Monday, July 18, 2016

The Value of Child Care Workers

I was briefly a nanny in my youth, but before I opened my home daycare in 2009 I had mostly worked with school-aged children. I love to teach and care for children of all ages, but I also knew I could make a better living in teaching than in child care (not that teachers don’t deserve higher salaries, too!). Not working with children was not an option. I need to do what I love, and I need to make enough money to survive. Teaching satisfied those needs.

It wasn't until I became pregnant with my first child that I even considered opening a home daycare. I couldn't bear the idea of sending my baby to someone else; I LOVE caring for children, so caring for my own during these early years was a given, at least for me. I have plenty of respect for others who, with the utmost love for their children (and no more or less love than I have for my children), nonetheless need or want return to their careers. I’m not smug or self-righteous about my choice. It was my choice. It wouldn’t be everyone’s. And although it may seem like I am writing this post simply to boast about my skills, I want to clearly state that that is not my objective here. I will speak with pride about my skills, but my objective is to advocate for those working with children, and for children themselves. It is the pride and morale specifically of those caring for children that needs boosting. Right now, it is sinking.

In my earlier teaching days, I was considered effective, patient and kind with the children. I realize now, that while I generally thought of myself as a patient person, I did not really know patience. Being a mother of two, and a child care provider working, for the most part, completely on my own, I learned that patience can always be stronger. In fact, it's even trickier than that. You see, for a child care provider, knowledge of patience can always be stronger, but that very patience itself needs to be pulled on constantly.

I would like to return to this skill of patience, but first, let me further explain my motivation for writing this. You see, my second (and last) child will be starting kindergarten this fall. It was always in my plan that, once my children were in school full-time, I would return to the teaching profession. Although I have cherished the past 7 years as a home child care provider, I am excited to go back to teaching.

It was, however, during my job search that I fully realized what a dire state the Canadian child care sector is in. A couple of weeks ago, while looking through job listings, I came upon a position for an ECE. While I wouldn't normally think of applying for this type of job (I don't have my ECE degree, and there is that low-pay aspect I mentioned before), this particular provider – a chain of for-profit childcare facilities - looked promising. They seemed to value their employees, and even had programs for toddlers and preschoolers that were educational. Perhaps, I thought, my teaching degree could come in handy here, and bring in a higher salary. On a whim, I applied.

I received a response to my email that contained several screening questions. One of the questions was my expected rate of pay. I answered "$20 per hour." I realized this might be a little high for what ECE's are normally paid, but also realized I couldn't undersell myself too much; not at this point in my life, not with children to help support. Maybe they would talk me down in price a bit. Perhaps I could go as low as $17 per hour, at least to start.

The next day, I received a response from the day care centre. My salary request of $20 per hour, they stated, was far higher than they pay their ECE's. The starting rate for ECE's, they informed me, is $11.44 per hour. This translates to $20, 000 annually.

Twenty thousand dollars. In Toronto. In 2016. Do you want a few moments to digest that? It's about the same salary as that of a cashier, or a gas station attendant. To care for tiny, vulnerable, particularly shape-able humans.

Sure, it's not like I made a huge amount more as a daycare provider. In one of my best years, I made about $28, 000, but at least my husband and I were saving money by not sending my own two children to daycare. And, a crucial element - no, an essential element - in me being able to run this home daycare was my husband's comparatively high salary. If he couldn't pay the larger chunk of the rent, I could not afford to live in our spacious 3-bedroom apartment; and a 1-bedroom apartment would not be fit for a home daycare - certainly not a quality one. So, my experience as a child care provider felt far more successful than it would have, had my occupation been an ECE in a centre.

It's not that I blame the daycare centres for the low pay of their staff. They have to pay overhead, and can't substantially increase staff wages without increasing the daycare fees for parents (which, as we all know, are already sky high). No. I think it is the responsibility of the provincial and federal government to ensure that all daycare workers are paid a decent wage; one that reflects the very important job of caring for our young. Within the past year, the provincial government has increased the hourly rate by $1 or $2 per hour. While certainly a step in the right direction, this is not enough. Furthermore, the money is given through a complicated system in which the individual daycare centres need to apply for, and wait for, this money.

The media's attention regarding daycare is largely focused on two aspects: lowering the fees for parents and creating more licensed spots. I feel that while these are very important issues, the discussion must be broadened. Here's what I think the items for discussion need to include:

  • Lowering daycare fees for parents
  • Creating more spots
  • Paying child care employees with proper training and experience MUCH more
  • Making it more advantageous for quality home daycare providers to become licensed
  • Working toward the formation of close bonds between caregiver and child

All of these items are for the betterment of the child. Infants' and toddlers' healthy development largely depends on forming close bonds with caregivers. They cannot form these bonds if the staff turnover rate is high due to job dissatisfaction. Young children need to develop trust. Again, this cannot happen if they do not have the time to develop close relationships with their caregivers due to constantly changing staff. They need to be loved, yet the staff-child relationship is not supported enough for this to happen either. Do we think that lack of attachment, trust and love in the youngest members of our society will not have repercussions later in life? This is, at the very least, naive.

I am leaving the child care profession to return to teaching this fall, but I will never forget my years as a home daycare provider. I have had the chance to have a hugely positive experience in the field of child care, and through this, I have learned an invaluable skill: patience. This patience was fundamental to creating a safe and loving environment for the children in my care. This patience helps to nurture a loving relationship between caregiver and child. It is ultimately this loving bond, I believe, that creates the greatest emotional, social, and intellectual potential for the child.

Don't tell me love shouldn't exist in child care. We are not robots. Do you want your baby's physical needs only to be cared for, with some sporadic hugs from a variety of daycare staff? Or would it be better for your child to feel securely attached, and loved by a few? If we care about the social well-being of the planet, we need to invest in the latter. We need to invest in children.

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