In March the 365-page report of the Federally-appointed Task Force on Child Care was released. The Cooke report (named after the Task Force’s chairman, Dr. Katie Cooke, a sociologist and first president of the Canadian Advisory council on the Status of Women) wants a universally-accessible, government-funded and free to the user, “child care” system available to every Canadian child by 2001. This is said to be the “right” of every child. The cost to the taxpayer is projected at $11.3 billion (the Task Force itself cost us $900,000).
The Cooke report also makes recommendations to extend Maternity Leave benefits. It recommends that parental leave should be available for up to one year following the birth or adoption of a child. Parental leave means just that: either mother or father is entitled to take all or share part of such leave. The cost of this will come under the Unemployment Insurance Programme.
“As things stand now,” says the report, “mothers pay a major part of the cost of inadequate parental leave and child care systems, either because they give up a chance for a job and economic autonomy in order to take care of their children themselves, or because they suffer constant anxiety as a result of settling for inadequate child care.”
An adequate child care system involves three major factors, according to the Task Force: comprehensiveness, accessibility and quality.
A comprehensive system means providing a service for every child, not just those whose mothers work full time. The following is the range of services envisaged:
- Group care in licensed centres employing qualified staff;
- Supervised family home care with trained caregivers;
- Evening, overnight and weekend services to provide care for children whose parents work shifts;
- Seasonal child care services;
- Special programs for school-aged children: before-school, lunch hour and after-school programs; full-day programs for school breaks and summer holidays;
- Workplace child care;
- Half-day nursery schools and play centres for infants and pre-schoolers;
- Respite and drop-in care during day-time, evening and weekend hours while parents study, shop, volunteer or take a break;
- Emergency services for the sick child or the child of a sick parent or caregiver;
- Primary prevention services, including diagnostic, counseling and health care services, parenting and preparation for parenthood classes;
- Resource centres for parents and care providers;
- Toy and equipment libraries, including mobile services;
- Information and referral services.
“A comprehensive system of child care,” says the Report. “would attempt to provide comparable services everywhere in the country, as do our health care and education systems. It would provide a sufficient supply of services to accommodate every child within the system.”
The system will be free to the user by 2001. That is, any child “in need of care” should have access, whether or not their parents are “gainfully employed outside the home.” Participation should not be limited, “as it is now, by their parents’ ability or willingness to pay for the needed services…” The Report continues, “while it is expected that utilization of the service will be voluntary, a broad range of services should be offered to permit maximum choice…”
The Report defines good child care as
“…care that meets the developmental needs of children, provides support to parents, and co-ordinates with community health and counseling services. Children’s developmental needs were identified to be: the need for food and nutrition, for health and medical care, and for a safe environment; the need for love, compassion and understanding; the need for consistency and security; the need for challenging experiences; the need for freedom within structure; and the need for praise and recognition. From the perspective of parents, child care programs are competent only if the services are also reliable, affordable, and consistent with their values and beliefs.”
What it costs and who pays
Both federal and provincial governments are to assume the costs of the system. First priorities are funding to increase the supply of services, to improve the variety and to increase subsidized spaces to lower the cost to the user. The cost of this to the federal government (provincial costs are not estimated) is $116.3 million.
Once this initial stage has been completed, federal and provincial governments are to share between them half the system’s cost. User fees will make up the remaining funding. Operating costs will cost the federal government (through the taxpayer) $500 million in 1990-91, reaching $1948 million 10 years later. Grants to enable more services to start up are estimated at $59.4 million in 1991, and $96.3 million in 1996.
Today, many families use unlicensed day care arrangements and do not claim these costs on their tax returns, usually because the person providing care does not issue the necessary receipts. As more licensed day care becomes available, more families will move their children and will then claim the Child Care Expanse deduction. In 1984, this tax benefit cost the federal government $115 million. By 1996 it will cost $397 million. The Task Force recommends that this deduction be retained until the system is completely free of cost to the user. It does not, however, make this tax benefit more equitable by recommending that the deduction be extended so that those caring for their children in the home can claim it.
The Task Force sees a fully-funded public system as the long term goal. This should be in place by 2001 and “would cost a total of $11.3 billion to deliver.”
Parental leave, as noted above, is the extension of the present Maternity Leave provisions, made available to both parents. Part-time and self-employed workers are not currently eligible to receive Maternity Benefits. The Task Force agrees with the Parliamentary Committee on Equality Rights that this is inequitable and recommends that both self-employed and part-time (working for at least 8 hours a week) workers are included in the Parental Leave benefits. The length of employment required to qualify should be reduced from 20 weeks to 10 weeks.
By 1995 “income replacement of up to 90 per cent of salary would be provided” during the first six months, the second period would be without pay. Parents taking this leave would have their seniority rights, accrued benefits and assurance of re-employment protected.
Parental Leave will be financed through the Unemployment Insurance Programme. Costs of these benefits is “expected to be $570 million in 1995… requiring an increase in the contribution rate of 16 cents per $100 of insured earnings for employees, and 22 cents per $100 by employers (an increase of 6.8 per cent over 1985 premium rates of $2,35 per $100).”
Will this happen?
The Cooke Report was tabled in the House of Commons in early March. Even before its release, the PC government (the Task Force was set up by the previous Liberal government) had announced the formation of an all-party committee to hold public hearings across Canada to solicit more views on the subject of child care. These hearings are underway now.
Noticeably lacking from the Cooke Report was a lengthy discussion of the effects of non-familial care on the child. The Report focused on the growing labour force involvement of women and their right to have day care to facilitate their involvement. Although we have to date only one set of Minutes of the public hearings, it is safe to assume that the focus of the parliamentary committee will be on the woman’s right to work outside the home. In the Minutes we have obtained (from the hearing in Nova Scotia), only one brief, from the local Catholic Women’s League, discussed the growing concern that the long-range effects of institutional day care is not in the best interest of the child.
We believe it is vitally important that the committee hear from pro-family Canadians, supporting the right of the mother to be at home with her children if she chooses and requesting that governmental funding given to mothers in the labour force be also given to mothers at home. While it is now probably too late (although it’s worth a try) to receive an oral hearing before the committee when it comes to your area, letters and briefs can be forwarded to Ottawa for the committee to read. The deadline for written submissions is June 2. They should be addressed to:
Micheline Roneau – Parent,
Clerk to the Committee on Child Care,
Room 524, 180 Wellington Street,
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6.