Daycare is one of those make-or-break issues that can force families to make hard choices – leave or give up a job. I know this personally, having raised five children in Yellowknife. It was always difficult to find spaces, but not impossible. Now it’s getting close to impossible. Cost is a factor for many families but availability is the big one for all families.
According to the website finding quality childcare in the Northwest Territories:
- THERE IS A REGULATED SPACE FOR 23.3% OF CHILDREN AGED 0 – 12 YRS. (2019)
- THERE IS A REGULATED FULL OR PART-TIME CENTRE-BASED SPACE FOR 21% OF CHILDREN AGED 0 – 5 YRS. (2019)
Governments know how important daycare is. The Liberal federal government has come a long way in bringing the cost down. There is no reason to believe a new government, Liberal, Conservative or NDP would reverse that.
The problem for the NWT, is that while the lower cost makes it more affordable for more families, it also grows the waiting lists, increasing demand already far greater than the supply.
GNWT Lowballs Cost of Northern Daycare
The dollar figure pictured – $38 – was what the GNWT supplied to the feds for negotiations on the national daycare subsidy, representing it as the average childcare fees in 2019.
I asked Patricia Davison, chair of the NWT Early Childhood Association, how the GNWT came up with that figure. Ms. Davison says she has no idea, only that it is too low. Daycare operators, profit and non-profits, may close unless the true costs of daycare spaces are covered. In 2006, my partner and I were paying $47 per day, 17 years ago.
Rollout of Daycare Subsidies Mishandled From the Start
After setting average daycare fees to low at $38 daily, daycare operators were told GNWT funding would stay as it was, then it was tied to operators accepting the federal subsidy.
Then operators were told not to raise fees ahead of the subsidy because there was a cap coming. Then the minister jumped in publicly accusing operators of scamming the system. It was a mess. The news headlines tell the story.
There are so few operators, so few daycare spaces, the GNWT should have been in the operators’ corner fighting to get them what they need to survive. The guise of ‘spending public money wisely’ does not excuse failure to achieve what Northern families need – affordable, accessible daycare.
- Yellowknife daycare issues ultimatum to GNWT over funding April 11, 2022
- GNWT ‘is pushing childcare providers to breaking point’ – April 14, 2022
- Some child care providers shutting down due to subsidy rollout – April 20, 2022
- Letter: Dayhome operators say GNWT blindsided them with childcare fee cuts – April 18, 2022
- N.W.T. gov’t to re-evaluate child-care subsidy after operator outcry – April 25, 2022
Daycare operators, either for-profit or not-for-profit, are not the enemy. Not having enough of them is a problem for parents. We need a new committed approach from our leadership, a willingness to take direction from the operators themselves and work for solutions. We have to top up GNWT grants to compensate for the low $38 average daily cost which doesn’t reflect the true costs of daycare spaces in the North. We have to let day home operators determine the wage levels of their staff based on comparable wages for the same skills available in the job market. Staff retention will be a determining factor for wage levels. We also have to create a regulatory environment that will encourage more day-home operators to start up.
Most of all, we must understand we stand to lose families in the NWT. Lack of daycare can drive willing workers, workers we need, away from our workplaces, both in and out of government. There is such as thing as ‘teaching hospitals’. Why not have ‘teaching daycares’ which could help build a Northern workforce? We can offer people from the communities training and work experience. With NWT Housing permitting daycares in public housing units, it’s a good opportunity for a home-based business, enabling other moms and dads an option to work.