Unpacking “Choice” for Families in Early Childhood Care and Education

In our first class I was given the stark reminder of how poorly Canada is doing in terms of investing in children’s early development. Canada is the fourth richest country in the world, and yet we have scored disgracefully low on public spending, indicators of quality, and number of available spots within childcare – and haven’t recovered well. This is shameful to me. Our patchwork approach allows for inconsistent and unreliable options and a large range in financial burden required in order to access care and learning opportunities. This makes me cringe thinking of all of the children I personally know affected by factors such as poverty, parents living with mental illness, and parental job demands that further influence access to quality care. The notion that families should have a “choice” in early learning and care is irrelevant when this access is limited or non-existent. Children deserve investment for their own right, but there are also several compelling evidence-based rationales for investing in the early years, and yet it is not our country’s lack of capacity to invest, but our willingness to do so that is the problem. I do not understand how people are not more concerned about children affected by the lack of childcare and educational opportunities. Treating ECEC as a market commodity and kindergarten as a public good represents Canada’s unjustified and arbitrary division of value of children’s development above and below (roughly) 4 years of age. The lack of funding/financial support for the ECEC sector and the poor public recognition for early years educators needs to change for the sake of children, their families, equality, society, and the Country’s economy.

This issue left me ruminating about my stance and what Canada’s next steps should be. Everyone I have talked to about this issue brings up the socialist approaches used in the Nordic countries. But alas, Canada is built on capitalism and trade, so where is our intersection of public spending and individualistic “choice”?! I feel that the decision to have various funded school systems is extremely precarious and irresponsible for excluding the early years. Considering that by 4 years of age the variation in care and education that children across the country have received is enormous, and that these variations are not due to “choice”, but rather necessity, I draw the line at promoting “choice” at the expense of young children. This is unethical, inequitable, and unnecessary. I have decided that continued advocacy and professionalization of, for, and, from the field is required to gain public attention to change the political climate towards childcare. Learning from Canada’s historical shifts and swings in childcare investment, we require more than hope and promises during this next election.

This journal entry prompted me to start an advocacy blog from which I can share my reflections and insights regarding early learning and care. This blog will be my dedication to advocacy for the field throughout the semester, and a method I plan to use to educate my network and social circles on the importance of considering investments in childcare in the upcoming election. By comparing the investments in children’s early years to children’s school-aged years, including the differences in pay for the educators, I hope to draw attention to the unwarranted and outdated approach to childcare in Canada. If our government truly believes in offering choice to families, we must first invest in a funded, universal, accessible, equitable, and reliable system to be able to conceive viable options for all families (like our provincial school systems). Only then can additional options allow for true “choice” to families. I have started (and will continue) to collect noteworthy articles and follow childcare advocates on Twitter because I believe continuing knowledge dissemination and generating public discourse regarding the discrepancies in our current childcare infrastructure is necessary to achieve this goal. Through this reflection I was able to assess and criticize some of Canada’s historical and political attitudes towards childcare, compare some general international differences, and have begun to develop an advocacy agenda for the upcoming election to address my initial conclusions.

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