Your Child’s ECE is Probably Buying Crayons: A Case for Child Care

It is 2016 and I am a new Early Childhood Educator (ECE) at a for-profit child care centre in urban Ontario; a for-profit child care centre that charges close to $2,000.00 per child, no less. I make $14.00 per hour, have no health benefits, and no paid sick days. My preschool classroom is also in shambles— the blinds do not work, some of the toys are held together with glue, and worst of all, there is no paper for the children to create artwork on. I ask the multi-million dollar owner of my child care centre to purchase paper; she says if I want paper for my classroom, I have to go and purchase it myself. As if paper in a child care centre is a luxury item that educators should supply themselves. 

I purchased the paper, and the children created beautiful artwork. Their caregivers picked them up for the day and, often, threw that artwork in the trash. And who could blame them? Anyone with young children knows that it simply is not possible to keep each and every piece of artwork. But, that didn’t lessen the sting. My hard-earned money had bought that paper, and no one even knew. This paper, so insignificant to just about everyone, was significant to me. That paper was was from my heart— because I could not bear to deny preschool children the opportunity to create artwork. Ultimately, that paper springboarded my move away from working as an ECE. I went back to school and started advocating for child care workers; I had had enough of child care centre owners pocketing high fees and spending the bare minimum to operate. By the way, the center I worked for  received a perfect score on the annual inspection by the Ministry of Education.

For far too long, Canada’s child care system has operated by pulling on the heart strings of ECEs. My former boss knew that I would buy the paper; she knew that I did not have the heart to say no. My former boss also knew that families were complaining— to me— about the lack of paper. So, if I chose not to purchase it, not only would the children be affected, I would continue to harbour complaint after complaint.

Fast forward a few years to when I worked at a lovely not-for-profit centre that supplied me with the budget I needed to buy paper in different colours, textures, and sizes! Oh, my paper options (and supplies, in general) were truly endless! I remember feeling so lucky to work there. And as I reflect now, I realize that child care should not be about luck at all. 

There needs to be a consistent operating standard across Canada. Two child cares side-by-side should not be providing such vastly different care to children and vastly different working conditions for their staff. One province should not be able to access child care at an affordable rate, while another province has nor space, nor affordable rates for its centres. Market-based models simply do not work— on this I am unapologetic. Look at Toronto— even if one has the money to pay the exorbitant child care fees— good luck finding an available space. And that is a big if because, really, who has a couple extra thousands of dollars per month laying around? To boot, that money does not even guarantee that your child’s ECE will be well compensated or that your child’s classroom will have access to appropriate learning materials. So, while some child care centres are fantastic, others do the absolute bare minimum in order to operate and turn a profit. Which leads me to question why children’s care is a source of profit in the first place.

I applaud the federal budget’s big investments in child care, and I applaud them for recognizing the importance of early learning and care. Particularly given the current COVID-19 pandemic, child care is needed now. Child care has always been needed— but the pandemic has, perhaps, shed further light on this crucial care service. Child care is key to women’s participation in the workforce and, ultimately, Canada’s economic recovery. We need to create a more equitable system for children and ECEs alike— so let’s roll up our sleeves, dip our hands in the dirt, and collectively build this system once and for all!