Friday, September 21, 2012

On modernizing childcare in Ontario

Recently, The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, published an Open Letter to the Minister of Education on the issue of modernizing childcare. Everyday for Life Canada fully supports the letter because policy  changes that are being made to childcare are not always in the best interests of children and families. To provide a more balanced and truly constructive view of the issue we need to move beyond government bureaucratic talk, and so we post the letter in its entirety. Here's the complete message:
Hon. Laurel Broten, Minister of Education
14th Floor, Mowat Block
900 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M7A 1L2
Dear Minister Broten:
Thank you for your call of June 27, 2012, asking for public feedback on Modernizing Child Care in Ontario. The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada welcomes the opportunity to respond before the September 24, 2012 deadline and is encouraging parents to write their own letters before this date.
We would like to express two basic concerns with Modernizing Child Care in Ontario:
1)      The report is not centred on what is best for children
2)      The report is not centred on what is best for families, more specifically, parents.
In short, the Government of Ontario is pursuing family policies that do not benefit families, particularly when contrasted to policies that could offer substantial aid, like tax credits for parents to increase their cash flow.
Modernizing Child Care in Ontario starts by looking at care outside the home. In fact, you clarify that Modernizing Child Care in Ontario “focuses on the child care that children receive when they are not in the care of their families.” However, the very essence of child care is parents and families.
It is parents who want to be able to make choices about childcare. Governments must grant parents the power and capacity to make choices that work for their families. In the best scenario, governments would not be involved in what is decidedly not government business: how we care for our children. 
Parents do not choose institutional daycare as their first, second or even third choice. An Institute of Marriage and Family Canada poll published in 2006 and a Compass poll conducted in 2003 found a majority of parents prefer that a relative care for their children if they are unable to stay home. Seventy-seven per cent thought it was better for children if a parent stayed home, including 83.9 per cent of families with annual income below $30,000.
Funding for institutional, centre-based daycare does not reflect a diversity of parental desires. Neither is it an equitable pursuit. The Ontario Government should represent all parents, even those who do not use centre-based care.
By 2012-13, the province boasts that the funding for child care will rise to more than $1 billion. This is a huge sum of money—and even so it is not enough to provide quality childcare for Ontario’s children below the age of four. It is worth noting that care for children below the age of four is much more expensive than care for older children. When the IMFC quantified the real cost of all-day kindergarten for four and five-year-olds, $1.5 billion annually was the minimum estimate. Were parents given the money instead, this would amount to an astounding $9,199 dollars per child annually. A mere fraction of that amount would be extremely helpful to parents, who, with money in pocket, could choose the type of care that is best for their children themselves.
Parents are struggling with finances, this much is true, and creating a higher and higher tax burden through increased social spending as Ontario’s economy declines is one way to drive them into the ground. For every dollar spent, these are dollars the government cannot spend elsewhere. Government daycare programs are achieved on the backs of parents across the province, and at a cost to every Ontario taxpayer, while the majority of parents do not prefer and did not ask for this type of child care. 
The bigger problem is that research does not show that “early learning and care” in centre-based environments is beneficial. In some cases, research shows children to be worse off in centre-based care. The province has consistently chosen to ignore peer-reviewed research suggesting that children do not benefit from the provision of “early learning and care” in institutional environments. The Government of Ontario consistently relies only on one side of the research equation, often distorting other research results as well.
The best example of highly distorted research is the Government’s use of the Ypsilanti-based Perry Preschool Project. Charles Pascal cited this study in writing his special report to Premier Dalton McGuinty in 2009. He wrote that it “calculates $17 savings on health, justice and social welfare savings for every $1 spent on the program.”
To say this study has been taken completely out of context is being kind. There were only 58 children in the Perry Preschool Project, they all came from a high crime, urban inner-city context and were required to have low IQs. Mothers participated in the program and teachers did home visits. Finally, the children only spent 2.5 hours per day in a classroom setting and the child to teacher ratio was five or six to one. The study was never repeated, and there is absolutely no reason to believe the results would ever be replicated on a larger-scale.
Dr. Gordon Neufeld, the Vancouver-based developmental psychologist, recently commented that it is better for children to go to school at a later age, not earlier.  When asked what the gains from early learning for small children are, Dr. Neufeld simply said: “I don’t think there is anything to be gained except parental emancipation. And certainly not parental fulfillment. That’s a totally different issue.”
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada believes that your hope to “modernize child care” will actually impoverish the parents of the beautiful province of Ontario, with little evidence of any benefit for our children.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue with you further and challenge you to reconsider your current approach. Let’s work toward getting the government out of the childcare business, instead giving more power to parents.
Andrea Mrozek
Manager of Research and Communications, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada

(Note: We have removed all footnotes for easier reading; however, you can find all the documented references by going to The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada  website. We thank them for their valuable work.)

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