Persistent low wages plague sector that also has a severe shortage of spaces
Meghan Croft found herself scrambling just a month before school started this year when the daycare her six-year-old daughter attended before and after school told her they no longer had room.
Croft, a single mother and an early childhood educator (ECE) herself, had no luck finding a new daycare on such short notice.
The centre where she works only takes children up to the age of four, so she made the difficult decision to move her daughter to a school closer to her workplace so she can drop her at a babysitter on the way in.
But that means she's forking out $800 per month for a private babysitter instead of $50 per month she was paying for her previous subsidized spot.
"Anyone right now with the way the economy is would struggle with having to have an extra $800 to pay a month, let alone a single mother," said Croft.
Luckily, her daughter was recently accepted to her new school's after-school program, which will cost about $350 per month, plus $100 per month for a babysitter some mornings — still nearly 10 times more than what she was paying last year.
While the province is working toward increasing publicly funded child care following a 2021 funding deal with Ottawa, most workers in the system can't afford to use it. The goal of the $605 million in federal funding over five years is $10-per-day child care across the board, but it's unclear when that will be achieved.
Croft said she doesn't earn much as an ECE and, throughout the past few months, she's only had about $20 to spare after paying her bills.
Naomi Stewart, a member of Child Care Now's steering committee and the child-care co-ordinator for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Nova Scotia, said that ECEs in the province are not paid a living wage.
A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Nova Scotia says the living wage rates for 2023 range from $22.85 to $26.50 per hour across the province.
After a three per cent wage increase in April 2023, ECEs earn between $19.67 and $25.12 per hour, according to the Nova Scotia government's website.
"[ECEs] want to be in the field, but it is not a sustainable one to stay in for long periods of time anymore," said Stewart. "Until they [the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development] fund the program properly, they're not going to get people to stay."
Miranda Dearman worked at a private daycare in Windsor, N.S., where two of her three children attended for free during her work hours.
This was ideal for her young family, until the centre came under new ownership. The new owner told Dearman her kids could stay, but for a daily fee.
Dearman worked at the daycare four days a week, and estimated her paycheques were around $600 every two weeks.
Although she enjoyed her work, she said she didn't feel like she was earning enough for it to be worth it, so she started her own dayhome in July.
She looks after five toddlers, including her two-year-old son, at her house on a full-time basis. Dearman says she now earns more than double what she did before.
"Obviously I have to sacrifice my home and all of my personal belongings, and all of my children's personal belongings that I've bought for them over the years," said Dearman, explaining that operating a dayhome is no walk in the park. But for her, it was the only option that made financial sense.
Last week, before the provincial legislature ended its fall session, the Nova Scotia Liberals tabled a bill that would provide free daycare for child-care workers.
NDP MLA Suzy Hansen said she agreed with the Liberals that ECEs deserve access to child care, but pointed out a lack of available spaces in the province.
"In order to take advantage of something like free child care, there would have to be child-care spaces for them to use," said Hansen.
Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Becky Druhan would not commit to free daycare for ECEs.
"We know that our ECEs need access to child care, but if the skilled trades worker who is building the centre down the road doesn't have access to child care, that's not going to help that ECE. If the doctor whom the ECE needs to see when they're sick doesn't have access to child care, that's not going to help our child-care system either," said Druhan.
Druhan said the government is taking advantage of the funding from Ottawa to "build up the child-care system that doesn't have wait lists, that has spaces available across the province where all Nova Scotians need them."
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celina is a TV, radio and web reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. She holds a master's degree in journalism and communication. Story ideas are always welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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