Exclusive: It's been four years since $10 daycare arrived. Why doesn't B.C. have more spaces?

A new report, to be released Monday, says $10 daycare can be life-changing for low-income, single mothers. But more spaces are needed, and they need to be more accessible to impoverished families.

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Not long after immigrating from Iran, Kiana Dashtbazi found herself raising her two young children on her own in Richmond, and struggling to pay steep daycare fees while going to school to update her education.

“It was a traumatic time in my life. Paying for everything was impossible,” said Dashtbazi, who had been an architect in Iran.

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“There was no fun in our life other than walking in the mall with my kids. Even going to downtown, just having half a day to do something different, was not in our budget.”

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Despite receiving a provincial government bursary, Dashtbazi was still spending hundreds of dollars a month on child care when she could least afford it. If she’d had access to more affordable child care, she said, it would have been life-changing.

Dashtbazi was a peer researcher for a new report, to be released Monday, by the University of B.C. and the Vancouver-based Centre for Family Equity on how the province’s $10 daycare model has hugely benefited lower-income mothers who have been lucky enough to get their children into the program.

The research, though, also highlights that progress has been slow and the demand for the $10-a-day spots created so far is overwhelming. And frequently, lower-income parents most in need of the subsidized spaces are not the ones getting them, said the report, which was provided to Postmedia before its release.

The “research project reveals that our $10-a-day child care network of spaces has the potential to be one of the most powerful poverty reduction tools when it comes to tackling lone-mother poverty in British Columbia,” said Viveca Ellis, executive director of the Centre for Family Equity.

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The three-year research project, Making Mothers Matter, funded in part by the Vancouver Foundation and done in partnership with UBC, interviewed 30 lower-income single mothers and found those with $10 spaces had better family finances and employment, and were less-stressed parents with improved health.

“However, due to the state of the development of our child care system in B.C., right now, we are falling far behind when it comes to implementation,” Ellis added. “We need many, many more spaces. But we also have to ensure that there is fairness and transparency around how spaces are accessed.”

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Kiana Dashtbazi in Richmond. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

B.C. has 13,261 $10-a-day spaces, but that should be expanded to 50,000, said the report, “A Whole Life: The Impact of $10-A-Day Child Care on the Health and Socioeconomic Wellbeing of Low-Income Lone Mothers in B.C.”

The province had pledged to have 15,000 spots by the end of this year.

Grace Lore, minister of state for child care, told Postmedia that goal will be reached in 2024, after continuing negotiations with daycare providers are finalized.

When asked about targets for expansion of the $10 spaces, Lore did not make a specific commitment. Her office said future growth of the program “depend(s) on ongoing negotiations with the government of Canada.”

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Life changing for moms

Brenda Logan, a single mother living near the Downtown Eastside who was also a peer researcher for the project, said the process should be accelerated because the low-cost child care has changed the lives of the women she interviewed.

“It was very positive for them to have that $10 daycare because it gave them more room to be able to spend money on certain things that they required in their home, like taking the children out for activities,” said Logan, a Sixties Scoop survivor who faced challenges getting child care for her autistic son.

“I think they should have ($10 sites) everywhere. If it were up to me, I would say pretty much in every part of town, especially in the Downtown Eastside.”

In B.C., more than 65,000 children raised by single mothers live in poverty, according to the advocacy organization First Call.

Of the 30 lower-income, single mothers interviewed for this new report, 17 had $10 daycare, while the others did not. The amount each paid monthly for child care varied based on the fee-reduction measures they got from government.

Viveca Ellis is executive director of the Centre for Family Equity. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /10103248A

For those who got $10 spots, many had previously been raising children in poverty without access to child care, and this change allowed them to flourish, Ellis said. The benefits included finally having time to pursue medical treatments or getting a job and getting off social assistance.

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“Even if people had crappy jobs, which many women continue to have, when they had a $10-a-day spot they at least didn’t feel like they needed to add to their already full-time work in precarious labour with additional gig work on the side,” said Lea Caragata, associate professor and director of the UBC school of social work, who worked with Ellis’s centre on the research.

“They could manage and that was significant.”

For the lower-income moms who didn’t have $10-a-day spots, many struggled to cover their daycare fees even when working full time and collecting government subsidies.

“They took additional shifts and other side jobs that worked with their caring responsibilities in order to afford child care,” the report said.

