3. The loop in the public debate

Parents use a number of different programs to cover their work hours and provide their children with opportunities to learn and socialize with others, but it is child care that gets the attention. Controversy surrounds child care. Is it good or bad for its young attendees? Some ask if we, as a country, can afford it, while others claim we cannot afford to be without it. But for over a million families, the quest to find and keep child care determines their socioeconomic well-being.

Figures 1.2 and 1.3

Aside from Quebec, which adopted a multipronged family strategy in 1998, Canadians have avoided attempts to fill out their family support policies with programs for young children. At the federal level, successive governments have been more comfortable transferring cash payments, rather than directly investing in services. The Employment Insurance fund compensates new parents at 55 percent of their salary for up to a year, while Quebec has its own more generous parental leave program.11 The Canada Child Tax Benefitb,12 delivers a base $112/month to children up to 18-years-old. A $1,200 taxable annual payment goes to all children to age 6,c,13 and parents with valid receipts may claim up to $7,000 in child care expenses. After several aborted attempts to establish a national child care strategy, the Canada Social Transfer sends residual funds to the provinces and territories, for programming for young children. However, provinces are under no obligation to create or sustain services with the money. The clutter of programs obviously isn’t sufficient when one in ten children live in poverty.14

Few issues trigger more emotion than how governments support parents to raise their preschoolaged children. Much is wrapped up in perceptions about appropriate roles for women with young children. Mothers report feeling stretched between work and home, and guilty about leaving their young children in the care of others. For those who don’t feel guilty about working outside the home, the pulpit, the family values lobbyists and the parenting advice gurus can cause them to reconsider.

Figure 1.4

Figures 1.5 and 1.6

Figure 1.7

Most women want to work, while many have to; if they did not work, the economy wouldn’t function. A study reported in the Ottawa Citizen calculates that if one parent from every two-parent working family stayed home, tax revenues would drop by $35 billion annually.21 While Canadians remain ambivalent about the appropriate types and the amount of public support for families with young children, our contemporaries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—the world’s richest countries—have changed the discussion from the need to mind the children of working parents, to stimulating all children. Driven by the massive body of research that points to the importance of the early years for future health, behaviour and learning, they have invested heavily in early childhood programs, largely by including younger children in public education. At age 1, children in Sweden, Denmark and Finland are entitled to a preschool program, while at age 2, children in France and Belgium regularly attend preschool. Most countries in the European Union have set a target to provide at least two years of preschool for all children.

b As of 2010, the Canada Child Tax Benefit pays $112.33 per month for each child, with a supplement of $7.83 per month for third and subsequent children. The benefit amount is reduced when family net income is over $40,970. Families with net incomes less than $23,855 may also be eligible for the National Child Benefit Supplement (NCB) and the Child Disability Benefit. For a family with one child, the NCB pays $2,088 a year ($174.00 a month).

c The Universal Child Care Benefit delivers between $680–$950, after taxes, depending on family income and composition (dual earner, single earner, no earner, single parent).

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