We know that child care affordability is improving dramatically because of the $10-a-day program (otherwise known as CWELCC or the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Program). But what about access and availability? It’s difficult to know. There is some activity, and lots of announcements, but are there actually more children using licensed child care? A really important question, because most of the social and economic benefits of the $10-a-day program come from improving access to children and families that haven’t used child care before.
Finally we have some solid answers. Statistics Canada just completed a massive survey of parents across the country that tells us how many children have access to centre-based child care (the overwhelming bulk of licensed child care in the CWELCC program is in centres). We can compare this to the situation before the pandemic in 2019. Unfortunately, the picture is not positive.
Looking only at the provinces and territories that are part of the CWELCC program (i.e., leaving out Quebec), there are 521,800 children 0-5 using centre-based child care in 2023. There were 483,200 children 0-5 using centre-based child care in 2019. That’s an increase of centre-based spaces in the provinces and territories participating in CWELCC of 38,600 spaces over the course of the last 4 years, an increase of about 8%.
However, the agreements signed between the federal government and the provinces and territories promised that there will be 250,000 additional child care spaces available by March 31st, 2026. That would be an increase of over 50% compared to the spaces that were available in 2019. That’s just over two years away. I don’t think we’re going to make it. Not even close!
The CSELCC survey indicates that 49% of parents using child care reported difficulty finding it. Up from 36% in 2019.
In 2023, 26% of parents with children 0-5 who are not using child care reported that their child is on a waitlist for child care, up from 19% in 2019. Almost half (47%) of infants younger than one year who are not using child care are on a waitlist!!! That’s up from 38% in 2022.
Yes, the affordability problem has improved. But availability or access is either worse or not much better depending on your point of view. And accessibility is improving at a snail’s pace compared to the promised additional 250,000 spaces. Hurray for Statistics Canada giving us a clear picture of this problem. Now federal and provincial/territorial governments have to seriously address the problems of how to grow our wonderful child care system in the not-for-profit and public sectors that are the priority.