There appears to be a widely-held view, in Nova Scotia specifically and across Canada more generally, that there is a significant shortage of child care spaces. In response, advocates have made many requests and politicians have made many promises for major new programs and very substantial expenditures of public money.
To confirm or reject the assessment that there is a shortage of child care spaces, we must ask: Are we discussing a shortage in its textbook economic sense, or describing a general inability of low-income families to afford child care? If there are shortages, are they limited to specific areas and/or age groups? Are shortages of short duration or do they persist?
The answers to these questions are unknown as the right data is not being collected, and the right questions are not being asked.
This paper, Crisis? What Crisis?, written by author Ian Munro, provides a basic analysis of the supply-demand balance for child care spaces. Munro examines the supply-demand balance in Nova Scotia overall, and in three areas within the province – Halifax, Truro, and Annapolis County.
First, Munro looks at the existing regulatory and policy framework surrounding child care services in Nova Scotia. He then considers the available data regarding potential shortages of child care spaces in the province. The paper also considers possible causes for shortages, including lack of qualified staff, the perceived risk associated with investing in the sector, and scale issues.
Munro found that child care shortages exist, particularly in rural areas and for the infant age group, but the information available does not provide definitive answers regarding the magnitude or nature of shortages across Nova Scotia.
Without a firm grip on these questions it is difficult to formulate appropriate policy recommendations. Crisis? What Crisis? highlights the fact that if there is indeed a crisis, we currently cannot define or describe it very well, and this lack of information will hamper efforts to solve the problem.