Tuesday Jul 05, 2022

DDA talks to $10 a day childcare advocate Sharon Gregson

DDA operates nine child development centres in Vancouver and Richmond. As the province shifts towards a $10-a-day childcare system, we reached out to childcare advocate Sharon Gregson about where we are now and where we need to be when it comes to reaching that goal.



Evan Kelly  0:04  
Welcome to DDA's Encouraging Abilities podcast. I'm your host Evan Kelly. This is where we connect with advocates in the disability community or the community at large and help tell their stories, raise disability awareness and be a supporter and advocate for them as well. For those who don't know about DDA, we are a community living agency that serves Vancouver and Richmond, we support roughly 2000 clients with developmental disabilities and their families and have been doing so since 1952. So if you can do the math 2022 is actually our 70th anniversary. Now today we are talking about the province's move to a $10 a day childcare system. It's something the NDP has been promising for some time and with the federal government's assistance is moving forward, at least in a pilot project. Child care, of course, is also a vested interest for DDA, we're not just about supporting developmental disabilities, we operate nine inclusive Child Development Centers in Vancouver and Richmond. So our guest today is Sharon Gregson. She speaks for CCCABC, or the Coalition of Childcare Advocates of BC. And she's also part of the $10 a day campaign. This group, of course, has been advocating for $10 a day childcare for some time. So thank you for joining us, Sharon.

Sharon Gregson  1:17  
It's entirely my pleasure, especially as DDA operates such high quality childcare program. So I'm glad to be part of your podcast series.

Evan Kelly  1:27  
Oh, well, thank you very much for that compliment. Just right off the bat. Yeah, that's right, I mean, there's many childcare providers have been part of this, this pilot program, where you have to apply for it. And there are numerous childcare operators who are now part of this $10 childcare program. We are not yet unfortunately, I think we're going to be doing one of our locations at play house to sort of test that because we'd like to give some feedback as well. So that's sort of where we are with that, just so you know. So Sharon, right off the bat, what really drew you to this kind of advocacy work?

Sharon Gregson  2:09  
Like many advocates, I come to it through lived experience, I was a young mother, with an infant and a toddler. And I wanted to go back to university I was in my early 20s. And as a single mom, I was shocked to discover that childcare was neither available nor affordable to a young student like me, and I became an advocate, and an activist overnight. And as my children got older, and my family grew bigger, I continued, and changed my career to align with my advocacy and the importance that I saw for children's rights and gender equity and economic health, for childcare to be a better investment by provincial and federal government. So I've been doing this now for 30 plus years, and my commitment is as strong now as it was when I first recognized the problem.

Evan Kelly  3:09  
Well, 30 years is quite a long time to be at this. So and just in a general sense, how's the landscape of childcare doing? Are we doing better now than we were?

Sharon Gregson  3:21  
There's a huge, huge change from 30 years ago. So when my two oldest sons were young, there was very little government support for childcare, it was really all about user fees. There was very limited access. It was really considered babysitting, professionals in the sector were looked at as babysitters. And so over the last few years since 2018, there's been a huge shift, both on that the provincial and federal governments to recognize the workforce behind the workforce that is childcare, the importance of a good early start for children, gender equity issues, so yes, a massive change. And really, that's coalesced around the $10 a day child care plan. And we don't talk, $10 A day sites now are not prototype sites. They are now part of the emerging childcare system that is growing in BC and across the country.

Evan Kelly  4:25  
Now, so in your view, what's the biggest motivating factor to achieve a $10 day childcare? Are we, is this just simply a monies game? Or is there something more to it?

Sharon Gregson  4:35  
Well, if governments were going to make good investment decisions around childcare, because it's the right thing to do for children, families, they would have finished 50 years ago when the status of women report first recommended a national daycare act. And so it's really been the impetus of COVID perhaps, it's been the issues of growing around gender equity. And, frankly, the cold economic issues that have, I think, spurred governments to actually make the investments that are necessary. And of course, we, as advocates, we don't only focus on the economic issues. But we have had to make the economic argument for why this is a good investment for senior levels of government in order for it to start to happen.

