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  • Photograph by Jay Galvin

From Surviving to Thriving: 3 key strategies for effective childcare advocacy

By David McGrane

As a parent of a three year-old and five year-old, I’m heavily involved in my tour of duty in the Saskatchewan childcare system. We’ve been lucky to find a wonderful childcare centre that educates our children in their first language- French. The early childhood educators have been caring, diligent, and helpful. Ensuring families have options for supportive early childhood development programs, including childcare, are crucial to better health outcomes later in life for our children.

As a parent of a three year-old and five year-old, I’m heavily involved in my tour of duty in the Saskatchewan childcare system. We’ve been lucky to find a wonderful childcare centre that educates our children in their first language- French. The early childhood educators have been caring, diligent, and helpful. Ensuring families have options for supportive early childhood development programs, including childcare, are crucial to better health outcomes later in life for our children.

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David McGrane speaking in his capacity as Vice-President of Félix le Chat

Yet, as I talk more with other parents with young children, their frustrations with the current system are evident. It’s extremely difficult to find quality childcare in Saskatchewan and the wait lists are extraordinarily long. If you’re lucky enough to find childcare, it’s very expensive. If you have a second or third child, there is additional stress related to your centre ‘holding’ your spots while you take parental leave. Unfortunately, some parents are forced to use unlicensed care because no spots are available in licensed centres. Despite the fact that we know how important children’s formative years are to determining how they develop later in life, the system is more of a patchwork of problems as opposed to a framework to get children ready to succeed.

We know how important children’s formative years are to determining how they develop later in life, but the system remains a patchwork of problems

Overall, many parents are happy just to have survived the Saskatchewan childcare system.

These issues persist year after year. The federal government has simply decided to not make any childcare policy and, instead, give out a monthly taxable family allowance to all parents with children under the age of 18 - many of whom have no childcare costs at all. With every provincial budget, the Saskatchewan government chooses only to place another ‘drop in the bucket’ by adding 100 spaces here or 400 spaces there, hardly making a difference in the existing issues within the childcare system in Saskatchewan. This year, with the decreasing revenue due to the drop in oil prices, the provincial government decided to not add any childcare spaces at all!

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Photo by Daryl Mitchell

What will it take to get politicians to start paying attention?

I recently wrote an article in the International Journal of Childcare and Education Policy that explored a few of the reasons why some childcare systems in Atlantic Canada have improved while others haven’t made any progress. I identified three factors in provincial politics that lead to the improvement of provincial childcare systems.

1) Bureaucratic Champions:

In cases where there was improvement, the provincial government bureaucracy included ‘champions’ of childcare that were passionate about the issues and looked for opportunities for change. They were policy entrepreneurs who spent a considerable amount of time and effort finding original solutions to the problems facing the childcare system in their province. One of the architects of the PEI’s reforms, Kathleen Flanagan, has recently been appointed by the Manitoba provincial government to review its childcare policies and make suggestions for improvements.

2) A United Childcare Sector:

Here, bureaucratic champions were often aided by organizations representing childcare workers and advocates. The key was that these representatives of the childcare sector had to be united to effectively lobby the government to make investments. Governments seemed to find it easier to ignore childcare sectors where various stakeholders disagreed with each other and fought with each other. For example, the Early Childhood Development Association of Prince Edward Island grouped together childcare workers, advocates, and managers into the same organization speaking with one voice for change.

3) Economic Arguments:

There are many reasons to have a better provincial childcare system. Some of those reasons include: it facilitates the entry of more women into the workforce, it reduces poverty among single parent mothers, and it improves school readiness. It appears to be economic arguments that have most successfully captured the attention of provincial governments. For instance, advocates and bureaucratic champions on Prince Edward Island argued that a better childcare program would help attract and retain skilled workers from other jurisdictions that were needed to grow PEI's economy. They contended that structural reform of the childcare system was an important part of the government's ‘Island Prosperity’ agenda that sought to prepare the province to compete in the global economy by increasing its population and embracing the ‘knowledge-based’ economy.

By working together and talking economics, those in the childcare sector can influence real change

Interestingly, I found that pressure from the public or parents with daycare aged children were not all that important in pushing the childcare agenda forward. It was really a case of those working in the childcare sector making arguments around how better childcare will increase economic growth.

The lesson here is that the relationships among those advocating for childcare matter and the language we use when talking about childcare matters. Working at cross-purposes as well as framing advocacy ineffectively will only lead to stagnation rather than the advancement of the childcare system in our province. By working together and talking economics, those in the childcare sector can influence real change, change that will lead to children and families thriving because of childcare as opposed to merely surviving through the frustrations.

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David McGrane is an Associate Professor of Political Studies at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan and a member of our Upstream Think Tank. His most recent research on childcare can be found in the International Journal of Childcare and Education and Policy. He is also the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Centre éducatif Félix le Chat, a Francophone childcare centre in Saskatoon attended by his children.

Want to keep reading?

Tangible Steps for Childcare Policy - In this article, David McGrane explores four tangible measures could be a great first step to giving Canadian kids a head start on long and healthy lives.

 

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