If you’re planning to have a child in Toronto you should start saving for childcare right away. The cost of daycare for infants is on average $1649 per month. With the median household income of Toronto families at about $75,000 per year that would amount to over 25 percent of their income for a single child. The city has subsidized spaces available for low-income families, but nearly 18,000 families are on the waitlist and the number of subsidies remains low. Low-income families are struggling to find affordable childcare and the current model for subsidized care is not enough to meeting this growing demand.
In the 2017 budget the federal government announced $7 billion over the next 10 years for early learning and childcare programs. Although commitments have been made by both the provincial and federal government to improve childcare, issues of quality and availability cannot be addressed without prioritizing affordability and significantly more funding is needed. Low-income families and single mothers are disproportionately affected and have the greatest need for affordable childcare. In the long-term inadequate access can have serious health impacts on early childhood development.
The lack of childcare is a major barrier to employment for low-income families particularly for women who are the primary caregivers in most families. When women have access to childcare they are more likely to return to work. However, for women working in low paying jobs the cost of childcare can be very high and many women remain home making it harder to enter the workforce at a later time. This impacts their ability to attain better employment and educational opportunities for the future. Low-income parents interested in taking courses to enhance their skills or newcomer families looking for English language classes and other trainings simply cannot afford to go. A recent City of Toronto study showed if licensed childcare spaces were more affordable it would increase demand among parents who want to enter, or remain in, the workforce. With the lack of services many women are staying at home to raise kids or turning to home daycare programs that can be risky and offer poor quality.
Although the quality of childcare can vary, and this is another issue that must be acknowledged, we must consider who gets access to quality care and who gets left behind. When most childcare is unaffordable parents with low-incomes are driven to unregulated child care and less enriching programs. Quality early childhood education and care are essential for people to be healthy and thrive throughout the life course. Early childhood education is linked to the improved health and well-being of children. In a recent OECD report Canada ranked 26th for overall child inequality and the report recommended investing more and earlier in children and youth. High-quality childcare offers children a stimulating environment and access to enriching activities and resources. Research has shown that early childhood programs can increase school attendance and educational attainment later in life.
Making sure everyone can access childcare supports low-income families and offers every child an opportunity to achieve their potential. Ontario is moving towards integrating child and family programs and developing new Ontario Early Years Child and Family Centres. However we can’t ignore that the majority of families simply do not have access to childcare when they need it. In Toronto childcare remains unaffordable for 75 percent of families and increasing the number of childcare spaces alone isn’t enough. Tackling our childcare crisis requires a coordinated response and significant investment from all levels of government. Without caps on child care fees in Ontario the increased federal funding can only go so far and Ontario needs to explore alternatives to prioritize equitable access to childcare.