Canada must invest in children says professor

National study is part of growing child and family initiatives

by Bruce Mason staff writer

The most comprehensive study of centre-based child care in Canada has concluded that the system is in crisis. The findings have serious implications for society, says Education Prof. Hillel Goelman, one of five principal investigators.

"The fragility of our quality child-care infrastructure has a profound impact on the healthy development and school readiness of children as well as their parents' ability to participate in the paid workforce and to contribute to our economy," he explains.

The study, You Bet I Care! focused on wages, working conditions and practices of child-care centres in all provinces and two territories. It surveyed 1,798 centres and staff and compared results to similar research conducted in 1991.

Goelman and his colleagues found that centres face a shortage of skilled child-care teachers and 38 per cent of directors identified continued financial viability as the most pressing issue they face.

The researchers say serious and widespread problems are the result of the absence of co-ordinated policies, insufficient funding and a weak commitment by governments and society in general.

"More than 80 per cent of child-care teachers have at least one year of post-secondary specialized education, but earn an average $22,717, just above the average annual earnings of parking lot attendants," Goelman reports. "Does this mean we care as much about our cars as our kids?"

Goelman, a member of the Dept. of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education, says the continuity of the relationship between caregiver and child is vital to development. The study found that one in five staff leave their centres annually. "It's an economic reality that most parents work--about 700,000 children under the age of five were receiving non-relative care on a regular basis in the mid-90s," says Goelman. "Canadians who worry about health care should also be concerned about child care." Increasingly, an unstable system is playing a key role in the lives of Canadian children and while improvements to the identification of problems such as special needs are being made, resources to correct them early are being lost, he says.

Goelman says approaches such as the income tax child-care expense deduction do nothing to support the regulated child-care system. Government grants for higher wages, material and equipment and in-service education, as well as staff training, are needed.

The massive data for the study was analysed at UBC's Applied Research and Evaluation Services and graduate students took full advantage of the opportunity to participate in the high level of research.

The study is the first of three to be published. Goelman is currently authoring the second study which focuses on the quality of child care in Canada.

The project is part of a growing interdisciplinary initiative at UBC which includes the UBC Child and Family Project. The project involves researchers from across the medical sciences, social sciences and professional schools.

A weekly seminar entitled "Another Look at Human Development" is being held. The project is also co-sponsoring an eight-part Cecil Green lecture series with the School of Social Work and Family Studies, "Multiple Lenses, Multiple Images: Perspectives on the Child Across Time, Space and Disciplines."