Martha Friendly & Susan Prentice, Winnipeg Free Press
Last week, the owner of a private, for-profit child-care centre (Private not a dirty word in child care, Nov. 28) argued the Manitoba government should subsidize private (for-profit) child care, making several misrepresentations to support this view. We disagree and want to set the record straight by offering three good reasons why child care shouldn't be a for-profit business: quality, efficiency and ethics.
For-profit child care has been a much-debated policy issue since the 1970s. Canada's first big-box chain emerged in Winnipeg in the 1960s but Mini-Skool Ltd. was soon bought out by Alabama-based Kinder-Care, the giant chain that inspired one pundit to dub profit-making child-care chains "Kentucky fried children."
For-profit child care diminished in Canada through the 1980s and 1990s, so its resurgence following the Harper government's 2006 cancellation of the Liberal's proposed national child-care program is troubling. As improvements in access and affordability slowed in most provinces, profit-seeking operations sought to fill Canada's unmet child-care demand, accounting for 30 per cent of spaces by 2012. Manitoba has been one of the few provinces whose child-care policy favours non-profit provision; consequently, its for-profit sector is quite small -- about five per cent.
The first good reason child care shouldn't be a private business is that profit-seeking has a negative effect on quality and access. For-profit child care tends to be poorer quality -- a fact repeatedly documented in Canadian, Quebec, New Zealand, U.K., U.S. and Australian research. Research shows ownership is one key factor determining higher or lower quality through its links to wages, working conditions, early-childhood education training, staff turnover and morale, staff harshness and sensitivity, staff-to-child ratios and group size.