocates of BC, is calling upon all levels of government to ensure that federal monies for child care be used for licensed, accessible, not-for-profit, and regulated child care, and that no money from this fund be used to fund any programs as part of the expanded mandate of the Ministry of Education. The BCTF will continue to work with childcare advocates to keep the pressure on this issue.

Teachers can support this work by writing to their MLAs stating their support for childcare dollars being used for child care, attending local community meetings to raise awareness of the issues, working with community childcare advocates, and using every opportunity available to keep this issue in the forefront. Our Advocacy in Action page, bctf.ca/action/advocacy, contains contact information for MLAs, MPs, radio talk shows, and other ideas to help members in their advocacy work. Additional information on this issue is available at www.cccabc.bc.ca and at www.firstcallbc.org.

Sylvia Bishop is an assistant director in the BCTF’s Communications and Campaigns Division.

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