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Children play in a sandbox at a daycare in Vancouver, on July 4, 2019.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Some parents of children in licensed daycare in British Columbia are getting significant financial relief, saving hundreds of dollars per month in a program aimed at helping them balance the cost of inflation.

The program covers children in kindergarten or younger and will apply to about half of all kids in the province’s licensed daycares. Parents with children older than kindergarten are not eligible.

The parents of about 69,000 kids will see reductions in their fees ranging from $220 to $550, depending on the age of the children and the type of care. Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.’s Minister of Education and Child Care, said the program will bring the average daily cost of child care for parents with kids in kindergarten and younger to $21 by the end of the year – down from the average of $53.

Additionally, she said the government’s election promise of $10-a-day child care will result in the creation of 12,500 spaces by Dec. 31. Currently, the program only has 6,500 spots.

These additional savings, which build on the province’s 2018 initiatives, are being funded through a five-year, $3.2-billion early learning and child care agreement with Ottawa.

Community leaders and advocates praised the announcement, but said more work is needed, such as the creation of more licensed childcare spaces.

Cheryl Casimer, First Nations Summit political executive, called the plan a step in the right direction. “Many First Nations people find themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder in Canada,” she said in a news release. “Unfortunately, for them, childcare and preschool have been an unreachable ‘luxury.’ … This increased funding will allow all First Nations parents, no matter how low their income, to send their children to preschool and daycare, inclusive of First Nations’ culture and language.”

Terry Teegee, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, said ongoing efforts are needed to address long-standing gaps in access to affordable childcare experienced by First Nations in rural, remote, and reserve communities. “We look forward to engaging with the province to discuss distinction-based funding opportunities and supports for First Nations on reserve wanting to establish licensed childcare facilities.”

Sharon Gregson, B.C.’s spokeswoman for the $10-a-Day Child Care Campaign, called the financial aid an excellent step forward, but added more spaces and a wage grid for early childhood educators are needed.

She noted it’s a good intermediary step to getting everybody to $10 a day.

Karin Kirkpatrick, Liberal critic for child care in B.C., said she’s thrilled parents are going to have reductions later in the year, but parents whose children go to unlicensed daycare will not benefit.

B.C.’s Ministry of Education and Child Care said in an e-mailed response to questions that the province had 132,000 child care spaces in 2021-22, which includes spots for children aged 0-12. The ministry said 99,100 of those are for children five and under.

The ministry said it does not have the figure for unlicensed spaces because they’re not tracked.

Ms. Kirkpatrick noted that it’s very difficult to get a spot in licensed daycare.

“So the reduction, although it’s great, the bigger issue right now is actually the availability of space. And that’s really driven by not having enough early childhood educators in the system,” she said in an interview, adding that existing spaces are not open because they can’t staff them.

B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said getting a space at a licensed daycare is easier than it used to be. She said her one concern is around the early childhood educators.

“This system is really rooted in early childhood educators being at the heart of it … And I hope to see a continuing commitment to [them],” she said.

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