[Éditorial de Louise-Maude Rioux Soucy] Our daycare services fall victim to a great illusion

On paper, the Quebec model shines in early childhood. In practice, our daycare services (SDG) have become Swiss cheese. More than 33,000 families hang around waiting for a place. It’s not much better after school. We learned last week that several school childcare services, already experiencing significant staff shortages, may not be able to offer services for spring break. A heartbreaking first. Even four-year-old kindergartens, the apple of the caquists’ eyes, are lagging behind for lack of space and available manpower.

We talk a lot about the disintegration of our health and education networks. Rightly so, the fire is raging there. On the other hand, very little is said about the erosion of our childcare services. Wrongly, the fire is huge there too. Without the latter, however, it is difficult to see how the missions of the first two can be fully ensured. A society that neglects its childcare services abdicates on three key elements of child development, the Observatoire des tout-petits reminds us: the quality and stability of the environments in which they develop and the continuity between them.

It is time to change our perspective on the turbulence that shakes the SDGs in order to take the right measure. This crisis goes beyond a simple breakdown in service: it is the expression of a social breakdown that the pandemic has helped to crystallize. For three years, the parents often struggled alone to provide the essentials. Helping teleworking, they proved that “we can always manage”, even with a sick child burning with fever on his knees, even composing behind the screen with a mini-tornado on leave forced by the unexpected closure of his SD&G.

There are certain advantages to this flexibility which means that the child “exists” in the “work” space like never before, by favoring atypical working hours, for example. But this form of conciliation also feeds an illusion that benefits both employers and the government. It is not because this tinkering is now possible (and, for certain aspects, useful) that we must abdicate on the universality of childcare services, the vocation of which remains essential.

The caquists were very active on this front, but they did it in Sisyphus, advancing while retreating. Between March 2018 and March 2022, they will have managed to bring out of their hat 12,000 places in early childhood centers (CPE). A real tour de force. But while they pampered this environment in great need of love, the family environment lost feathers by the thousands.

Race results? Burdened by 24,505 places lost in family environments, the network, all environments combined, will have seen 12,295 places soar in four and a half years, show data provided by the Ministry of the Family counted by The duty. Contrary to her ministry, Minister Suzanne Roy estimates that the losses in the family environment will have been half less, which is still “too much”, she admitted in an interview with the To have to Thursday.

The roots of the crisis date back to 2014, in the wake of the Liberal government’s modulation of childcare costs. The Caquiste government may have restored the single rate in 2019 and increased the total remuneration of educators by 30% (a pure catch-up, in truth), that will not have stopped the bleeding. With rampant inflation and the end of COVID bonuses and holidays, the grocery cart today has swallowed up a large chunk of these advances. This will need to be quickly factored into the equation if the Minister is to avoid further serial closures.

At the same time, it will be necessary to hire 18,000 more educators to complete the network. Optimistically, the minister believes she can achieve this by favoring in particular the model of “community” childcare services for 12 children, which has generated 600 more places in less than a year, and by reviving the formula in the workplace. It also relies on recruitment, including now abroad, the latter being very difficult here, even since the addition of a scholarship program and a work-study program in early childhood at the college level.

This titanic project should not be done to the detriment of existing communities and those who hold them at arm’s length. This is the blind spot in Minister Roy’s plan. A bit like the rest of her society no doubt, she takes it too easily for granted that while waiting for sunnier days, the educators will hold their breath and the parents will tinker with homemade solutions.

To his Minister of Health who said he was not there to “put out fires [et] resolve emergencies”, but “to have structuring effects that will change things”, Prime Minister Legault recently reminded, kindly, but firmly, that being a minister also means being a firefighter in his spare time. This rule applies to all portfolios, including that of the Minister of the Family, who will have to pull out the spear if she does not want to continue the Sisyphean work of her predecessor.

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