Investment needed in early childhood education

August 19, 2020

We've had a growing crisis in affordable, quality child care in Manitoba. And I don't use the word 'crisis' lightly. In 2016, the child care wait list was 12,000. Last year it was 16,000.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had heard a number of very serious concerns that Manitoba's early childhood education system was headed for a breakdown in the next 18 months.

The reason is that child care centres just don't have the resources they need to operate. Grants and parent fees have been frozen.

Although they have post-secondary education qualifications, early childhood educators' wages can be so low that they can't afford to pay rent.

I've heard this from private child care, from not-for-profits, in St. Boniface and across the province. There are parents who need child care so they can go to work or school. Centres may help struggling families make sure their children get regular meals.

There is a lot of evidence that early childhood education helps kids get ready for school. Having well-trained educators means children can learn more, and that learning challenges can be detected early. That means better outcomes for children.

For parents, knowing that your children are in a place that is safe and nurturing is incredibly important. It means parents can focus on supporting their families.

The evidence is that when you put money into quality, affordable childhood education, you get it all back.

What's the roadblock?

I think part of it is just a mistaken attitude - that child care is the government taking over parenting from families. Let's be clear - no one wants the government raising children.

There's a different way of thinking about it - in my view, more accurate: that quality, affordable child care is an extension of our education system. It's about partnering with parents and families to give children extra supports.

That's why we think that responsibility for early childhood education belongs with the department of education.

We can get better outcomes if we can work with children on reading, writing and math, and professional assessments of their development. Early childhood educators can provide that.

If we pay educators properly so they can make their jobs a career, we can ensure stability and reduce costly turnover.

We are all concerned about reopening the economy, and one of the single biggest roadblocks to going back to work is access to child care.

Most families need two incomes to get by these days. Anyone who has spent time on Zoom meetings during this pandemic has had to deal with their kids interrupting - including me.

The money is there - there is an $18-million fund for ECE centres that is virtually untouched, and federal matching funds are available as well.

After all - if we are not investing in our children, what are we investing in?


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