Addressing Childcare Access for Employees


Since the Province of B.C. published its Families First Agenda for B.C. in 2012, families and employers anticipated support for childcare access and affordability. Key findings in the report include the need to address fragmentation of B.C.’s services, and to “improve the affordability, accessibility and the quality of childcare programs to better meet the needs of families.”[1] Recent findings suggest that rather than improving, accessibility is decreasing while fees are increasing. For those who can afford the fees, the biggest challenge is finding spaces within a reasonable distance to their community.

Dr. Paul Kershaw, from Generation Squeeze and UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), found that work-life conflicts of parents raising young children is actually costly for employers resulting in higher absenteeism rates, greater turnover, and increased use of employer-funded extended health benefits. Further, the cost to the B.C. business community, according to Kershaw, is over $600 million annually and over $4 billion for Canadian businesses. These costs are exasperated by the costs to the Canadian health care system of over $2.5 billion and child welfare of over $1.2 billion. Inadequate childcare is too costly to ignore.

However, in B.C. as of 2012[2], only 18% of children under 12 had access to a regulated childcare space, which is less than the Canadian average of 20.5%. Unregulated care arrangements include family members through to neighbourhood small care-givers, with no regulated standards of safety or quality, no inspections and no oversight.

Using First Call’s most recent figures, B.C. invested $398 / year for regulated spaces, which is substantially less than the Canadian average of $838 / year (including Quebec; without Quebec, the average is $436). Further, B.C.’s investment decreased by $16 million between 2011 and 2012. As a result, fees are higher on average across all age groups than the rest of Canada. Although provincial subsidies do assist some parents/guardians on the very low-income level[3], fees remain a critical barrier to full employment and high productivity. The premise of choice for adequate childcare does not take into account the necessity of a second income in order to finance a family in one of the highest cost of living areas in Canada.

Labour Force participation

  • 1976: under 40% of mothers with children under 16 were in the paid labour force;
  • In 2012: over 73% of mothers are in paid labour force and is continuing to climb; and
  • The rate for mothers with a child under 3 years has increased from 28% to almost 70% in the same time period.

Child Care accessibility 

  • B.C. averages 24 spaces for every 100 children;
  • After school care and under 3 years old care is in serious deficit;
  • Very few facilities serve more than one age group;
  • 93% of available childcare is commercial; and
  • Child care fees as high as $1850 per month for under 3 and up to $1550 for over 3 care, and is the second largest expense in a family’s budget.

Parents in financial need can access B.C.’s childcare subsidy, a means-tested rate for children in various childcare settings (licensed and unlicensed) and different ages. The subsidy is scaled based on income and capped at a maximum amount with parents paying the market rate difference. Advocates for the $10 per day childcare would prefer parents paying up to a maximum, and the province paying the market difference. There are pros and cons to this, but a significant con to the government paying the market difference is the potential for this program to run into the billions of dollars. Of course, with more parents working there will be a concordant increase in income tax revenue to government. By some estimates, up to $104 is returned for every $100 invested provincially plus a further $43 for the federal government.[4]

Whatever the funding model for assisting families, the real issue is lack of quality spaces, particularly in urban economic centres. There is a deficit of spaces in those areas that have a higher population and employment opportunity. Even with the Childcare Operating Fund for centres with over 8 children[5], the operating costs can exceed what parents would be able to pay. The operating grant of $5.48 per child between ages 3 and kindergarten for full-time care, per month, in a facility of more than 8 children, for example isn’t quite enough, particularly in areas where land is at a premium.

Operating costs are contingent on land (ownership, lease, rent), labour, materials, fees and other related business costs. Start-up costs also vary per region and per need. What is required is to concentrate extra assistance in those areas that have long wait lists for available spaces to encourage expansion of current facilities and the ability to develop others to alleviate the pressures. This would require a review of current support programs such as parent subsidies and capital grant funds for the purpose of increasing them for higher cost regions. In particular, the operating fund for childcare centres in urban regions with high land-lease costs may need to be increased to be more effective in supporting the development of more spaces.

Affordability and accessibility to quality childcare spaces are necessary for employees to be able to perform at peak productivity, confident in the knowledge that their children are cared for in a safe, learning environment. Household expenditures are necessary for a vibrant local business community. Both are necessary for a family friendly community that supports and nurtures a healthy and engaged society. With the appropriate investment by the provincial government to encourage the development of more spaces, the return on investment is a richer economic environment for families and communities.


That the Provincial Government:

  1. Utilize the current capital and operational grant funding tools and, in alignment with its Families First agenda recommendations, target child care investment for facilities and spaces in those areas experiencing greater space deficits; and

  2. Further, where there is capacity to expand funding with budget surplus or prosperity funding, increase the grants available to non-profit and private operations to support and increase child care capacity.


[1] 2012, Province of B.C. The Families Agenda for British Columbia: Building a sustainable quality early years’ strategy to support B.C. families.

[2] Latest figures are based on Statistics Canada Census and National Housing Survey, 2011. Data will be updated after the 2016 Census results are calculated.

[3] 2015 First Call. Make B.C.’s Young Children and Families a Priority.

[4] Fortin, Godbour, and St-Cerny. 2011. Impact of Quebec’s Universal Low-Fee Childcare Program on Female Labour Force Participation, Domestic Income, and Government Budgets.