Although the research sample size of 30 women is small, Caragata argues the conclusions are relevant. She noted the study initially set out to interview only low-income single mothers with $10 daycare but they were so hard to find, the research was opened up to those not in the cheapest spots.

$10 spots unevenly distributed

Finding impoverished mothers with kids in $10 daycares was difficult, Caragata said, because the initial spots often went to people already on a facility’s wait-list, or to those with the time and ability to track down the $10 centres, or to those who could afford to pay wait-list fees. The province, she said, could have done a better job of ensuring a fairer distribution of the spaces.

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Recent research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that while B.C. got a head start rolling out $10-a-day spaces in 2019, it now lags behind five other provinces that have made the program universal. And the expansion hasn’t been equal: Vancouver has many of these sites, while there are far fewer in cities such as Surrey, Burnaby, Richmond and Kelowna.

Municipalities with little or no $10 facilities should be prioritized for future growth, says one of nine recommendations in the A Whole Life report.

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Brenda Logan near her home in Vancouver. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

The other recommendations include increasing access to $10-a-day spots for low-income parents and for families with special needs children. The document also calls for a ban on wait-list fees at all daycares. Last week, the government promised to scrap the fees, which are prohibitive for impoverished families, but only at facilities that receive provincial funding.

Although the government has steadily increased wages for early childhood educators, bringing their median income to $28 an hour by Jan. 1, the report recommends a wage of $30 to $40 to attract more workers and reduce turnover at the centres.

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Lore told Postmedia that the government is already working on some of these recommendations, such as adding more affordable child care in underserved communities and increasing access for special needs children.

While the province has no timeline for expansion of $10 spots, Lore said other fee-reduction steps are helping tens of thousands of low-income families, sometimes bringing their child care expenses to zero.

The A Whole Life report also recommended expanding daycare hours to evenings and weekends to better serve lower-income parents who work non-office-hour jobs.

Shift workers left out

“Our daycare models are really still premised on a kind of 1970s or 1980s labour market,” Caragata said.

“That isn’t the way life works anymore. People work across the time span and across the week. And I’ve heard so many stories of people who get a pretty decent job, but they’re working shift work, and so they leave their kids on a neighbour’s couch every night to sleep.”

Lore said she is looking into extending daycare hours, noting demand by people such as nurses and trades workers. She is monitoring the outcome of a government pilot project in Kitimat, run with the Haisla Nation, that offers 24-hour daycare to shift workers in the northern community.

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“This is something that is really on my mind,” Lore said. “We know that need is there for families, and that is work that’s important to me as we work to expand access.”

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Kerstin Bell with her son Gunnar. sun

Kerstin Bell, a single mother in Revelstoke, used to work in a bank that stayed open later on weekdays than her daycare, and was open on the weekends.

“I did have to leave that job and find something that fit within the hours of the child care. So it certainly influenced my career and put a lot of limitations on what I was able to do,” said Bell, who now works in the non-profit sector and was a peer researcher for the project.

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Holly McDonald holds her son, Alex. Photo by Candice Scott /Handout

The report will be sent to the provincial and federal governments on Monday. It asks Ottawa for billions more in funding to cover building more daycare centres and higher salaries for workers.

Holly McDonald, a single mom who lives in Courtenay, argues the spending on affordable daycare is crucial. Although her son is now six, she clearly remembers her affordability struggles when he entered daycare.

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“Having the lived experience of realizing the struggle that can be there when you’re in a single-income household and living through the thought process of: Is it even worth going back to work if all of my money is going to child care?” said McDonald, a peer researcher on the report.

“A lot of the moms talked about how (affordable daycare) gave them freedom to go back to work, which is obviously the main thing but also … being able to maybe socialize a little bit and do all of those smaller things that humans need to survive and thrive.”

Dashtbazi, who was unable to work in Canada as an architect because her autistic son requires significant daily help, has a part-time job at his elementary school and collects disability assistance. While she was excited to interview other lower-income single mothers for this research project, she was struck by how few had found $10 spots — and how that was affecting their lives.

“It was very difficult for them, the situation that they were living. And they said that they had to cut the expenses, or not do anything fun with their kids. They have to be careful all the time to meet their needs, like how they can provide for food, clothing and everything,” she said.

“I could feel their pain.”

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