$10-a-day daycare fee brings N.L. families financial relief — but one advocate is warning about a squeeze

Fees for public daycare in Newfoundland and Labrador are now $10 a day, but one advocate says more spaces are needed. (CBC / Radio-Canada - image credit)
Fees for public daycare in Newfoundland and Labrador are now $10 a day, but one advocate says more spaces are needed. (CBC / Radio-Canada - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador's $10-a-day daycare program started Monday, but one child-care advocate says a lot of work still needs to be done to make it accessible for everyone.

The federal-provincial agreement for affordable daycare fees was signed in 2021 and became a reality for many parents across the province on Jan. 2. The multimillion-dollar deal is being used for the training and retention of early childhood educators, to create about 6,000 new child-care spaces for children under six, and to lower fees for parents.

Gillian Pearson, a child-care researcher and advocate, says the drop in fees is "a timely reduction" as families and their budgets grapple with prolonged inflation.

"But the problem is introducing this reduction in fees ... does place a lot of pressure on supply, so there is kind of this complex tension here, where we're improving one piece of the puzzle but those other pieces of the puzzle ... need some additional work as well," Pearson said.

Both affordability and accessibility are important factors for the system to work, she added.

Pearson says there aren't enough early childhood educators to fill the positions needed to meet what she believes is an imminent surge in demand.

"In terms of access right now, the supply is pretty much non-existent," she said. "So right now, what we are seeing are a lot of families that can't access childcare at all, no matter what the cost is."

Access to affordable, regulated and quality child-care spaces is getting more difficult to find, she argues, because of a mixed system of child care in the province: some are non-profit, some are publicly run and some are privately owned and unregulated.

"That's really where the bottleneck is for expanding these spaces," Pearson said.

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

The provincial government announced the latest agreement for affordable daycare in 2021, when daycare fees were as high as $75 to $80 a day.

The province promised to work with the federal government to lower the cost to $10 a day over a period of five years and create 6,000 more daycare spaces.

But Pearson and other parents she's heard from want to know where governments are with that plan, and want to see the data relating to accessibility, affordability and quality childcare.

She says pre-kindergarten classes will be implemented to relieve some of the pressure, but the highest need for child-care space is for children under two.

"There's been a lot of work done, definitely, and the issue is, in most provinces — and Newfoundland and Labrador is kind of not unique in this regard — is that we have had decades of ... complacency and not taking it as seriously as we should have," she said.

Pearson points to systems the entire community depends on, like health care, to have a functioning society as one reason to move quickly on accessibility issues that arise.

"It's really only been maybe the last five years or so where we are experiencing that kind of shift in attitudes to consider access to child care," she said.

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