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$10-a-Day Childcare Could be a Game-Changer in Getting Women Closer to Equal

April 29, 2021

The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) applauds the Government of Canada’s Budget 2021, which includes approximately $600 million towards a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women & Gender-Based Violence (NAP) – an initiative that sheltering advocates have long been calling for. We are pleased to see an inclusive, coordinated federal strategy that will help set the standard for provinces and municipalities across the country, bringing about systemic change that increases safety for women, girls, trans, non-binary, and Two Spirit people across Canada.

In addition to supporting the NAP, the Budget also includes another positive step for women with a new national childcare program. ACWS sees the immense benefit that this initiative would provide to families. Like the federal government’s introduction of the child tax benefit program (CCB) – which has lifted 1 million Canadians, including 334,000 children, out of poverty since its inception[1]– a national childcare program is another tool that can help create better lives for Canadians. This represents progress towards a more equitable society and offers much-needed infrastructure for women’s participation in the workforce.

Jan Reimer, Executive Director of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, reflects, “I have been working for equality, and affordable and accessible childcare since before I had children—and now I’m a grandmother. This is a long time coming.”

Financial Burden of Child Care

Comparing the cost of early childhood care with the cost of post-secondary education offers valuable insight into the financial burden faced by parents. Parents of young children are expected to pay at least twice as much as the parents of undergraduate students who earn equivalent incomes.[2]

As the Budget 2021 backgrounder points out, “Early learning and childcare can be more expensive than university tuition in some cities—something families have decades longer to save up for…The current system is leaving too many children and families behind.”[3]

The Role of the Provinces

The 2021 budget contains $30 billion over the next five years to support the development of this new national childcare program, which will advance gender equality and support economic recovery. Minister Freeland plans to reduce user fees by half in the next 18 months and further reduce them to $10 a day in five years.

To implement the national childcare program, the provinces and territories will need to evenly share the cost of subsidized childcare with the federal government. ACWS urges the government of Alberta to work to match this federal contribution for the betterment of Alberta families.

Supports Pandemic Economic Recovery

Lack of affordable childcare is consistently cited as a significant barrier to women’s participation in the labour force.[4] The high costs of childcare and out-of-school care have also been a staffing concern for shelter employees throughout the pandemic. Women made up 97% of employees in Alberta’s domestic violence shelters in 2019[5]. Women aged 25-34 have become the dominant age cohort in the domestic violence intervention and prevention sector and tend to have young children. The ACWS Shelter Workforce Survey, released earlier this month, recommends improved access to affordable childcare as a measure to retain a large portion of shelter employees and, more generally, promote women’s participation in the workforce.

While the pandemic is frequently aphorized as a boat that we are “all in together,” its realities have not affected everyone equally. An RBC report published in March of 2021[6] revealed that during the pandemic, 12 times more mothers than fathers left their jobs to care for children, and newcomer mothers were hit the hardest of all in terms of unemployment. Enhancing access to affordable childcare is part of a necessary gendered strategy in the pandemic economic recovery.

Empowers Women with Lived Experience of Domestic Violence

We also know that employment creates options for women living in abuse. Investing in childcare on a provincial and federal level can help lift women out of poverty and situations of domestic violence.

Alberta shelters have witnessed the positive impacts of supporting mothers with localized, quality childcare while they build healthy lives for their families. Many shelters offer childcare on-site, as they are well-positioned to support children as they heal from the trauma caused by exposure to domestic violence. Some of Alberta’s women’s shelters have been offering quality subsidized childcare to women escaping violence in shelter for many years.

The Children’s Centre at Sonshine Shelter in Calgary was the first program of its kind to offer an integrated program suited to meet the needs of not only children that have been exposed to family violence and other forms of trauma, but also children from the community with no experience with domestic violence. The shelter reported positive outcomes from this leading-edge model.

“Affordable, accessible, quality child care is critical to a woman’s ability to escape domestic violence and move forward with her life. Without this, she will face unsurmountable barriers to rebuilding a life for herself and her children, free from violence and abuse,” said Joy Johnson-Green, Executive Director of Sonshine Community Services.

More Options for Families

Responding to the proposed national childcare program, Alberta Government Minister Toews, of the Treasury Board and Finance for Alberta stated, “the budget appears to lack the flexibility that parents need and provincial governments require. Any child care agreement between Alberta and Ottawa must respect the diverse needs of children and the fundamental principle of parental choice in child care options.”[7]

A national childcare program creates more meaningful options for all women, than it lacks. While national childcare may be seen to benefit working parents more than stay-at-home parents, the Child Tax Benefit (CCB) will continue to provide benefits to eligible families, regardless of whether the parents access childcare or stay home with their children.

It’s worth noting that while the CCB has been a valuable tool in lifting many Canadians out of poverty, it has also faced challenges and gaps in its uptake. It has been reported that, “Many Indigenous families on reserves and in the North have not been applying for the Canada child benefit because they are either unaware of the program or they are not filing their income taxes — a requirement for eligibility in the program.”[8] It is our hope that the national childcare program will support people experiencing systemic barriers to have the choice of economic advancement through expanded employment options, especially Indigenous, racialized, and newcomer women whose intersectional identities place them at an ongoing disadvantage.

For the national childcare program to be implemented in Alberta, it will require bilateral participation from both federal and provincial governments. Women and their families need quality childcare options at a price point that is not a barrier to access. We encourage the Government of Alberta to take full advantage of the national childcare program offered in the federal budget and keep their promise of an economic recovery that prioritizes “lives and livelihoods.”[9]


References:

[1] Employment and Social Development Canada. March 5, 2020. Over 1 million Canadians have been lifted out of poverty since 2015.

[2] Government of Canada, Department of Finance. Budget 2021: A Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan.

[3] Lambert, J., Williams, J., and Usher, A. (2016). Toronto: Higher Education Strategy Associates. What We Ask of Parents: Unequal Expectations for Parental Contributions to Early Childhood and Post-Secondary Education in Canada.

[4] Patterson, M. (2018). Who works part time and why? Statistics Canada.

[5] Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (2021). ACWS Shelter Workforce Survey 2019-20.

[6] RBC Human Capital (2021). COVID Further Clouded the Outlook for Canadian Women at Risk of Disruption.

[7] Media Release, Government of Alberta. April 19, 2021. “Federal budget 2021: Minister Toews.”

[8] McKie, David. CBC News. July 21, 2017. Many Indigenous families not applying for Canada child benefit: documents.

[9] Government of Canada, Department of Finance. Budget 2021: A Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan.