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Hi I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama Welcome to our podcast about all things early childhood education.
In this week’s episode we step out of the classroom setting to ponder over some bigger picture questions about child care accessibility and affordability. We explore the question of whether affordable quality child care can be provided for all families regardless of circumstances and how that can come to be through effective policies frameworks systems and investment. Our guest Don Giesbrecht is the CEO of The Canadian Child Care Federation and was formerly president of the The Manitoba Child Care Association. He’s also the father of two very active children. To learn more about how we can work together towards accessible child care. Stay tuned for this week’s episode of the preschool podcast.
Good morning Don. And welcome to the preschool podcast. Thanks for coming on the show.
My pleasure Ron and thanks for the invitation.
Trying to work towards you know keeping Canada and our childcare sector more specifically united together and talking because we believe that’s a critical piece of developing a child care system and developing best practice for children and families in this country. And of course then you know the political side of things I’m really looking forward to and wanting federal leadership and federal policy to be very robust and holistic as it pertains to early learning and child care and for that matter to do what we believe catch up to where Canada should have been a long time ago in terms of policy and a framework for children wonderful.
You’ve piqued my interest you said a fate kind of brought you into early childhood education when you’re in your early 20s. How did that happen?
Well again I was in university and thought I was going to be a police officer and I actually went through the selection process for the Winnipeg police service and made it down to the final selection and didn’t get in. And you know when you’re in your early 20s you think that that’s the end of the world, which I you know in hindsight really wasn’t and more to the point it was really just an opportunity to do what I’m doing today. But my wife and a lot of her friends who are going to university at the same time as well and we’re where we’re doing practicum and studying towards working in early childhood and worked in the sector so I started substituting because I needed work after I graduated. I started substituting at the child care program which led to a full time job in a different program which led to you know a progression from there.
Very neat. And so just touching on one of the points you mentioned there with the Canadian Childcare Federation. You said a key point was talking. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that?
With connecting the sector across Canada. Ron just to be clear about that.
Cool. And how does the Canadian childcare Federation enable that.
Yeah. So the Canadian childcare Federation is just that it’s a federation not unlike what Canada is. Canada is a federation made up of you know the provinces and territories. And you know it is not just a personal philosophy but it’s also an organizational philosophy and belief not just philosophy but it’s a belief that the sector and by a greater extent, not that I’m overstating what our role is here but, that Canada you know does a lot better when I the east coast knows what the West Coast is doing and what the North is doing. That we’re all really focused on providing a high level of service and a high level of communication sharing of best practice sharing of policies and so forth between the sector across the country and because one thing we know for certain is that the issues as it pertains to early learning and childcare in this country are the same in PEI in Newfoundland as they are in B.C. or Nunavut. The core issues don’t change from province to province to territory. From that you know we really believe that that when we work towards a common goal and we work towards building the best possible system in the best possible practice for Children and Families that it should be the same for all families.
You know I use the analogy that you know in our society when you have children and let’s just say they turn 5 or so from age 5 to 17, 18, whatever age you’re graduating high school from move to a community and you know that you’re going to have access to elementary school middle school junior high whatever the terminology is it’s being used or senior high or you know whatever. Again the language is used in that jurisdiction you know that. It’s a right of Canadian it’s a right for children and you know that you’re going to have access to that service. And yes the curriculum may change from province to province but it’s you know we’re not talking you know light years apart from each other. We believe in the same essential philosophy for 0 to 5 I believe it was you know we co-hosted a conference in Winnipeg in November of 2014 and one of the speakers at the time was Ken Dryden and Ken, I a really hung onto this in this because it really affirms what I was or what we believe in and then he says education is a continuum. It doesn’t start at age 5 and at age 17 or 18 it starts when you’re born and it doesn’t stop until you really are essentially no longer with us. And that’s exactly it. So zero to five is just as important as five to 18.
And within that certainly I’m not trying to exclude school age child care which is just as critical as well because if you actually add up the amount of hours a child is in school age or out of school or after school care if you add it all up through the year it’s actually more than the hours that they’re spending in a classroom. So it’s just as critical for those ages too. So it really is about recognizing the reality of the modern Canadian family in the sense that the majority of families have two income earners and if it’s a single parent family will then that single parent is generally out or maybe in a training program or education whatever the case may be. And it’s also built on the science of brain development which really says those first five years are so critical and even if you make a choice to stay at home which is a fine choice I’m not saying that it isn’t and I’m not saying that that you know every child has to go to a child care program but we do believe that every child should have the right and the access to an early years program of some shape or form.
And so it’s really about that. And so we really want to keep our sector connected so that we’re working towards these goals and that we are working to build a better Canada for young children and families. And that know again it is they’ve said you know that the right arm knows what the left arm is doing and that that we’re trying to build ourselves to a common or at least as common as possible level of practice that families can expect in no matter what community or province or territory they live in.
You talk about a similar quality of child care for all families across the country has as a right for Canadians. Is there other countries or case studies where you’ve seen success with this type of a model.
Yeah it’s so within Canada. Will this just start here. You know P.E.I. comes the closest PEI has very quietly gone about building a very holistic early years in child care system and it’s you know if you talk to the folks there if you talk to Sonya Hooper who’s the executive director of the Early Childhood Development Association of PEI, one of our partners, she would say it’s not perfect but at the same time they have built a fundamental policy architecture that will help it build and continue to grow to a place that really addresses what I’m talking about sort of that universality if you will that no matter your economic circumstances no matter your parental circumstances no matter the needs of the child they’re going to find access to services somehow some way within their system and P.E.I.. And in you know so some people argue well P.E.I is so small so it’s simple to do. Well no it’s not because it still comes down to per capita and still comes down to the resources available and you could also make the argument well because it’s smaller doesn’t have the resources to make this happen in financial resources human resources whatever, you know whatever scope you’re looking at that on. But they made the political commitment and the societal commitment to really build this holistic system for children. And certainly if we look beyond our borders you look to Norway you look to some of the other Scandinavian countries that have really robust policies and programs in place not just for children but for families in terms of you know parental leave or maternal or paternal leave access to prenatal real high quality prenatal education and services.
Then of course and post-birth access to high quality child care programs and early learning services and you know a variety of services that really are trying to meet the needs of diverse populations. And I think that’s one of the key fundamental pieces here Ron is that you know we’re not talking about a one size fits all and then I think that is sometimes what really get captured by some of the especially the critics of what you know the work that we do or what we’re trying to work towards. It is not that in fact it’s really that again you look at P.E.I. as a good example it puts the child at the center of everything. And children just like families are complex. You know not everybody has the same needs. And so you’re really trying to build a system that checks off as many if not all of the boxes for that child. And by extension their family that are necessary. And so it’s both, because we in this nation have not really looked at children from not from those lenses. I think you know it’s probably safe to say that we take a bit of a Victorian stance towards children in that you know you they are our future. But really you know they’re not politically important because they don’t vote. And you know your children your problem. And we haven’t evolved this thinking in this country to recognize. As I said before the reality of families and families a long time ago evolved. And women especially and I don’t by any means want to discount the role of dads when I talk here but it really focuses you know quite often in this argument of around the workforce participation of women.
We haven’t evolved to that reality because the majority of child care in this country is hard to access is very expensive and quality differs from program to program quite frankly let alone province to province to territory. So you know there are examples and in this world that we could really aspire to. There’s examples here in Canada through P.E.I and most recently all tie in here to run was in the province of Manitoba where in January the then government rolled out. Really what was the roadmap to build universal access to child care and early learning services for all Manitoba families as well. And so there’s a couple of roadmaps right under our noses here in Manitoba and while they may not be identical to what rules out in every province. It certainly gives you the framework or the principles on which it has to be built.
Gotcha. Now one of the things that I really struggle with and you touched on I did a little bit is this idea that science shows that brain development during the years 0 to 5 is super critical and also that economically it also makes a lot of sense to place more investment in early childhood education. So I guess what I struggle with is you know why is it that there continues to be this misalignment between science and research and what’s actually happening out there today in terms of I would argue a lack of investment a lot of times and early education.
And I would agree with your lack of investment to comment 100 percent. There really has been. And I think it ties back to what I said before and that is you know this real view in Canada about the role of children about the role of families the sanctity of the family. I think quite mistakenly. Child care gets into a political ideology. And we saw that we saw that very apparently in Canada from the federal standpoint. Over the last number of years where you know our Prime Minister at the time said you know child care system I’ll tell you child care system than I am. Of course you know being a little bit liberal here in terms of you know what I’m saying. But what he’s saying and I don’t mean liberal in the political sense but just in terms of quoting him you know other real childcare experts are mom and dad and you know we don’t need a system in it’s pure bureaucratic and it’s one size fits all. And it’s costly. And you know child care decisions are up to mom and dad.
So clearly showed a political ideology that was not in step with you with you know what the realities of science and the realities of the economy are. And so you know that was it was frustrating but I think that happens a lot in not just in Canada but in the world quite frankly. And so we have that disconnect that disconnect between the reality of what you know what parents are needing and the reality of what’s available there. And you know I think you know parents have really been you know excepted what’s not all of them but a lot of them would just accept it. OK. Well this is you know sort of our reality this is what what’s available to us. And it’s again my children my problem. I’m not going to expect governments of whether it be municipal provincial or federal to do much more than what they’re doing now. And you know the solution or the last you know the previous government was well let’s give you a check. And that supports choice and child care. And well absolutely. Hey a family allowance is never a bad thing. I don’t think to support young families at a critical time in their children’s development. And quite frankly for a lot of Canadian families a very challenging financially time.
You know I use this analogy a lot Ron in that you know we especially from zero to five are saying to families you know here’s your child care expense is going to be expensive. We also expect you to be contributing to society through your job and through taxation and through consumption we expect you to be saving your RESP So your children have a good chance to go to school when they graduate. And we’re going to give you 18 years to save for that. By the way and yet the cost of child care on average in Canada is more than the cost of your per year undergraduate degree. You probably need a car or at least one car if not to see you’ve got to be making your car payments or when you better be saving for your retirement because the CPP is only going to protect you so much.
So same with old age security. So financial support to young families I don’t think is this a bad thing because you have an incredible amount of financial pressure being placed upon young families so I understand that. But it’s not the it’s not the solution though because giving a bit of money doesn’t provide the access to the service and giving a little bit of money doesn’t in most cases except for Quebec really put a big dent in the cost of the service. So you know we put a lot of money into that as taxpayers. But really I’m not sure what value and benefit in the big picture we got out of it for children. So we you know we have this disconnect between research and disconnect between the economic realities and it is you know really it’s not a unique Canadian problem but I think Canada is really sort of a bellringer on that as it really where you can see how there is such you know there hasn’t been continuity between those pieces and you know again I type back to to you know how we look at other generations of Canadians.
So again you know we look at 5 to 17 18 years old as now this. This is a right. You get education it’s funded publicly you know certainly can make the choice to go to a private school. But you’re always going to have a certain level of public money that goes into building a pretty good education system and I can say perfect because nothing is ever perfect but it’s pretty good. And I think as a nation we have a lot to be proud of there. You also look at it through you know I look at this my dad at a certain point in his life needed care as well. And you know we had to put him in a nursing home and I did not have to go on Kijiji to find someone to look after my dad. We didn’t have to go up and down my street knocking on doors saying would you look after my dad for me while my mom you know is at home or I’m at work and people do chuckle when I say it but it’s true.
Families have to go on Kijiji looking for a service that may or may not be regulated. And literally you know it’s anybody can hang a sign outside their door saying yeah I provide child care bring them in. You know and we haven’t really said well you know there’s rules in place are you following those rules. There’s policy in place. Are you following policy. The majority of child care in this country is being done in some in an unregulated fashion. I’m not saying it isn’t some good care there but don’t apply it that lends to 5 to 18 or seniors or really any other cohort of Canadian society in terms of services for our well-being. Right, be it health care be it seniors care be it you know whatever other lens you want to bring to it. And so our thinking has been slow to evolve to this. I’m hopeful though that we’re now on a new political era and societal era where were saying OK you know what we need to do better here. We really do. And you know we need to root it.
Obviously it’s best practice on science on research and again on the realities of families that families need services. They need affordable services. And I think by the way this is something really important as well as just as long with along with when I say is not just one size fits all. It’s also about affordable, right. And I think again that’s something that gets that gets put out there. All you’re looking know for the state or the government to pay for your child care. No. We’re talking about affordable. All right all the data in Canada really and this is you know from working parents or the information we get from working parents is that you know look if you’re in a financial situation where you can’t afford it ok there should be help for you. But more than anything the families just want it to be affordable. And so if you’re in downtown Toronto and you’ve got you know an infant and you’re paying $2000 a month for an infant, I’m going to say that’s not affordable for the majority of Canadian families. The vast majority of Canadian families that is not affordable.
And again I’ll say this that the average cost of child care in this country is higher than the undergrad tuition and fees of an average university n Canada as well. So you’re paying more in a year in child care than you are by far than what you’re paying to send your child to University College whatever the case may be, post-secondary yet you get 18 years to save for that expense. And we don’t have that in terms of affordability for families in this country.
That’s right because you’re paying for child care services when presumably you’re at the earliest stages of your job or your profession.
And you look at the stats Ron, that people are you know men and women are waiting till later ages to get married. Right. They are ages to have children. I mean the data is really clear. And I’m not going to sit here and say because I don’t know for certain that you know child care influences. But I think anecdotally it doesn’t take a far stretch of your imagination to realize that when all you’re ever hearing is that child care is really expensive child care is hard to find. And you know you really need to get vested into your career before you have children. It creates a bit of a potent mix to help push this you know sort of how society looks at these issues and really affects the next generation of children in the next generation of contributors to our economy.
Yeah. At a minimum you might be able to say at least influences it and I know. You know again just anecdotally finances is definitely a reason why people put off having children right and childcare expenses is going to be a huge part of that.
Now this is the million dollar question now how do we how do we change this. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. But what are some of the things that we can do. You know as the Canadian childcare Federation What are you doing, and also you know just parents or talk care programs like what are the things that we can do to help change the perspective.
Yeah. Well number one you know I think for the most part people should not be happy with the status quo. And you know when I used to run and I didn’t mention this like I worked frontline with children and families for many years before I got to this job, and I ran a couple of different childcare programs in Winnipeg. And what was really it was you know nice. But on the other side of it discouraging was that when you call the parent up and said oh you know we have a space for you. By and large the response was it’s like winning the lottery. Right. That they were just so overjoyed that their name got pulled next and they now hopefully were going to have their child care needs looked after. And that’s just not the way to do this you know. You know again to use an analogy you know your local school doesn’t call you up and say oh by the way we have we have a spot for you and you know yay I won the lottery I get to go to school or your doctor or whatever the case may be or finding a doctor.
So you know that complacency that’s there. And I think it’s sort of been inherently built into the system or more to the point a lack of systems in this country really needs to change. And you know I think parents shouldn’t just be happy that they have one choice. Parents should be really have the ability to choose from a number of different programs within their community that best meet their needs and their own personal philosophies as to as to their children. So you know this notion that I’m going to call up you know X number of places but I’m hoping just one of them calls me back and I’m going to have to accept who whoever and whatever they do because it’s my only choice. I don’t think that’s the way to really build a system. So there’s that complacency and then certainly from our standpoint as an organization, goes back to you know our wanting to keep the conversations alive in terms of policy, best practice, in terms of you know political direction between our partners and our affiliates from across the country is a critical piece. We know the issues that unite the sector in you know and I want to say you know it’s great to identify the issues now we need to figure out the solution to that. And when the when the issues are virtually the same from coast to coast to coast we need to come up with solutions that address those. And then certainly from the national point of view you know we work with other national partners whose goals are also to build a really holistic early childhood system for Canadian families. And you know so we ourselves are not what I would call large advocacy organization.
We certainly do a small amount of advocacy and political work based on you know what we think is not just we think what we know is the science. And as you and I’ve talked about the economic realities of families and what we hear from our grassroots membership in our organizations across this country. So it is really important that you know as organizations childcare organizations we are engaging our provincial and federal and local politicians so that they understand the issue and not just understand it but we provide them with solutions. And hopefully some leadership that they can use as they drop public policy and create programs across this country. We also need then you know really we need strong federal leadership. I think you know the evidence shows in any country in this world that has really great early learning care policy and programs. It really stems from federal leadership. And so you know that’s an important piece and you know I think our federal government right now is committed to creating an early learning and childcare framework we don’t know what that’s going to look like yet.
But I would hope that you know later this year by fall maybe early winter we do have a better sense of that and that you know in a perfect world it’s aspirational and it creates a climate policy as well as funding that allows the province and territories to build really high quality systems. And so from a federal perspective I mean there has to be enough money transfers to the provinces to build systems but also that it’s not you know not a watered down system that in fact it’s a really strong robust system that is based on you know best practice scientific evidence and so on and so forth. So you know it’s a multi leveraged thing. Building something, it doesn’t happen overnight it takes time but you know we need some really fundamental building blocks or foundations there from our federal government to help move this forward. And I think you’ll find willing participants in the provinces provincial and territorial governments that they want to build better systems. They just need a partner and some leadership from the federal government there
Absolutely. And so I just want to circle back to one thing you mentioned Makes sense and just trying to connect the dots a little bit with what you’re saying. It seems like there’s actually a very close relationship between a couple of the points you made where you know we want families not to be complacent with the quality of childcare that’s currently available to them and we also need strong leadership in the federal sense to drive change forward. Do you think there’s also a point to be made where really at the end of the day most people end up, place of political power will act on what their constituents care about and what their constituents tell them they want progress on. And so in a way those two are actually very closely connected and by educating families and parents and the Canadian public at large about the importance of early childhood education that might help drive that change from the bottom up into government.
Yeah I think I think you’re absolutely right. You know and in so you I think it is a fair question you know to ask or to even state you know what. We need parents we need parents we need prospective parents to really be stepping up and engaging. Now not going to be naïve enough and nobody should be just assuming just because you’re a parent you’re going to be comfortable with writing your MLA or your MD. It’s just not real no matter what the issue. But at the same time you’re bang on that that politicians will act and react to what they’re hearing on the ground. And so you absolutely need you know a certain level of parents and the community at large. Heck even grandparents who are now being pushed into service you know to help out with their with their children’s child, for their grandchildren. To say that you know the status quo isn’t working here. And you know we need we need better than what we have. And you know look you know we’re going to just say this too that if you are you know as a grandparent if you have the ability and want to spend you know a lot of time with your grandchildren while you’re well your children go to work.
I think that’s good for you. Right. But I’ve also heard you know well you know maybe grandparents should be the defacto child caregivers in this country. Well hang on. Did we ask them that and after x number of years of working and wanting a retirement is that even fair to ask them that. Again if you want to that’s fine. But you know let’s not make that assumption right that every grandparent can for health for physical reasons financial reasons whatever actually be that person. And so you know this isn’t just about parents. I think this is about grandparents This is about communities at large. And you know not only that but building really healthy communities. We design communities so that there is hopefully a park and hopefully you know some shopping services and hopefully a doctors are some medical services school you know churches, synagogues, whatever the case may be and childcare is just as integral to that building of a healthy community as anything else is.
