In 1959, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly enacted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, a charter that recites the rights and entitlements of each and every child regardless of ethnicity or race, and culture reflected in language, religion, and social practices in beliefs or traditions, among others. The charter since has played an important role in guiding child care practices around the world and it is continuously used as one of the bases for child care policies in different countries. Essentially, the charter recounts the rights of every child and their entitlement to these rights, which include the right to social security, just and adequate treatment particularly for children with disabilities or handicap, the right to education, and protection from all kinds of harm, among others (United Nations, 2014). The institutionalisation of the rights of the child through the charter has inspired goals towards the standardisation and nationalisation of policies that address child care. Various countries, especially in North America such as Canada have taken steps to adopt a comprehensive, standardised, and municipalised program or policy for child care (Jenson, 2004; Lister, 2006). The following discussion focuses on the issues surrounding child care in Canada followed by a description of current changes in child care policies implemented in the country.
Issues in Canada’s Child Care Policies
In Canada, one of policies that accommodate the needs of children is universal childcare (Stasiulis, 2002). Universal childcare in Canada aims to provide services to all children throughout the country. Despite the implementation of universal childcare in Canada, several reports criticise this policy because of its detrimental outcomes to children and their families. A report released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) argue that the policy’s outcomes for children worsened their situation. The NBER cited the research conducted by Bakter, Gruber, and Kevin in 1997 to assess the outcomes and implications of the Quebec Family Policy. The Parti Quebecois government instituted the Quebec Family Policy to develop a system that equalises the distribution of welfare services to all children and families. The government’s goal in implementing the Quebec Family Policy was to “ensure equity between the provinces and standardisation of assistance to citizens” (Historica Canada, n.d.).
Part of the Quebec Family Policy is the provision for allowances granted to families, the development of curriculum for early childhood education, the availability of day care services, and the activation of an insurance scheme that fits the needs of parents (Historica Cnanada, n.d.). Each of the schemes included in the program was developed to help families, particularly parents, access childcare services. The Quebec Family Policy also addresses the unique needs of parents in different situations as it not only helps parents but also single-parent families (Jenson, 2013). The policy helps parents because it offers subsidies for basic childcare services such as day care and early childhood education. Moreover, the policy decreased the tax rate for families (Historica Canada, n.d.).
On paper, the Quebec Family Policy appears to target problem areas concerning child care. Nonetheless, one of the main issues concerning the policy is the inconsistency in the quality and quantity of services provided for families. Throughout the years, the poverty rate in Canada has increased (Daly, 2013; Morency, et al., 2011). Within the context of child care, an increase in population means that the number of families depending on child care services and subsidies also increased. As a result, the Government was forced to adjust its services to accommodate families in need. One of the major changes in the quality of services is the limitations set among underprivileged families. Government agencies set requirements for disadvantaged families, which means that if they do not meet the requirements, they would not be able to avail of child care services. Alongside these limitations are the government cut backs that similarly limit the scope of the policy (Historica Canada, n.d.).
Bakter, Gruber, and Milligan (2005) conducted a longitudinal research since 2007 to determine the long-term effects of the Quebec Family Policy. Through the policy, children aged 2 to 5 years old were able to attend kindergarten, among others. Due to the benefits and subsidies offered by the policy, the public’s use of these services increased significantly. Nonetheless, Bakter, Gruber, and Milligan (2008) discovered that outcomes for children worsened since the implementation of the program. “Their results imply that this policy resulted in a rise of anxiety of children exposed to this new program of between 60 percent and 150 percent, and a decline in motor/social skills of between 8 percent and 20 percent” (Picker, n.d.). Aside from the difficulties experienced by children that result to anxiety, other effects of the introduction of the policy include increased hostile parenting, mental health issues among adult child carers, and strained relationships among parents or between parents and other people (Bakter, Gruber, & Milligan, 2008; Picker).
Bakter, Gruber, and Milligan’s (2008) research into the Quebec Family Policy illustrates the shortcomings of child care policies in Canada. Child care policies were criticised in Canada because these programs do not adhere to the essence of a universal child care services. Furthermore, child care policies do not take into consideration children and families’ concerns. For one, the Quebec Family Policy failed to recognise issues that may arise and develop a contingency plan to address them. In the case of children developing anxiety after entering the schooling and care program for early education, the government should have implemented measures to decrease its detrimental impact on children. In addition, the Government should have prioritised child care and developed a plan to make child care policies and practices more sustainable so it would be able to continuously and equally distribute services to all disadvantaged families.