Evan Kelly  5:28  
Now, in your view, is the BC government's roadmap, current roadmap adequate?

Sharon Gregson  5:36  
Well, we always knew it would take 10 years to build a childcare system, and it would take sustained government commitment through those 10 years. And so we're in year four and a half right now. And yes, we have seen a significant progress since 2018. We've seen fees that are lower. We've seen new spaces, we've seen wage enhancement for educators. And so yes, there's been significant and measurable progress. Has government got everything right? No. Are they moving quickly enough? No. Is there so much more work to do? Yes. But we are on the right track now, particularly with a $3.2 billion federal commitment.

Evan Kelly  6:18  
Now, so are you pushing to make this full on legislation so that other governments can't overturn it? How much more work needs to be done in this regard?

Sharon Gregson  6:25  
So two new pieces of legislation were introduced around early childhood educators, and around Early Care and Learning. And so that was a significant step forward to bring disparate pieces of existing legislation together into two streamlined pieces. There is more to do to embed the rights of children, all children to access services that their families choose for them. And there's more to do around developing the provincial wage grid for early childhood educators, expanding spaces in the public and nonprofit sectors. And of course, dealing head on with the most significant and immediate crisis, which is recruitment and retention of early childhood educators.

Evan Kelly  7:10  
Yeah, that's, that's a huge part of it. I mean, not you did mention the provincial government recently created new legislation around ECEs, the Early Childhood Educator act to improve oversight and retention, what in your mind, does that do for that profession?

Sharon Gregson  7:27  
Well, it's it makes it clear who can call themselves an early childhood educator, which I think is helpful in the profession. And it also indicates some ways in which credentials can be recognized from other jurisdictions. There is a new nominee program to attract international educators into British Columbia. But we actually need a more robust strategy, we need to think about student loan forgiveness, we need to think about financial incentives to attract people into the sector, incentives to keep people in the sector more than just bursaries and the wage enhancement, we need to have a review of overall compensation. And part of that is the provincial wage grid.

Evan Kelly  8:15  
Can you expand on the provincial wage grid a little bit?

Sharon Gregson  8:18  
Right. So right now, early childhood educators are only required to be paid the minimum wage plus the $4 an hour Wage Enhancement if their employer has applied and is successful in receiving that $4 an hour. And that is, that only brings educators up to $19.65 or something an hour, which is not sufficient for the level of education and the level of responsibility that goes along with that in the profession. So a provincial wage grid would take into account level of education, whether it's a certificate or a diploma or a bachelor, as well as years of experience in order to ensure that we are competitive with the education system, so for education assistants, for example, where often childcare staff leave the childcare sector to work in elementary schools. And so we need to make sure that the childcare sector is attractive for people to enter into retain, to stay in.

Evan Kelly  9:26  
Yeah, and I mean, talking about, you know, money that we were talking about you know, financial incentives for ECS just to crunch a few numbers, I went to numbeo.com. It's a website that compares the cost of living around the world is that this one, the numbers I have from October 2021, so they're a little bit skewed because it hasn't taken into the current rate of inflation or anything like that. But it says the average monthly cost for single person in Vancouver is $1,200 that does not even include rent. And so if you add it add the average one bedroom $2200 plus the $1200, you're looking at $3,400 a month, whereas a full time ECE II can expect to make approximately $47,000 A year before taxes. And that's $3,900 before income tax benefits and pensions, I mean, what, what more do we need to do to tell the government say, 'Look, this is just not feasible.'

Sharon Gregson  10:23  
In the Canada wide agreement that British Columbia signed with the Government of Canada last year, there is in the Action Plan, the commitment to develop a wage grid, and in 2020, the advocates along with ECEBC, the professional organization recently representing ECEs, came together and released a report, a wage growth report suggesting then that the starting wage for ECE should be $26 an hour. And for those with their infant toddler and special needs certification, it should be $29 an hour, that's starting wage. And that's two years ago. So we are right now in the process of reviewing those, those figures. And we'll be recommending to government, new starting wages. And of course, starting wages are just the starting place and years of experience would ladder on top of that in a wage grid. So we absolutely are aware as other advocates from across the country, because this is not just a BC problem. Recruiting and retention and low wages are an issue across the country.

