Working mom Tiffany Ottahal and her family found themselves squeezed by housing costs that consumed much of their income
Provincial subsidies for child care can make all the difference
Tiffany Ottahal, a working mother of two children aged three and one, knows how lucky she is. Her son and daughter are in licensed child care, and she and her husband own, together with the bank, the roof over their heads. But those blessings are hard-won.
Earlier this year, the Ottahals were making a go of it in a two-bedroom Burnaby condo that their young family was quickly outgrowing. “From a housing perspective, we couldn’t afford a place in our neighbourhood that would have enough room for our family,” explains Tiffany, who works in non-profit management. “We’re very fortunate in that we have well-paying jobs, but even though we had done everything right, we couldn’t afford housing.”
Renting didn’t seem viable either, between high prices—about $2,700 for a three-bedroom—and the constant threat of renoviction, a fate suffered by many of their friends. With Tiffany’s maternity leave about to end, though, housing was less urgent than child care. When two daycare spots did open up, she was elated, but the $2,600 monthly bill negated most of her income.
“It made it even more impossible,” Tiffany recalls. “Going back to work, the majority of my wage would go just to child care, and how were we going to have enough room for our kids? We were basically stuck.”
The Ottahals couldn’t help wonder: Did friends who were in the same boat as them and so left B.C. behind for greener pastures have the right idea?
“Next to housing, child care is the second-biggest crisis,” says Sharon Gregson, spokesperson for the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC (CCCABC). “One facet is the lack of access to licensed care, and another is the price.”
In Metro Vancouver there are enough licensed child-care spaces for only 35 percent of children under five, leaving most parents to rope in relatives, hire nannies, use unlicensed home daycares or do the math and decide to stay at home. “Child care has been left to the market to figure out instead of being treated like a vital public service like elementary school or health care,” Gregson says. “[It] is a textbook example of market failure.”
The child-care crisis appears to be hurting the city and its businesses, too, as more families bail on Vancouver’s steep living costs to settle elsewhere and employers struggle to attract and retain qualified and experienced staff.
As a manager of research and analysis at the Vancouver Economic Commission, James Raymond has been hearing a lot about the pain points for companies, especially crucial services such as child care. “It’s mentioned by the businesses we work with day-to-day as becoming an issue,” Raymond says.
Vancouver’s tech industry in particular has a talent shortage, and parents of young children who can’t find suitable child care are a valuable missing piece, he adds. “Childcare investment is a really critical investment for all economies to make,” Raymond contends. “So I’m glad it’s being finally addressed now.”
Earlier this year the provincial government released its Universal Child Care policy, announcing the first steps toward building a comprehensive plan for B.C. The province has budgeted $1 billion over the next three years to create an additional 22,000 new licensed spaces and subsidize licensed providers. It’s the largest such investment in nearly two decades.
Studies in Quebec, Europe and the U.S. show that universal child care doesn’t just boost female participation in the labour force. It also narrows the gender pay gap, increases social mobility, reduces poverty and, if the care is high quality, provides lasting benefits for young brains.
“In B.C. it’s huge,” says Iglika Ivanova, a Vancouver-based senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank. “We are building the first new social program in over a generation.”
Fee subsidies have already begun to roll out, but with the shortage of licensed child-care spots across the province at 122,000, according to the CCCABC, for thousands of amilies the change can’t come quick enough. Plus, advocates of the $10aDay Child Care Plan point out that for a quality universal program, the government must hike spending to $1.5 billion a year. Ivanova and some other economists believe it would recoup most of those costs from parents working more.
For the Ottahals, the new provincial subsidies made all the difference. The resulting $700 reduction in monthly expenses helped them afford a three-bedroom in Pitt Meadows, where they also found nearby licensed child care.
Around the time that her family was navigating these decisions, Tiffany Ottahal finally heard from one of the daycares back in Burnaby whose waitlist she joined when she was pregnant with her first child. The message informed her that he was 20th in line. “It’s three and a half years later, and there’s still not a space,” she says. “It’s comical now.”
B.C. children under age five
Licensed child-care spots in the province
Estimated average monthly fee for a toddler at a licensed Vancouver daycare
Estimated average monthly fee at a licence-not-required facility
Estimated average monthly cost of a nanny in B.C.
Up to $350
Monthly fee reduction for group infant/toddler care if provider opts into the provincial government’s new child-care program
Sources: Statistics Canada; Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; Westcoast Child Care Resource Centre; Canadiannanny.ca; Government of B.C.