Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Give parents choice in child care

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As a child, when I would sometimes complain about how life was unfair, my mother would reply: That's life. And she would give me hope for making the world fairer. "Perhaps you will be a lawyer, or better yet, a judge."

I am neither, but I am working to make my community a better place. This past fall, along with my business partner, Kristen Shipman-Adams, I opened up a Montessori preschool. Alongside this, at least three new private (read: corporate) child-care facilities have opened to address the needs of Manitoba families in the last three years. That's an encouraging development given the pressing need for child-care spots in this province.

But efforts to expand and give choice to parents are clipped by the provincial government's rigid child-care funding system.

Prior to this, Kristen and I spent years working in the non-profit social services field. It was there I began to question the idea of accessibility and inequality and how these can create lifelong barriers for children in Manitoba. A wise woman once said to me "We need to level the playing field for children. All children need access to the same opportunities."

It wasn't until recently I truly understood what this statement means. It's not just about the haves and the have-nots. It's about providing equal access, opportunity and options for all children regardless of where they grow up, who their parents are or their socio-economic background.

When it comes to the playing field of child care in Manitoba, it is clear the system is set up not to benefit individual children but to promote an entrenched system that is broken and in desperate need of repair.

In Quebec, families only have to pay $7 a day for child care. And their system gives parents choice. If a family wants an alternative child-care facility, i.e., a private preschool/child-care facility, they can employ their subsidy toward tuition and then pay the difference. This would seem fair. But this scenario is not possible in Manitoba.

The Manitoba government does not allow parents to choose a preschool, use their subsidy and then pay the difference. There is no choice. There is no flexibility. All this in spite of 8,000 children on waiting lists for child care. The government logic is based on the argument "If you can pay the difference, you don't need subsidy in the first place."

This is flawed reasoning. Local parents were interested in having their child who lives with disabilities attend our preschool. The parents wanted to provide their child the best opportunity to flourish. The government had approved the parents' request and would fund an inclusion worker to accompany the child. Imagine the family's dismay when they were told they could not utilize the funding for the inclusion worker at our preschool because we are private (read: corporate).

Government regulations demand all child-care facilities be accessible for children with disabilities and mandate inclusion policies, but in turn will not allow corporate centres access to the same funding that would support the additional resources required for the children.

This is not just or fair and certainly not an even playing field. The real casualties of these outdated policies are the kids in need of care and their parents' ability to provide a life of opportunities. The government must address access and equal opportunity for all Manitoba children and their parents' ability to exercise choice in child care.

Manitoba has to decide: Is this province pro-business or not? Is this province going to get on board and allow parents/caregivers to exercise their choice on where they choose to enrol their children for their best early-learning opportunity?

All Manitobans are subsidizing child care already with our taxes. But not all Manitobans are being offered choice or equality when it comes to how that subsidy is spent.

It is time for this to change for the betterment of all Manitoba families and children.

Megan Turner is a co-founder of Winnipeg's Making Roots Montessori Centre

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2014 A13

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