Evan Kelly  11:35  
Yeah, absolutely. But at the same time, there are obviously cheaper places to live in Canada. Are you seeing a drain from, in this profession to more affordable parts of Canada?

Sharon Gregson  11:50  
No, I'm not aware that that is an issue. I know that there are people who might be moving to other parts of British Columbia. I personally haven't heard of childcare educators, early childhood educators moving to other parts of Canada, specifically around us this issue.

Evan Kelly  12:10  
Now, what about the current inflation? Is that being built into what you're advocating for?

Sharon Gregson  12:18  
Absolutely, yes. So the the wage rates that we're talking about that would be any provincial wage rate would be would be tight to current context. And so as we are looking at updating our wage grid report, absolutely. Inflation is something that we take into account as are the effects of COVID and the demands that are put on the sector. So these things have to be taken into account.

Evan Kelly  12:42  
Yeah, absolutely. Now going back to the the actual $10 A Day campaign, like for two kids, for example, $10 a day works out to about $400 a month, you know, from my experience, I've had two kids, they're older now. It's better, of course, but given that the cost of living varies depending on where you are in Canada, do you think this is a little out of reach for some still?

Sharon Gregson  13:13  
So you're right, $10 a day is $200 a month. And so the the plan actually call for a maximum fee of $10 a day. And so for families that are low income, or have other barriers, then there could be no fee at all. And in fact, we specify that for families with an annual income of $45,000, a year or less, there will be no user fee at all. So the fee is a maximum of $10 a day.

Evan Kelly  13:43  
So in terms of this, this no user fee, is that something that's been in British Columbia already, or is that sort of new part a new part of his program?

Sharon Gregson  13:55  
So that is in effect now. So for families that are low income and are enrolled in a toddler program, if their fees are, for example, $1,200 a month, they wouldn't be paying any any user fee at all. That's achieved, that's currently achieved through the affordable childcare benefit, which is an income tested subsidy.

Evan Kelly  14:21  
Okay, so that's good. So that's, so they don't, there are no other subsidies that you're pushing for anything like that at this point?

Sharon Gregson  14:27  
Well, when we have a truly accessible system, where the maximum fees are $10 a day and families have the access that they need, not just Monday to Friday, nine to five, but for extended hours or to accommodate shift work or or part time work, then we don't need a lot of other subsidies and funding streams for parents to have to navigate. If there's a, an affordable fee to start with, then it's much easier to think about how to make it even more accessible for low income families, or those with additional challenges. When the maximum fee is $10 a day, where it puts us in a different context of affordability and accessibility.

Evan Kelly  15:16  
Now, the government is also trying to, or they've said they're going to add an additional 30,000 spaces that the NDP is promising. I mean, it's, there's going to be a workforce issue that I would see moving forward, and where, where are we going to get all these people that are gonna work and support these spaces?

Sharon Gregson  15:39  
I just want to correct you on one thing he said as the NDP that is, that is promised 30,000 new spaces, it's actually the government of British Columbia and the Government of Canada in an agreement to make this commitment. So it's not a political party commitment, it is a government commitment. And so we would expect that that would remain whoever is in government, because it was officially signed and is in effect. So you're right. 30,000 new spaces between now and 2026, is a lot of new childcare programs. And that's why I mentioned that the recruitment and retention issue has to be front and center. Because there's no sense, creating new programs and even making them affordable if there's no qualified educators to work in those programs. And so our roadmap to $10 a day, puts the workforce front and center and provides government with some suggestions on an urgent transition strategy for encouraging more young men and women to enter the sector, and ways in which to retain educators in the sector, particularly through that wage growth that we were talking about.

Evan Kelly  16:52  
Now, caregiving, and early childhood education, it's largely done by women, how do we attract more men into the system?

Sharon Gregson  17:01  
Well, I think as we saw in nursing and teaching, that when the respect and remuneration are lifted up, then it becomes more attractive for men to enter the sector.

Evan Kelly  17:17  
Now, more of a broad question, as a feminist organization, what do you feel are the most urgent steps the BC government can take to address gender inequality?

Sharon Gregson  17:28  
Right, so that's a great question. And it really for us, it really does center around investing in delivering a $10 a day child care plan. And that, that is multifaceted because that then addresses gender equity, through respect to remuneration, for the mostly women who work in the sector, it creates gender equity for women who need to use childcare programs, so they can fully participate in the workforce and in their communities. And respecting the leadership of childcare managers and directors and those who are in leadership positions in childcare as well respecting their contributions. And so this is, childcare really is front and center for for gender equity on multiple fronts.

Evan Kelly  18:30  
Now, we mentioned early on that there's, there's a handful of organizations, or sorry childcare providers that are involved in the $10 a day project right now, are we, are you concerned that that's going to take a long time for everybody to get on board? Are we like, are we seeing like even DDA we're hearing of you know, parents are wanting to jump into our Playhouse and one that's taking part in this sort of creating a bottleneck at others. I guess what I'm asking is, is this short term pain for long term gain? Where some parents are going to spend 10 bucks and others who are going to spend the full price.

Sharon Gregson  19:12  
So when the $10 a day sites first started, there were 2500 spaces across the province. Now there are 6500 spaces, and by the end of this year, there'll be 12,500 spaces. So getting to about 10% of childcare in the province will be in 10 day programs. But for families, and this is really important, for families who are not fortunate enough to be in a $10 a day site yet, other childcare programs are going to have the option to reduce their fees to an average of $20 a day by the end of this year through the childcare fee reduction initiative. So it's getting to 10 a day for more families, so hopefully DDA will be participating in that fee reduction initiative. And so you'll be able to reduce the fees in your other programs to an average of $20 a day by the end of this year. Now, that doesn't apply to school age yet, the school age fee reductions come into effect September 2023. But this will be good news for families who are not yet in 10 a day programs. I think it's also important to recognize that the agreement that the BC government signed with the Government of Canada commits to achieving $10 a day child care across the province by 2026. So $10, a day is expanding. And in the meantime, there's the $20 a day average, that will be in effect in other programs if the childcare provider applies to be part of the program.

Evan Kelly  20:50  
So from your perspective, what is your focus now, now that we've got a $10 a day Child Care coming in by 2026? That should be across the board. What is your focus moving forward?

Sharon Gregson  21:01  
Well, we have to make sure that these government commitments come to fruition and we have to make sure that all the decisions that government makes, moves us in the right direction of the $10 a day system. So the goal is to have a system where childcare is not just a product in the marketplace, it's not considered a business or an industry, it's actually a public good. And that taxpayer dollars are spent in ways that build a public system that serves children and families and serves our economy in the best possible ways. And so that's really a focus, is moving childcare out from being a market commodity, to being a public good. And having a system that all children have access to if their families choose it, it's high quality, where educators are respected and fairly compensated. So all those things are happening at once. It's, there's a lot happening for childcare this year, and in the years to come.

Evan Kelly  22:05  
I think that about does it. Anything else to add today?

Sharon Gregson  22:09  
I'd love people to go to 10aday.ca. And sign the petition to support this campaign and this work and you're always welcome to become a member of the coalition of childcare advocates of BC.

Evan Kelly  22:22  
And I'll add that DDA and their childcare centers are fully behind the $10 a day childcare program and we hope to be fully involved by 2026. You have been listening to DDA's Encouraging Abilities podcast Our guest has been Sharon Gregson from the coalition of childcare advocates of BC and the $10 a day campaign, the topic of course, $10 day child care and the future of early childhood educators. Thank you for joining us Sharon.

Sharon Gregson  22:48  
My pleasure. Have a great day.


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