The spectre of universal child care in the Northwest Territories lurched out of the ether once more last week. On Oct. 7 Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses, chair of the standing committee on social programs, lamented in the legislature that there has been “so very little debate” on a feasibility study on universal (subsidized) child care in the NWT since it was tabled in that very house June 4.
The report prepared by University of Toronto scientists for the GNWT estimates it would take a $175 per-cent funding hike or about $21 million more every year to create a universal affordable childcare program similar to Quebec’s, where parents pay $7 per day per child.
That government covers 85 per cent of the cost of child care. The study also compared systems in Denmark (80 per cent), Norway (85 per cent) and Sweden (95 per cent).
Moses latched on to another number in the report: 2007, which is the last time the amount of money the GNWT transfers to agencies providing child care was increased.
Education, Culture and Employment Minister Jackson Lafferty said the government is aware of the “the cost factor, the ripple effects across the Northwest Territories whether it comes to infrastructure or the program accessibility and the contribution agreement,” adding the issue would be the 18th Assembly’s to deal with.
Moses was not satisfied with that answer, noting MLAs have been raising concerns with the contribution agreement on a number of occasions and in “almost every year” of the assembly.
“I’d like to ask him will that be reviewed and will an increase be forthcoming before the 18th Assembly?” he asked. “Can the Minister, as he’s still in his role as Minister of Education, Culture and Employment, now see it in a document to make those changes before the 18th Assembly? He still has that option.”
Moses also pushed for the childcare tax benefit to be more closely aligned with the actual cost of daycare so more single parents have the option to enter the workforce.
Lafferty said that benefit program is a work in progress that has room for improvement.
“When it comes to the childcare benefits versus the daycare, the subsidy that we currently provide, it has been work ed over a number of years,” he said.
There’s always room for improvement as well. These are discussions that obviously we need to have with the childcare operators, with the organizations that we work with across the Northwest Territories.”
The feasibility study included interviews with 160 parents of children aged 0-11 in licenced or unlicenced care.
“Early childhood education and care (ECEC) is associated with a wide range of benefits,” the report reads. “ECEC is a job creator in its own right, while supporting parents as they work or upgrade their skills. It provides a means of welcoming new immigrant and minority families as it offers opportunities for inclusion (and) by identifying problems and intervening early, ECEC decreases special education costs.”
At the high end of the study’s estimates, the government would reap as much as $2 million in income taxes from the more than 700 parents who would be able to enter the workforce if they could afford child care, representing an increase of seven per cent, or about a quarter-billion dollars, to the NWT’s GDP. There is also the implied benefit of fewer people on social assistance, as research has shown a reduction in the cost of child care can have a “large” effect on welfare participation.
“This has implications for the NWT as there were 493 individuals with children ages four years and younger on income assistance in 2013–2014,” the report states. “The provision of universal child care in the NWT will significantly reduce the cost of child care for these individuals, and therefore it is predicted that there will be a decrease in the number of individuals with children using social assistance.”
In order to realize those benefits the number of child care professionals in the NWT may have to increase by as much as 100 per cent, or about 250 positions, to supervise the 718–1,415 licenced spaces that would need to be created, increasing the total stock by between 56 and 111 per cent.
The study cites challenges with using the one-year early childhood certificate program at Aurora College as a solution including a lack of local teachers, the length of time students are taking to complete the program and “the low number of graduates.”
“Staff wanting to obtain an ECE diploma or degree must leave the NWT,” the report stated. “This can be prohibitive, particularly for those with children. In addition… Teaching through teleconference has become the norm in a professional environment that is poised to deliver courses through online training.”
Territory-wide in 2014, 31 staff were working with children in licensed day care programs with no post-secondary education; an additional 33 staff were enrolled in ECE courses. Another 27 had ECE certificates, 15 had ECE diplomas, three had ECE degrees and seven had a bachelor’s degree in education.
“So we’re working with the college to identify those needs in the communities,” Lafferty said. “Now we’re working with the college to make that happen.”
Aurora College president Jane Arychuk said there are 85 students working on an ECE certificate right now. She said the program works for the students, their families and their home communities in terms of both the rate of graduation – four completed the program last year – and the length of time it takes them, since a large number of the students are also working full-time and supporting families. Many are upgrading because their employer required them to.
“We had one graduate who took 15 years to complete the program, and she was just as excited as if she had taken just one year,” Arychuk said. “We’re not meeting the numbers needed but are providing ECE education in a number of different ways to the NWT public.”