How do we know what parents want? This is a legitimate question. A cross-country series of focus groups indicated that when it comes to child care, parents get what they can, rather than what they want. “Parents engage in a social and financial calculus to determine whether one of them stays home instead of working ‘to pay for daycare,’ whether they avoid daycare costs by working opposite shifts so that one parent is always home or whether they wade through the range of possibilities—from having grandma look after the children to placing the child on a child care waiting list immediately upon conception.”1
However they agonize, most parents opt for child care. A 2008 survey by the Canadian Council of Learning found two-thirds of parents of young children use some form of child care on a regular basis.2 The growth in the use of child care is not just an urban phenomenon; it is even more pronounced in rural areas. Information from Statistics Canada from 1994–95 found that child care was used by 36.3 percent of rural children. By 2002–2003, that rate had grown to 52.4 percent.3 While child care usage increased, so did the number of spaces, doubling across Canada to almost one million in 2011, with Quebec accounting for almost half the total.
But child care programs are also expensive. Except in Quebec, with its vaunted $7-a-day cost to parents, child care elsewhere keeps getting pricier. By July 2011, the Consumer Price Index rose by 3.1 percent over 2010. The average cost of child care across the country went up by 4.3 percent, while other consumer services fell by 0.4 percent.4 Use of child care centres is dependent on availability and costs. Parents in Quebec are more likely than parents elsewhere to use child care centres for their children. Canadian parents with higher income are also most likely to enrol their children in centres.5
Child care numbers do not factor in the majority of 5-year-olds (99.2%) and the many 4-year-olds (48%)6 who regularly attend kindergarten, or their younger siblings in preschool programs. Also not counted are children whose parents can afford to supplement their development with sports camps and music, dance and art instruction. The rest make do, observes the report from the focus groups, “displaying a tenacious resourcefulness, often patching together services and supports with limited means to pay for them. It’s like they perform quiet acts of heroism, day in and day out.”7
Next: 3. The loop in the public debate
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