Rachel is an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) in Ontario. Rachel has worked in licensed child care centres, holds a Bachelor of Early Childhood Studies degree, and is currently set to begin her Master’s of Early Childhood Studies degree at Toronto Metropolitan University in the fall. Rachel is a fierce advocate for an early learning and child care system that is accessible, affordable, and high quality, which she knows is only possible with a quality workforce strategy that values and compensates ECEs and all child care workers for their necessary labour.

The recently signed Canada-Ontario early learning and child care (ELCC) agreement, lowers parent fees for licensed programs by 25% effective April 1, 2022, and by another 25%, on average, by the end of the year. Parent fees will drop to an average $10 a day by September 2025. Also, 71,000 new regulated spaces will be put into place over the next four years.

The main barrier to expansion, however, is the Ontario government’s failure to resolve the crisis of staff recruitment and retention in child care. The Ontario government has set a wage floor of $18.00 per hour for Registered Early Childhood Educators which will go up only $1 a year until it reaches $23.00 per hour.

Rachel says that the workforce crisis will only get worse under the current plan, describing the $18.00 per hour wage floor as, “disgraceful.” For this agreement to be successful, we must prioritize the workforce.

Rachel says, “I think it is so hard to quantify and monetize care labour. This work is very dynamic. So, to create a checkbox and say, ‘this is how much this care is worth’, it’s problematic and it’s predominantly male politicians making rules for a feminized workforce.”

While ELCC has always been a demanding, underpaid, and undervalued field, says Rachel, Early Childhood Educators are fleeing the sector like never before.

Rachel says that over half of the students in her recently completed Bachelor of Early Childhood Studies program have the intention of entering Teacher’s College. “Before they even enter the profession, they have already left,” says Rachel. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and rising cost of living has also impacted the workforce crisis, says Rachel. “There is definitely an intersection there,” says Rachel. 

For too long, governments have expected people, particularly racialized women, to just make do. This is no longer even possible though, Rachel says. With the current state of ELCC and the rising cost of living, many people cannot afford to remain in the profession, no matter how much they might want to.

“I have yet to meet someone in their 20s or 30s who wants to still live at home with their parents, who wants to accept financial help from parents who can offer it, who wants to not purchase a home, who wants to stress about costs every time they go to the grocery store. This is a context that we have been forced into. Young people who go into ELCC have dreams just like anyone else. Our sector cannot even begin to provide for them,” says Rachel.

Rachel worries about the future of ELCC. 

Many ECEs cannot afford to reside in the communities where they work, leaving them to take lengthy trips to and from the centres where they work. Rachel asks, “Can we really create quality care environments when we have to literally bus ECEs in because none of them can afford to live where they work? They aren’t even part of the community at that point, and ELCC is all about community and building relationships.” 

Rachel says that early learning and child care has the potential to be accessible, affordable, high quality, and culturally appropriate, but governments must do their part to make this so. 

Rachel says that Ontario’s government should begin by working in true partnership with the sector and developing a workforce strategy that includes proper compensation, inclusive of pensions and benefits. The government must commit to transparency with communities and the sector to achieve this, she adds.  

“Without the workforce, there is no child care. And without decent work, there is no workforce,” says Rachel. She says that the government of Ontario must act on this knowledge now, lest the crisis in ELCC get any worse. Families, communities, children, and ECEs cannot afford to lose one more quality ECE.