News / Vancouver

Parents hope for relief from 'child care chaos' in B.C. budget

With Tuesday's pre-budget Throne Speech, advocates and parents hopeful after NDP barely mentioned daycare in fall budget update

Children attend a United Way of the Lower Mainland families event in Surrey.

David P. Ball / Metro

Children attend a United Way of the Lower Mainland families event in Surrey.

In January, one bereaved Vancouver family marked one year since they received the worst news parents could get: their 16-month-old son, Macallan, died in daycare.

The tragic story of “Baby Mac,” shared by his mother Shelley Sheppard on Facebook, galvanized long-standing calls for reforms to British Columbia’s overloaded and underfunded child care system — calls that went unheeded in the nascent B.C. NDP government’s first budget update last fall.

But parents and advocates are looking optimistically to next week's budget, when they hope the NDP will turn the tables on years of wait lists and skyrocketing fees eating up roughly 20 per cent of the average Vancouver family’s income.

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Horgan hinted last week that his government's first throne speech Tuesday will prioritize affordability issues like child care.

“Mac died on his second full day at this day care and it was entirely preventable,” Sheppard wrote in April. “I placed my beautiful, perfect boy and my misplaced trust into a day care and he was killed … I speak for Mac and for all of the children in our beautiful British Columbia … let us strive to be better.”

Like many B.C. parents, she said she’d struggled to find any open space for Macallan — settling on an unlicensed operator which, unbeknownst to her, had faced several safety investigations.

It’s a challenge facing many in B.C.; Vancouver is second-costliest in the country, and 95 per cent of its facilities have wait lists, one-in-five of those charging waiting fees, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report this month.

Then there are the climbing costs: Vancouver leads B.C.’s list with a median $1,360 monthly fees for infants, $1,292 for toddlers.

It's followed by Burnaby at $1,250 a month for infants, $1,200 for toddlers. Surrey and Richmond are close behind, while Richmond’s preschool fees rose 12 per cent last year, the most dramatic increase in Canada.

The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. have called the situation “child care chaos” — they want a $2.5-billion, $10-a-day program like Quebec’s (in Montreal, average monthly daycare costs are just $168).

But despite pledging $10-a-day in the 2018 election, the minority B.C. NDP’s governing pact with the Greens made only vague, uncosted promises to "invest in childcare and early childhood education."

Even more concerning for advocates: the mere $175 million planned for child care in September’s budget update, followed by a Dec. 4 announcement of $33 million over two years for 3,806 new daycare spaces in 52 communities.

Nonetheless, West Coast Legal Education and Advocacy Fund (LEAF)’s annual women’s rights report card in December gave the new B.C. government a mere "D" grade on child care, signifying “very limited action. Needs significant improvement.”

Premier John Horgan promised more will be pledged in his NDP’s first budget Feb. 20. But not quite $10-a-day yet, he warned.

So you can expect to hear a lot more in the New Year from groups like First Call B.C., West Coast LEAF, and the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. — not to mention passionate parents like Baby Mac’s.

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