Meet daycare ‘lottery’ winners — will there be more in budget?

Every morning before work, Michael Robinson loads his two kids into the car and heads to the Fernwood Infant & Toddler Care Centre.

Five-year-old Clementine is in the before-and-after school care program and 22-month-old Sullivan is in infant care, a service that used to cost the family $1,850 a month, or more than their mortgage payments.

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Since November, however, Robinson and his wife have been paying $350 a month for both kids.

That’s when the Fernwood daycare was announced as one of 53 child-care centres — eight on the Island — offering $10-a-day daycare as part of a B.C. government pilot project.

“It felt a little bit like winning the lottery,” Robinson said, acknowledging that his kids are lucky to be among the approximately 2,500 across the province benefiting from the huge fee reduction.

The family moved from Vancouver to Victoria five years ago, drawn by more affordable real estate that allowed them to upgrade from a Mount Pleasant loft to a Fernwood home.

The savings have allowed the couple to enroll Clementine and Sullivan in more weekend programs, such as swimming and dance. The family purchased annual passes to the Royal B.C. Museum and Butterfly Gardens and is putting away more money for the kids’ education.

“It’s been a huge stress relief,” Robinson said. “It gives us the freedom to get ahead — otherwise you’re struggling to keep your head above water with all the costs.”

The $60-million pilot project, which began Nov. 1 and runs until March 2020, is a key part of the NDP government’s promise to make affordable, universal child care a reality for B.C. parents.

In the 2018 provincial budget, the government earmarked $1 billion for child care over three years, including subsidies for parents, capital spending to create 22,000 new child-care spaces and pay incentives and bursaries to boost the number of early-childhood educators.

Last week’s throne speech indicated there will be new legislation to enshrine the principle of universal child care into law. As for the 2019 budget, which will be released Tuesday, Finance Minister Carole James said the public can expect to see a continued focus on the affordable child-care program announced last year.

“This work will continue on over the next three years as you’ll see in 2019,” James said. “It’s important work and it’s something we’re incredibly proud of because it’s making a difference for families.”

Ministry staff will do a detailed evaluation of the pilot project before deciding whether to extend it or expand it to include more families, James said. “We’re doing evaluation on the prototype sites, because we want to make sure that, as we build out child care and as we increase spaces, we also ensure that the quality is there,” she said.

Saanich mom Kim Stockville is hopeful the program will continue beyond 2020. She and her husband, Graeme, have saved $1,000 a month on 21-month-old Dexter’s daycare fees at the Fernwood Infant & Toddler Care Centre.

The couple is expecting their second child in April, so the family recently upgraded from a two-bedroom rental to a three-bedroom.

The daycare savings helped pay for the rent hike, Stockville said.

“It’s a bit daunting knowing this program is only until 2020, especially with a second child coming along,” she said. “Around March of next year, we’ll have to rejig our finances to afford daycare for our two children. Although it’s fantastic and we’re so grateful, I’m also thinking a year from now: ‘Oh my gosh, if this program doesn’t continue, how are we going to make it work?’ ”

The family has also been putting more money aside for family trips, including a possible getaway to California this fall.

Sharon Gregson of the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C., a parent-led group that began lobbying for $10-a-day daycare in 2011, said she knows universal childcare won’t happen overnight, but she is looking forward to legislation that solidifies “a long-term vision toward universality.”

“We see this as another step toward a quality, affordable and universal system,” said Gregson, who argues the benefits extend beyond families to the wider economy, which gets a boost when more people are working and have more disposable income.

“There’s a reason why economists … point to the value of investment in the early years,” she said.

“You get more women into the work force who start paying taxes. When your child-care fees are affordable, people spend more money in the local economy. That’s an economic generator.”

Both Stockville and Robinson hope the savings they’ve enjoyed in the last three months will eventually be extended to all parents in B.C.

“We want to celebrate and share this with everyone,” Stockville said. “We feel almost guilty that our daycare was chosen, but we’re hoping this program will be province-wide so everyone can benefit from the reduced cost.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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