Will Canada Ever have a Real Child Care Program?

“Canada succeeds when women and girls are given opportunities to succeed.”  This was part of a statement I read by a spokesperson at the Canadian Department of Social Development. On its own I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, and I believe that the current Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is a strong advocate of advancing the role of women in our society. However, while women and girls have more opportunities than ever to be educated and follow the career path of their choice, when they become mothers they have few choices for child care.

Our government is not doing enough to support educated and ambitious women who want to continue to pursue their career goals once they become mothers. Limited funds have been allocated to help Canadian families pay for the exorbitant cost of child care.

This week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that the Government of Canada could spend $8 billion annually to help families reduce the cost of child care. Not only that, according to the IMF, this program would pay for itself, with more women going back into the workforce, contributing to the economy and paying more income tax.

I’m not going to analyze and discuss all the pros and cons of this specific idea brought forward by the IMF. I’m not a finance expert and have not read the full report. But I’m glad the report re-energized the conversation about the very high cost of child care.

In this year’s budget the federal government announced a new child care benefit plan, with money paid directly to families. The amount a family received was based on their income from the previous year. With this new initiative, lower income families, logically, receive the greatest amount of money. It is explained well in a Toronto Star article published on July 26:

“The $23-billion-a-year benefit is worth up to $6,400 annually for a child under six, and up to $5,400 a year for children six to 17. The benefit is income tested, meaning that the less a family earns, the more it receives in benefits per child.

“The IMF says the benefit doesn’t provide incentives for parents to work or get job training.

“The effect on low-income families may be the largest, with the IMF team calculating that they would see their finances worsen if both parents work due as a result of a reduction in the child benefit, increases in taxes, and covering the high cost of child care. Middle and high-income families see their finances improve or not change at all if both parents work, the report says.”

I definitely agree that the high cost of child care is encouraging women in low income families to just stay home. They get little financial benefit from working, often long hours, and paying someone else to care for their children.

However, while the financial benefit is significant in middle to higher income families when both parents work, the high cost of child care does take a hit on the overall financial situation of the family.

Middle income families in Canada are often faced with big expenses, such as a mortgage, carrying costs to run a home and the general cost of raising children (other than child care). The two incomes are necessary to pay the bills, and the added, often large child care expense, takes its toll. For a family with two or sometimes three young children, the child care bill can easily balloon to well over $2,000 per month, which represents a significant percentage of any salary.

I was lucky to find good, safe child care programs for my first two children, who thrived in daycare and full-day preschool. They attended full-day programs from the age of 12 months so that I could continue to work and contribute to the finances of my family. But it was very expensive.

My life has changed since my third child was born, and I am no longer in a full-time job (something I have discussed quite openly in previous posts). I do not need a full-time daycare program right now and am blessed to have the most wonderful and loving child care support part-time in my home for the baby. Right now, as I find my way in my career, I continue to balance my desire to work and earn an income with the cost of paying someone to be with my children when I do work.

It is a challenge that thousands of Canadian women are facing, and unless our government steps up to support young families, it is a challenge we will face for years to come.

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