Well, it’s that time of year again: back to school. As children, teachers, and families begin their first week back in the classroom, early learning child care continues onward for children ages four years and younger.
The Canada-Saskatchewan child care agreement saw an investment of $1.1 billion over the next five years to build a system of early learning child care province-wide.
In the agreement, Canada and Saskatchewan aspired to the following objectives:
a) providing a 50% reduction in average parent fees for regulated ELCC by the end of 2022 and reaching an average of $10 a day by fiscal year 2025 to 2026 for all regulated child care spaces
b) creating more high-quality, affordable regulated child care spaces, primarily through not-for-profit and public child care, and family home-based child care providers
c) addressing barriers to provide inclusive and flexible child care
d) valuing the early childhood workforce and providing them with training and development opportunities
But with children back to school and a little over one year after the signing of the agreement, where does Saskatchewan currently stand?
Access to regulated child care in Saskatchewan still remains scarce. While a little over one year is not enough time to create licensed spaces for every family, Saskatchewan should be prioritizing licensed space creation province-wide with more intentionality. This is particularly true for rural communities, where licensed child care is often unavailable altogether.
While the province has lowered familial fees by about 70%, the majority of families in Saskatchewan cannot access affordable child care because no licensed space exists for their child. Thus, many families are forced to sit on lengthy wait lists and access unregulated child care that varies in quality standards and is not consistently delivered by qualified Early Childhood Educators (ECEs).
Many Early Childhood Educators have also left the field. Recruitment and retention of qualified educators was an issue for licensed early learning child care centres prior to the pandemic, but was, however, exacerbated when COVID-19 struck. Many centres closed and never reopened, leaving the already scarce supply of licensed child care further regressed. Qualified educators, who often faced poor working conditions and underpayment, left the field in droves.
Saskatchewan has invested $9 million to train ECEs across the province at no charge across three post-secondary institutions in the 2022-23 school year. This may temporarily result in heightened recruitment, but if the province fails to adequately address retention, the issue of qualified educators leaving the field will only continue.
The province must now shift their focus to developing a salary grid, inclusive of pensions and health benefits for ECEs, and all who work in early learning child care. This salary grid needs to provide compensation that is commensurate with the education, experience, and necessary training ECEs bring to the table. Many ECEs currently live in poverty, sometimes making little more than minimum wage. The province must not allow this to continue, particularly when there is funding to begin addressing this very issue.
While Child Care Now Saskatchewan applauds the province for signing an agreement, and for beginning to address some of the barriers to affordability for families, we urge them to immediately address the workforce crisis, as well as space creation in rural areas. Failure to act will result in failure of Saskatchewan’s early learning child care program.
Back to school is a fresh start for many children, families, and teachers— it is optimistic and full of potentiality— perhaps the province can use this hopeful season to shift their focus on early learning child care and make our system the best it can possibly be.