Kottelenberg and Lehrer (2010) conducted research to determine which people or groups truly benefit from universal child care in Canada. The researchers sough to explore child care not only because of the increasing concern about this issue but also the growing trend of mothers with children below 6 years old occupying a percentage of the labor pool in the country. This trend has been observed in the past decade. Compared to previous decades, the labour participation of mothers significantly increased in the 21st Century. Socio-economic concerns force mothers to look for jobs instead of stay at home and take care of their children. The increasing rate of mothers’ labour participation raises another important issue – the scarcity of child care centers in Canada (Havnes & Mogstad, 2011). As more parents gain employment, the need for more child care centres increase. For these reasons, many people has criticised Canada’s child care policies because despite the Government’s goal or objective of assisting families to care for and support their children, limited services prevent public agencies from providing parents or families with adequate support and services. The limited number of child care centres, for instance, make it difficult for parents, mothers especially, to balance their family and work life (Kottelenberg & Lehrer).
Kottelenberg and Lehrer (2010) also assessed the Quebec Family Policy and the results of their research support the Bakter, Gruber, and Milligan’s (2008) research. Despite the expectation that the family policy would bring about positive results for children because of increased educational opportunities for this population, Kottelenberg and Lehrer’s long-term assessment of educational outcomes prove otherwise. The family policy also led to negative outcomes for parents. Kottelenberg and Lehrer also discovered gender concerns in relation to policy outcomes such that male children and their families suffer through health and behavioural concerns more than their counterpart. Overall, the issues presented in the foregoing discussion illustrate the weaknesses of Canada’s child care policies. Aside from the inadequacy of child care services due to cut backs in budget and the requirements asked from parents or families availing of child care, other issues concerning Canada’s universal child care services include the
Canada’s Universal Child Care Plan
In 2013, the Canadian government introduced a more comprehensive universal child care plan which comprises of two programs – the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) and a plan to develop more child care spaces to accommodate children’s population in the country. Policy makers developed the UCCB to increase financial support to all Canadian families with young children. The UCCB is more responsive to the needs of children because the support that families receive depend on the particular needs of children. Moreover, the UCCB also takes into consideration the family situation such that the kind of support depends on the number of children living at home, the type of community where they live – rural or urban, small town or big city, etc. In this way, the UCCB is flexible enough to address the specific needs of children and their families. Essentially, families will receive $100 every month for every child in their home under the age of six years (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2013).
Aside from UCCB’s financial support to families, this program also instigates the development of child care spaces throughout Canada. By developing more child care spaces, the Government seeks to help families balance their responsibilities. Parents may work while their children are cared for in these spaces. This aspect of the UCCB is especially helpful for single-parent households because sending their children to schools or centers would enable them to work for their children. To facilitate the development of child care spaces throughout Canada, the Government transfers $250 million to all provinces, which would serve as the budget for the construction of schools, buildings, or centers for children (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2013).
Based on the description of the UCCB, the Government has taken steps to address some of the issues concerning child care in Canada. As formerly noted, one of the issues include the inadequacy of child care services, particularly spaces, that would accommodate children so their parents can go to work. Through UCCB, the government aims to increase child care spaces throughout Canada. With the $250 million budget, all provinces may develop child care spaces and improve existing infrastructure and facilities to increase accommodation and scope of services. Nonetheless, the UCCB still fails to address other problems such as the negative outcomes of universal child care on children and families, particularly on their health and behaviour.
Addressing child care is highly important because Canada’s economy relies on it. As argued by the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC, 2008), the quality of child care affects the economy. “Investing in the early years is first and foremost about investing in our children’s physical, social, emotional and intellectual well-being. It is also part of ensuring that Canada is competitive with other modern economies” (CCAAC, 2008, p. 1). Hence, the Government must prioritise child care not only for the benefit of families and children in Canada but also for the benefit of the country’s economy. The CCAAC makes a valid point especially since Canada’s future and the future of any country, for that matter, depends on children’s achievement or success. As of the moment, the Government has addressed one issue – the lack of child care spaces – but it still needs to look into solutions to other problems discussed in the foregoing discussion.
Baker, M., Gruber, J. & Milligan, K. (2008). Universal child care, maternal labor supply, and family well-being. Journal of Political Economy, 116(4), 709-745.
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Picker, L. (n.d.). Canada’s universal childcare hurt children and families. Retrieved from: http://www.nber.org/digest/jun06/w11832.html
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