A new report authored by a University of Toronto for the Ontario government is calling for free licensed child care in the province for children age 2½ to kindergarten.
The report, authored by Associate Professor Emeritus Gordon Cleveland of U of T Scarborough's department of management, offers a detailed look at a range of policy and funding options, while also recommending key steps to improve child care affordability for families in Ontario.
“By making child care free of charge for all children of preschool age, it will drastically improve affordability for all Ontario families in the one or two years before kindergarten,” he says.
The report says free child care for preschool children is an immediate priority. As physical space and staffing capacity at licensed child care centres is increased, greater affordability for infant and toddler care should also be phased in.
“We focus on preschool children because Ontario already has a substantial number of child care spaces for that age group – about 110,000,” says Cleveland. “That means that Ontario can reach the target number of child care spaces much more easily for preschoolers than for infants or toddlers – avoiding shortages and waiting lists.”
On Tuesday, Premier Kathleen Wynne endorsed the key finding of Cleveland's report, pledging a $2.2-billion boost to child care funding if the Liberals are re-elected in June.
Cleveland says while it’s gratifying to see key recommendations of his report endorsed, he hopes his research will have a broader impact: to encourage parents to support child care affordability measures in the province.
“I hope this report really resonates with parents because if they want this to happen, they’re going to have to make their voices heard regardless of which government is elected,” he says.
The report calls on the Ministry of Education to provide greater funding for the existing child care subsidy system while also loosening regulations on activity requirements. These requirements, among other things, require parents to be working full-time or pursuing full-time education or training to apply for a subsidy.
“These regulations ignore the reality of today’s economy where many parents are working on a temporary basis, on contracts or a series of part-time jobs,” says Cleveland.
Once additional child care capacity is made available and qualified staff shortages have been reduced, the report recommends that child care subsidies be replaced with a sliding scale payment system. Under the system, household income would determine the fee a family would have to pay. So a family earning less than $50,000 would pay nothing, while those earning more than $150,000 would pay 80 per cent of the full fee.
“Child care affordability is a huge issue,” says Cleveland. “The goal of this report was to analyze the current situation, run through the options, and offer recommendations on how to take the first big steps.”
The 315-page report, titled Affordable For All: Making Licensed Child Care Affordable in Ontario, was started back in July of 2017 when the Ontario government asked Cleveland to review the affordability of child care in Ontario.
Cleveland notes that an average family in the province with children under the age of four would have to spend close to 24 per cent of its after-tax household income to access licensed child care. Put another way, child care would eat up 67 per cent of the net income of the main caregiving parent, which is most often the mother.
“The unaffordability of child care is a huge barrier for women,” says Cleveland, an expert on the economics of child care who also co-authored a study on child care affordability in Toronto.
“It’s forcing too many mothers to make a decision to stay at home rather than enter, or re-enter, the workforce.”
In addition to employment outcomes for women, affordable licensed child care is also good policy for early childhood development, especially for ages three to four, he adds.