Absolutely. Well very thought provoking conversation lots to think about as we finish out the episode today. Thanks for those very insightful views and I really in particular enjoyed your kind of spinning perspectives on their head a little bit looking at some analogies of comparing early childhood education to school age and even other age groups it’s an interesting way to look at it. Like you said you kind of laugh at it but it’s true. And it’s very interesting.
Yeah. Well my pleasure Ron. I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you here today.
It was great having you. A couple questions before we round things out. I know Canadian childcare Federation puts out some research of its own at times but on a regular basis where do you look to externally to get information about what’s happening in the field of early childhood education.
Great question. You know and I don’t like to harbor back to this continually and so I’m apologizing if it’s sounding this way but really over the last 10 years Canada and we certainly as an organization have not had a lot of research or funds to do you know what we call knowledge transfer taking research to practice available. And so it’s been really quiet on that front in Canada for the last 10 years. But having said that Martha Friendly in the CRU has continued as best it can to create data just in and around child care spaces more specifically and the creation of spaces and what’s happening in each province so we rely on that.
And you know one of the things that Martha and the CRU did the other year was they actually had to crowdfund to get the data out. So we really are looking forward to a renewed commitment in research and again that knowledge transfer that comes out of the research going forward. You know certainly you know one of the things we’ve had to do is rely on again our relationships across this country to find out you know what is going on and on the front lines on the grass roots which you know at its core I think it’s fair to say that’s anecdotal because it’s being reported it’s not being studied. And then from that then in the absence of Canadian data we go to what’s happening internationally. And you know try to draw hopefully some comparisons from what we’re seeing internationally to you know what’s happening in Canada. So it’s been unfortunately very quiet and so it’s really hard to say this is where we root ourselves in Canada because it’s been few and far between.
Yeah and that’s partially why I asked the question because I also think knowledge transfer super important and I also do agree that there is limited amount of knowledge out there currently and there could be a lot more so trying to help our listeners find out what those resources are from people like yourself and other guests on this show.
Ron I will add this as we get information you know people focus on social media that’s where we’re going to post it and put it out there for the sector to see. Yeah.
Wonderful. And last question. What’s exciting most about early childhood education right now?
I think one of there’s two things. One is after you know one of the strength of the strengths of our organization traditionally has been that we have again connected the sector and brought people together to build leadership to build capacity and build information exchange. We’ve been doing that in a virtual world very much over the last number of years because we just couldn’t afford to bring everybody together to have face to face contact. We were very fortunate to receive funding from the Lawson foundation to host a meeting of our partners this September in Ottawa which is the first time since 2008 that has happened. So that ability to reconnect our sector and do all those things I just said is very exciting or start to restart to do those things, I should say, is very exciting for us and I should also mention too that you know the we also receive a large amount of support from another foundation in Edmonton called the Mutarte foundation and without their support through the last number of years. I’m not sure that the Canadian childcare Federation would be around today so it’s really important to note the foundations in Canada have really not just for the Canadian childcare Federation but for a lot of other organizations that work on children’s issues and the have benefited from private foundations coming up and helping them keep the lights on so to speak.
And the second piece of course would be the federal political scene and that is that you know our ministers and Jean evade Duplo is leading the way in terms of building a national early learning and childcare framework as I mentioned before you know we’re hoping that we start to hear something substantive coming out of that work coming up and in fall maybe early winter in terms of what that direction is going to be and how it’s going to look and so on and so forth. And so our work with our national partners you know I think is important on this. And you know we’re all waiting for that. So there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic for us right now. And to think that we’re building to a much better Canada for Children and Families.
Wonderful. So lots of work to do but we’re staying optimistic and there’s some I guess encouraging trends.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yup.
Awesome. Well thanks so much for coming on the show Don really appreciate your time.
My pleasure Ron. Thank you.