When I was six weeks pregnant with my first child, my husband and I put our names on the Waterloo Region OneList— a centralized system of all licensed child care spaces in the region. My daughter did not receive a space until she was 18 months old. Due to the lack of adequate licensed child care, my husband and I explored unlicensed home child care options, but the spot that we found did not feel safe to either of us. So, my husband took an extended work leave of six months.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our child care woes were exacerbated. Our daughter was out of child care for four months due to the pandemic. Fortunately, I was on maternity leave with our second child at this time. Our second child got preference at my older daughter’s child care centre, so that made our situation much easier, and she was able to start in child care at 16 months of age. We were not out of the water yet though: the day I returned to work, my husband and I received notice that the Waterloo Regional Council was voting on closing their Regional Centres. I spoke at the meeting, as did 80 other parents, advocates, and educators. Still, the council voted against keeping the much-needed child care centres open.
My older daughter begins school in September, and I was able to secure a spot at another centre in September for my younger daughter. This is because I not only have priority placement at this particular child care from my workplace, but also because the availability of spots has changed since COVID – families are leaving their childcare centres due to expense, safety, job loss, or siblings being at home from school. The early childhood education at our past child care centre was excellent, and I am excited for my younger daughter’s new child care centre because I hear wonderful things about it. This all troubles me though: that not all child care options are made equal, that our patchwork system gives preference to some and not all. I believe that all children deserve access to quality, affordable child care for their own growth and development and also to support women. Lack of child care disproportionately affects women— access to early learning and care is crucial in addressing this. On top of this, early childhood education would help families identify learning and behavioural needs early on, it would help connect families to their communities, it supports children with curriculum that is based on their interests, By removing cost-prohibitive decisions, all families would have access to this incredible form of care work and care labour if they so wish.
I truly believe that if child care was affordable, myself and other Canadians would be in a position to have a larger family. But with two 18-month leaves almost back-to-back in order to simply qualify for childcare, in addition to the fees, it just is not within my family’s means. Thus, I am looking forward to seeing the rollout of Budget 2021 and the building of a universal child care system— for my family, for other families, and for the positive economic return that child care offers.