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Anti-Poverty Community Organizing and Learning (APCOL)
 

 

Mayor Ford's Attack on Municipal Child Care

by Katheryne Schulz

Recently, Mayor Rob Ford announced his intention to shut down Toronto’s municipal child care centres in addition to massive cuts to child care spaces. Why does Ford want to close municipal child care centres in particular, when they are actually a very small part of the child care sector? Toronto has only 55 municipal child care centres compared to 645 community based programs.

Municipal centres were set up in low-income neighbourhoods because community run programs couldn’t afford to operate in areas where there were no parents who could afford to pay full fees for child care. Municipal child care programs are run by the city, and the city is responsible for making sure they have enough funding. Costs are also higher in municipal child care programs because the families who are served need more parental and child development supports, which means having both additional staff and having staff with more special training, and more years of experience.

These centres also act as the service of last resort for families with children who have special needs. While community-based centres can argue that they don’t have the staffing and resources to be able to provide service to children with special needs, municipal centres do provide services to children that other centres will not or cannot serve.

Ford is trying to ignore these realities and focus only on the fact that municipal child care centres cost more to operate, and he tries to link this to the fact that staff are unionized and have better than average wages and benefits. He argues that the city could offer more spaces to more parents by shutting down these programs and spreading the money across lower cost programs.

This argument will be attractive to opponents of social spending, for-profit operators and even to people in the non-profit sector who are in desperate need of additional funding for their centres.

There are two problems with these arguments. The first is, what kind of services, if any, will low income families get when their municipal child care centre closes?

There is a relationship between what a program costs and the quality of care it provides. This is especially true when it comes to staffing. Study after study shows that the quality of care is directly related to staff wages and benefits. This is because programs with poorly paid staff have high turnover, staff are less experienced, and they are more likely to be holding down a second job.

If municipal centres close, non-profit community child care centres will not be able to absorb a whole lot of these low-income parents because they rely on a balance of full fee paying parents and subsidized parents in order to run their quality programs. Nor will they be in a position to take on additional children with special needs. This means that for-profit community operators will take some of these children, while others ( e.g. children with complex special needs) will end up with no child care program at all.

For-profit operators are able to provide cheap spaces because they are willing to operate lower quality child care by slashing staff wages and benefits. This means that low-income children and their families will be getting cheaper child care that is less likely to meet their needs, and that has questionable child development benefits.

The second problem, is that Ford’s rationale of more but cheaper child care won’t stop with municipal child care centres. After all, if expensive municipal centres can be shut down and their funding re-allocated, why can’t more expensive, high quality non-profit programs be treated the same way?

Pushing for cheaper and cheaper child care leads to none of the child development benefits linked to higher rates of success in learning and better socialization. At a certain point, cheap child care also becomes dangerous for children because caregivers have less training, and they end up taking on more children than they can supervise safely.

Further, we have to decide if we want to invest our tax dollars in creating lousy minimum wage jobs, or if we want to create good jobs.

In a recent article in the Toronto Star, child care expert Kerry McCuaig reports that "economists tell us every dollar spent on child care has a multiplier effect on Toronto’s economy of $1.38. Every dollar invested increases Canada’s economic output – the GDP – by $2.30. This is one of the highest GDP multipliers of any sector."

A good mayor would be spending time mobilizing citizens to pressure the province and the federal government to spend more on child care in order to give the city an economic boost, not attacking the highest quality child care services we have.

The real agenda behind attacking municipal child care is to create the conditions that make it possible for for-profit operators to increase their market share. These operators cannot slash wages and benefits when municipal centres and non-profits are offering staff a better deal, because staff can see their work is worth more, and they won’t put up with it.

For-profits can’t successfully lobby for lower standards and lower regulations for child care when their municipal and non-profit competitors are pushing for even better standards, and offering care that is more appealing to parents.

The city of Windsor has already shut down its municipal programs, and Toronto is now trying to follow suit. As municipalities cut spaces and funding, for-profit operators will be the only remaining operators left standing because their expenses (read wages) are the lowest. And in true for-profit form, as we have seen with other privatized services like hospitals and garbage collection, once for-profits dominate a market and eliminate their competition, they quickly move to maximize their profits. This is done by slashing wages, lowering standards, and increasing fees.

All of Toronto’s children deserve to have high quality, public child care. You can take action by writing to your city councilor about your support for municipal child care. To find your councilor call 311 or go to http://app.toronto.ca/im/council/councillors.jsp.

Katheryne Schulz is a long-time child care activist, a doctoral student at OISE and a graduate assistant in the APCOL project.

 

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