Shortage of daycare spaces for babies major barrier for return to work, mother says

It's easier to find a daycare spot for a child once they reach the age of two. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC - image credit)
It's easier to find a daycare spot for a child once they reach the age of two. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC - image credit)

Julie Robinson's daughter has had four different childcare arrangements since she was born 18 months ago and she still doesn't have a permanent spot.

The Fredericton-area mother is speaking out about a shortage of daycare spaces for children under the age of two   after Premier Blaine Higgs said more people in New Brunswick need to work.

When speaking about the province's new income tax cuts, Higgs said, "We need people to work more. We need people to work more overtime … I want to find ways that encourages people to work and not have the money all clawed back."

Robinson said she was upset when she heard premier's recent comments, because he seemed to assume that people are choosing not to work. She said that's not been her experience.

"Someone needs to stay home with the child, and it's very frustrating to be told that New Brunswickers aren't working enough when many people I know want to and can't," she told Information Morning Fredericton Monday.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

Robinson said she's been on about 20 wait lists since she was three months pregnant and never heard back from a single daycare operator.

She said she had to go back to work last June. Finding childcare has been stressful but she got lucky, she said. With the help of friends she's been able to find several short-term spots, including with a neighbour she trusts and a friend who owns a childcare centre who made an exception for her.

Jean Robinson, president of New Brunswick's Early Childhood Care and Education Association, said Monday there were more than 6,000 babies born in the province in 2020 and only about 2,000 licensed spaces.

Robinson, no relation to Julie Robinson, said the main problem is that rates have been frozen since 2018, when early learning centres signed up for a government designation program. And because caring for babies is more expensive, daycares have had to either cut their spaces for babies, or not offer any at all.

"They lose hundreds of dollars a week welcoming babies into the centre," she said. "They're losing $300 to $500 per week, depending on their staff qualifications."

In June of 2018, out-of-pocket daycare costs were cut in half, when the province announced it will be paying 50 per cent of daycare costs for parents. That cut came with a rate freeze that is now having this consequence, Jean Robinson said.

She said New Brunswick regulations make it more expensive to care for babies. For example, children younger than 15 months have to have a separate sleeping area.

"It can't be across … the building, you know, it has to be very close. Each room has to be,like, over 3.25 meters squared per child. So your room has to be big enough for the amount of children that you need to put in there. And 10 per cent of that room has to be natural light, so windows," she said.

This automatically excludes daycare centres that want to help with the shortage but don't have the space, she said.

Finding staff has also been a challenge, she said, as there has to be one staff member per three babies, compared to one worker per five children over the age of two, and one worker per eight children over the age of three.

Jean Robinson said this will not change until the freeze is removed.

"I would like to be able to run my centre and have a budget," she said. "My fees are frozen and I haven't been able to change them in four years. Everything else has gone up."

She said the province has been in talks with some daycare operators to open more spaces for babies, but she has not been a part of those talks so has no details or timeline.

In 2021 New Brunswick also signed a deal with Ottawa that will eventually reduce child-care costs to $10 per day, and create 5,700 child-care spaces within the next five years.