Andrea Morzek, director of Cardus, thinks the report’s definition of “child care” — “the care of the child no matter who does it” — will be “very contentious” because child care is generally regarded by policy makers as care provided outside the home. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Universal day care does not work: Cardus report

  • January 31, 2019

OTTAWA – Federal and provincial governments should support parental choice in child care and back multiple types of care options instead of solely promoting universal publicly funded day care, says a new report from Cardus Family.

The Christian think-tank is urging equal funding and accommodation for all types of child care, including home care, as well as “equitable treatment” for independent caregivers and acknowledgement of the “power and importance” of parents, grandparents and extended family who care for children.

“There’s a lot of consensus around the idea that government-funded universal day care doesn’t work as advertised,” said Andrea Mrozek, director of Cardus Family. 

The proposals are contained in a 48-page white paper titled, “A Positive Vision for Child Care Policy Across Canada.”

“One of my favourite sections talks about why government subsidies to day-care spaces actually raise the cost of child care for everybody,” Mrozek said.

The report addresses what it calls “a fundamental inequality in child care funding today,” because many types of child care are not subsidized. Governments should be “neutral” when it comes to funding and not promote one type of child care over another. It calls for the notion of universal child care to be replaced with a “beautiful patchwork quilt of care” that does not deny funding to parents who make values-based choices on the type of care they want for their children. 

“Real choice means accommodation for many diverse types of care,” the document said.

Mrozek said people who are in favour of universal day care believe it can provide diversity but “I don’t believe it is possible.”

She believes the report’s definition of “child care” — “the care of the child no matter who does it” — will be “very contentious” because child care is generally regarded by policy makers as care provided outside the home.

But, she noted, the definition used in the report is what the federal government used up until the 1990s, when the definition was narrowed to refer to paid care outside the home.

“I do understand why some people would define child care as anyone who is paid to do it,” Mrozek said. “But when it gets into ‘it has to be centre-based, outside the home,’ then we’ve completely lost the plot on how it is we care about the very youngest members of society.”

She said the paper is “not against anything” but proposes ways “of levelling the playing field when it comes to how we fund child care and ensure that parental voices are heard, private voices are heard.” 

The document is the result of two round-tables organized last July and August by Cardus Family with academics, think tanks, child-care providers and other experts. In addition to Mrozek, 12 other participants signed off on what she described as a “consensus document.” Although unanimity was not reached on all the policy options, all 13 signees agreed that universal child care does not work.

The document is being sent to provincial and federal legislators and civil servants. 

“The point is not to have it sit on the shelf, but to keep it alive and continue to discuss it with anybody whose portfolio touches up on it.”

The document offers specific recommendations to federal and provincial governments, urging them to let funding follow the child rather than only used to fund day-care spaces. 

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