Kids First is a Calgary-based nonprofit national organization lobbying to safe-guard the right and choice of parents to raise their children in a home setting.  During the last six months, Kids First has researched and tabled a child-care scheme which it believes is fairer to Canadian families than the federal government’s present and proposed Child Benefits Program Indignant.

“What we’ve done is redirect the money the federal government spends annually on child care into a plan which is first of all based upon financial need and secondly which doesn’t discriminate on the basis of the form of child care chosen,” Kids First President Dianne Klein told The Interim.

Now at 4,000 members spread through 16 chapters across the country, Kids First originated June 1986 in the kitchen table talk of the organization’s two co-founders, Barbara Ringdahl and Teresa del Frari.

Ringdahl and del Frari – two career women who chose to stay at home with their children – were indignant about what they perceived to be the anti-family bias of the 1985 Cook Report on Child Care.  It recommended that government pour billions into a system of universal daycare, but brushed aside the fundamental right of parents to raise their children at home.

But the two were not simply content to stay angry and do nothing.  They went before the special Parliamentary Task Force on Child Care then traveling the country.  The recommendations they made can be boiled down to what Dianne Klein told The Interim in a December 1989 interview:  “Families should have a choice and government social policy should not push them to choose a form of child care that they do not believe is best for their children.”

No one listened.  The Task Force’s report released in the last half of 1986 blithely dismissed families who choose to have one parent at home to care for the children.  It ignored the 80 per cent of families who use the informal system of child care.  Out of the thirty-nine recommendations in the 1987 report of the Special Committee on Child Care, misnamed “Sharing the Responsibility,” only one supported families who choose parental care.

The National Strategy on Child Care, released with great fanfare in 1988, continued to pursue the social engineering plans of day care lobbyists.  Although a mere 9 per cent of Canada’s pre-school children are in licensed day care facilities, fully $4 billion of the $6 billion allocated for the Program will directly subsidize day care centres.

Kids First feels that the current and proposed federal Child Benefits Program is unfairly weighted in favour of parents who (for whatever reason) place their children in state-subsidized institutions under the care of certified, salaried employees.  Therefore, when it came to prepare an alternative child care policy which was fair to parents, Kids First aimed to remove this entrenched bias and to satisfy its three major goals of choice, equity and economy:

– equitable benefits to all parents

– benefits tied directly to financial need

– benefits that do not exceed the current government spending on child care

The government now spends $5 billion per year on child care.  This includes family allowance, credits for dependent children, child tax credits, child care expense deductions and Canada Assistance Plan subsidies to day care.  Kids First recommends that this patchwork of benefits be replaced by one refundable child tax credit based on family income.  The credit would amount to $2,500 per child age 0 to 5 and $1,000 per child age 6 to 12, at a family income of $24,000 or less.  Benefits or a family with 2 preschool children would drop to zero at a family income of $49,000.

Day care advocates frequently claim that universal child care meets a pressing financial need.  But that is not the whole picture, Kids First argues.  According to Labour Canada’s “Women in the Labour Force” 1986-87 edition, women at all socio-economic levels work outside the home, with no one group preponderant.  While many women earn a wage because they need to, many others also work in the labour force because they want to.

Figures from Statistics Canada (1988) show that the average take-home pay of a two-income family is $62,117 per year.  For a two-parent, one-income family the figure is nearly halved – $34,996 per year.  Yet despite this clear demonstration of financial need, the working couple with a comfortable income gets a much larger tax break than the couple where one parent stays at home to care for the children.  Moreover, the working couple can claim both the subsidy to the day care of its choice and the child tax benefit.

To rid the tax system of this discrimination against the stay-at-home mother, Kids First wants its proposed Refundable Child Tax Credit to be available to families regardless of the type of child care it chooses.