A new paper released by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies says government should be spending money on early childhood education and care programs, but the emphasis should be on subsidizing the cost for poorer families and vulnerable children.
The paper, by Halifax consultant and former AIMS director of research Ian Munro, says that the poorest families should receive a full subsidy, with the amount reduced as parent income rises.
“Canada and Atlantic Canada in particular is facing a demographic crunch and labour shortage problem down the road,” Munro said.
He said helping people who would otherwise be unable to get their children into child care could address that problem in three ways: it would allow more people to enter the workforce, could result in families having more children thereby creating a larger workforce in the future and with a better start before school could decrease school dropout rates and create a more productive workforce.
There’s evidence that getting at-risk children into day care can have those results, Munro said.
“There’s a role for government to play in funding these kinds of services, but it should be targeted toward at-risk or vulnerable children, rather than some kind of universal approach,” Munro said.
He said the basic idea he is promoting is that vouchers for child care be provided to those families that need them and that they only be valid for daycares that are providing quality education based on a set criteria.
AIMS president Charles Cirtwill said providing funding in the manner set out in the paper is probably the most cost effective way to provide the service and get people into the labour force.
There would be higher initial outlay of money for long-term benefits, but “we’re going to have to make a choice. We’re going to have to stop paying for something in order to pay for this,” Cirtwill said.
“We’re not advocating adding this on top, we’re saying find the saving inside the existing system, whether that’s getting rid of the Industrial Expansion Fund (in Nova Scotia) or in New Brunswick taking a serious look at pension plans for the public service.”
Jennifer Glover, director of the Burnside Children’s Centre in Dartmouth, said anything that helps parents who can’t afford child care is a good thing.
“Every family is different and it’s hard for some to get ahead because child care is expensive,” she said. “If you’re going to school or have a lower income, having a voucher would open up the option of child care for them for sure.”
She said even with the current system, in which lower-income parents can get a daily allowance, “it still is expensive if you’re on a fixed income.”
She said she regularly deals with parents who are looking for child care but don’t enrol because of the cost.
“Then they might try to find lower care, maybe not in a licensed centre but a home care situation or something like that,” she said.