A Christian Discussion Around Daycare and Child Care – Part 2
By Levi Minderhoud & Anna Nienhuis
The recent 2021 Federal Budget featured a massive commitment – $30 billion dollars over five years, not including matching investments by provinces – to subsidize child care. As ARPA Canada has not addressed child care policy in depth since our coverage of the all-day kindergarten debate over a decade ago, two staff members teamed up to provide a series of three blogs to discuss this topic.
Through this three-part child care series, we hope to present some ideas and questions that will get Christians thinking about child care within the framework of biblical norms, with an emphasis on parental responsibility and the gift of children, while also considering the realities of increasing single-parent homes, a declining workforce, and what child care really means.
The first part of the series presents a biblical perspective on child care. The second part sketches out how most Canadians and governments view child care. The third part will point out how government proposals to subsidize daycare generally run contrary to biblical principles, but that there are many actions that the civil government, churches, and parents can take to provide better care for children.
How Child Care is Understood in Canadian Policy Today
Having explored what the Bible says about children and parents’ responsibility to care for them in the first post in this series, let’s consider how most families in Canada choose to care for their children and how public policies incentivize this choice. Although many of these decisions are antithetical to a biblical perspective of how a family should operate, this background information is required for Christians to understand why the federal government (and many provincial governments) are preoccupied with the issue of subsidized child care.
When governments and advocacy groups speak of child care, they generally mean institutionalized child care, where trained professionals care for children from a wide variety of households in a child care facility. Institutionalized child care typically focuses on children aged 0-5 and often has an educational component. Early childhood learning programs reflect a growing movement for child care to not just focus on caring for or monitoring children while their parents are away, but to make an active effort to teach young children before they enter formal school. Indeed, in the 2021 Budget of British Columbia, the provincial government mentioned that their goal is for child care to be moved within the Ministry of Education instead of being its own separate ministry.
(For the remainder of this blog, for clarity we will use the term daycare to refer to the institutional or professional care of children. The broader term child care refers to the care of a child, regardless of who provides it – parents, family members, friends, nannies, early childhood educators, or daycare providers. Non-parental child care refers to the care of a child by anyone except the child’s parents.)
Any regulation or funding of non-parental child care is primarily under provincial jurisdiction, meaning that such regulations and funding vary greatly from province to province. Quebec has the most comprehensive non-parental child care program, subsidizing daycare programs so that most parents pay a low, income-based fee for non-parental child care. British Columbia, under the NDP, has also been dedicating more and more money to daycare, with the goal of making $10 per day daycare (licensed child care, in the province’s jargon) universally available alongside more informal registered licence-not-required child care, unregistered licence-not-required child care, and in-child’s-own-home child care.
In their 2021 budget, the federal government earmarked an additional $30 billion over the next five years to non-parental child care, with an annual commitment of $9.2 billion by 2026. Their goal is to cut non-parental child care costs in half by 2022 and to ensure universal $10 per day non-parental child care by 2026. As subsidizing and regulating non-parental child care falls within provincial responsibility, the federal government cannot create a non-parental child care system themselves but will have to coordinate their efforts with the provinces. This is similar to how Canada’s health care system works: the provinces are responsible for health care, but the federal government provides provincial governments with billions of dollars in funding under the condition that their health care systems meet certain national criteria.
It is worth noting that this current budget proposal for national daycare requires buy-in from the provinces. The federal government has proposed providing 50% of the costs of a provincially subsidized non-parental child care program, with the provinces required to pay the other 50%. This federal funding is not guaranteed in the long term, raising the possibility that a future federal government could pull funding from the program and leave the provinces to foot the entire bill. Some provinces have already indicated that they aren’t interested in creating or enhancing a provincial non-parental child care system, even with the federal government’s funding offer.
Although full time non-parental child care may seem like foreign territory to many Christians given the tendency for many Christian families to have one parent stay at home, formal and informal non-parental child care is a reality for the majority of Canadians. In 2019, only 17% of families had a parent who elected to stay at home full time and a further 11% were on maternity or parental leave at any given time. Approximately 60% of children aged 0-6 participated in formal or informal non-parental child care.
Non-parental child care is expensive. Excluding Quebec, the median cost of non-parental child care in 2020 ranged from $451-1,578 per month across Canadian cities. This equates to $5,400-$19,000 per year in non-parental child care expenses for the median Canadian family outside Quebec, although these fees are tax-deductible.
The 2021 Federal Budget (pages 96-105) outline why the government – and many non-parental child care advocates – are keen to establish government-funded non-parental child care spots. Their primary argument is that access to non-parental child care helps achieve gender equity for women, both by relieving mothers (who are disproportionately involved in child care) of the responsibility for caring for children, and by enabling more women to be employed, thus narrowing the labour force participation rate gap between men and women. Second, subsidized non-parental child care aims to make life more affordable for average Canadians. Third, they claim that early childhood learning programs and quality non-parental child care lead to better outcomes for children.
Although the federal program comes with a hefty price tag, the government claims that the program will pay for itself. If subsidized, non-parental child care encourages more parents – mostly mothers – to re-enter the labour force, then GDP will grow faster, and the government will collect more in taxes to make up the difference.
One of the problems in evaluating the federal government’s non-parental child care proposal is that, since it is up to provinces to create their non-parental child care system, it doesn’t provide any guidelines as to what type of non-parental child care might be funded. The government has set aside a significant amount of cash and promised to work with the provinces to make cheap non-parental child care widely available, but who will benefit? Will these funds go only to institutionalized, licensed non-parental child care spots, following Quebec’s lead? Or will it be available for more informal arrangements such as friends or family members caring for children, as is possible in British Columbia (albeit in a limited fashion)?
Lest you think that the civil government has no place collecting taxes from you to pay for other people’s child care, consider that subsidized daycare isn’t the only government program aimed at caring for young children. The Canada Child Benefit currently provides parents with up to $6,765 per year for each child under the age of 6 and $5,708 per child between the ages of 6 and 17, with these amounts progressively reduced based on family income and the number of children. These funds have no strings attached; parents can use this money to enable them to stay at home with their children, pay for non-parental child care or Christian school while a parent works, or, as one politician infamously quipped, “to buy beer and popcorn.” This policy maximizes parental choice at the expense of every other taxpayer.
Existing maternity and parental leave benefits also enable working parents to remain at home for 55 weeks (at 55% of their typical wage, up to the maximum insurable earnings of $53,300) or 84 weeks (at 33% of their typical wage, up to the maximum insurable earnings of $53,300) during the pregnancy and/or after the birth of a child. These benefits encourage working parents to care for their infant children for the first year to year and a half of life.
In summary, although there is a strong biblical case that young children should be primarily cared for by their parents, this is not the norm in Canada. Because of this lack of understanding about who is primarily responsible for nurturing, instructing, and discipling children, the relatively high cost of non-parental child care, and the growing desire of women to be a part of the workforce, the federal government has proposed to massively subsidize non-parental child care across the country.
How should Christians react to this specific policy? Check back tomorrow for the third post in this series. In the meantime, did we miss any details in the child care policy landscape in Canada? Let us know!
Levi Minderhoud is the BC Manager for ARPA Canada. Anna Nienhuis is a Research and Communications assistant for ARPA Canada.