In December of last year, the Jimmy Pratt Foundation, the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, and the Association for Early Childhood Educators NL brought together more than 40 parents, educators, and other advocates for children and families as a first step to building a broad coalition eager to shape the future of child care in the province.
In the opening panel, Morna Ballantyne, Executive Director of Child Care Now, shared her views about what must happen for Newfoundland and Labrador to build a sustainable and quality system of early learning and child care (ELCC). She said the federal government’s decision to transfer billions of dollars to the provinces and territories in order to make child care universally accessible and affordable across Canada is a historic opportunity to fundamentally change how early learning and child care is financed and managed. This is the time to push the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to take responsibility for ensuring a supply of affordable, high quality child care in every community instead of relying on the market to deliver.
“There hasn’t been a forum like this in the province in recent years. We’re not solely looking at people who are actively involved in delivering child care right now, we’re also looking aspirationally,” said Neria Aylward, the Executive Director of the Jimmy Pratt Foundation, in an interview after the event.
We know that advocacy will be crucial for ELCC to be built in a quality and sustainable way that includes educators, children, and families, Aylward said, adding that a project of this magnitude demands the involvement of a broad range of groups and individuals including policy makers, women’s centres, family resource centres, native friendship centres, and anti-poverty groups. Ultimately, publicly funded and managed ELCC must be seen as public infrastructure, owned by the people of the province and organized in the interest of the people.
Aylward said it was important to include the voice of Canada’s national child care advocacy organization in the event.
“We need to look at the big picture, and having someone from the national level discuss what we need at the provincial level took us out of working alone in our own little silos,” Neria says. She adds, “The struggle is actually very similar across the country. Many of the challenges that we have in Newfoundland and Labrador are challenges faced by other provinces and territories. It’s very easy to get bogged down, especially for service providers and families, who may be cash-strapped and have very few resources.”
Child care has been underfunded and undervalued in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Canada-wide, for decades.
A high quality, sustainable, and culturally appropriate universal system of ELCC would result in many positive outcomes for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Neria says. “There are so many transformative things that will come from a universal child care system. For one, closing the gap between children who can access quality early learning opportunities and children who can’t through no fault of their own or their family’s. Second, this is an opportunity to truly invest in the care economy. This is an opportunity to fund and bolster a profession that already exists and transform the workforce to be dignified, well-paid, valued, and something that future workers can aspire to.”
Going forward, national and provincial advocates must continue to work together, Neria says. Ballantyne’s message and the conversations that followed it will inform the advocacy strategy of the emerging coalition which is determined to help build a sustainable ELCC system in Newfoundland and Labrador, one that includes children, educators, families, and all community members.