Accessible, affordable, high-quality child care is every child’s right. Honouring this right requires a quality early learning and child care system. A quality system must be supported by long-term planning and long-term funding that transcend political ideologies and terms of office.
Today, child care in Alberta operates on a supply-and-demand-based market model in which parents purchase spaces. Low wages make it difficult for programs to attract qualified staff, but in a market model like Alberta’s, programs can’t raise wages unless they raise parent fees. And parents can’t afford to pay more.
Today, the Alberta government funds wage top-ups for staff and fee subsidies for parents. These measures are a band-aid solution to the issue of low wages and high fees. Only a system-wide approach can ensure that child care is accessible and affordable over the long term.
Public funding to support a system for everyone must replace piecemeal funding given to individual families.
Only public investment can provide long-term sustainable funding that keeps the system stable, supports quality and meets the needs of all children and families. “Limited public funding virtually guarantees that high quality services will be generally unavailable and unaffordable for many families while preventing the good wages needed to attract and retain highly qualified staff” (Care in Canada by 2020: A Vision and a Way Forward, p. 14).
UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre recommends that developed countries should spend at least 1% of GDP on early learning and child care. Alberta’s spending on child care in 2019–2020 was less than 0.1% of its GDP.
In 2015–2016, Alberta spent approximately $2,422 for each regulated child care space. This was the fifth-lowest allocation among Canadian jurisdictions and well below the average of $3,405 per space (Friendly et al, p. 169).