– Employer Roundtable Participant
At CivicAction, we know that the early years are a foundational period, and that getting things right from the start is critical At our April 2015 Summit, along with 1,000 of our region’s leaders, we examined childhood health and well being, and confirmed this topic as a key issue in driving our region’s health and resilience. With further analysis and consultations, we broke down the issue and narrowed our focus to increasing accessibility to quality child care. It is well known that rates of return on human development investment are highest during the early years, and yet it is estimated that about 45-50% of children (0-4 years old) are in need of licensed care in Ontario. We know that the government alone cannot solve gaps in providing quality care to our youngest. We also believe that employers can – and already do – play an important role in helping their staff access child care, and this is why CivicAction has played a role in engaging employers on helping provide solutions to this issue.
In September 2016, the Government of Ontario announced their commitment to create 100,000 more child care spaces over the next five years. CivicAction, starting in November of 2016, worked with the Ministry of Education to lead a consultation with employers from across Ontario. Over a period of three months, CivicAction engaged a diverse group of employers to inform the Renewed Early Years and Child Care Framework and Expansion Strategy. 31 different employers contributed through a series of one-on-one interviews and a roundtable meeting on January 26, 2017. Special thanks to Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris for co-chairing the roundtable meeting and prioritizing building bridges across sectors.
We asked employers to describe what the ideal child care system would look like in Ontario. To most, an ideal system would:
Employers also emphasized that the ideal system would need to have an affordable cost of child care. This would reduce the current financial stress that families may feel and give parents the choice, rather than a financial need, to stay at home with their children.
Employers recognized that a better child care system would have a positive effect on productivity and talent retention. In turn, leading to a major economic boost of GDP. A well-built and accessible system would also help more women stay in their workplaces. Especially if more part-time spaces were available to ease the transition for mothers who may be returning from maternity leave.
When child care arrangements fall through, employers face absenteeism issues. For example, when a child is sick and cannot go to school or daycare, an employee with no remote work options may have to take a sick, personal, or vacation day off. There are a small number of centres that allow for the emergency drop off of children, though none allow access if the child is sick. For workplaces where shifts are instrumental, this may mean employees have to work short-staffed when there is no backup in place.
Employers highlighted that it is still typical for mothers to stay home longer than fathers if parents cannot find accessible and affordable care. This is especially true if they have two or more children. This trend affects the gender wage gap. It was also noted that the longer women are away from the workforce, the greater the effect on their future earning potential.
Through these consultations, it has become clear that some employers are eager to do more. This may include offering subsidies, flexible scheduling, on-site care, or emergency care services. They flagged that they still require more information about implementing new policies, making the business case, and the current system, as well as potential financial assistance from the government in order to do more. There is also an interest in learning about best practices from other employers.
These employer consultations made it clear that organizations do recognize the significant social and economic benefits that accompany accessible, responsive, and affordable quality child care. It was also clear that employers can, and are willing to, play a role in transforming Ontario’s child care system. For many employers, providing support to their employees in this area can also be a part of their larger diversity and inclusion strategy. As employers prepare for a future for where millennials become parents, providing more support with child care could be an opportunity to attract and keep valuable talent. It was clear that there is a need for a child care system that accommodates the workforce of today and tomorrow.
As the Ministry continues to work to develop a renewed plan for early years and child care expansion strategy, we encourage ongoing and deeper employer engagement in partnership to build the best possible child care system in Ontario.