This article appeared in the Sou'wester on September 9 2020
Early learning and child care are a cornerstone in Manitoba today. Residents of River Heights reach out to me on a regular basis regarding the various difficulties they face. Access to this service is vital when both parents are working and child care is needed for people to have jobs and for our economy to flourish.
For example, as children in Manitoba begin returning to school, access to child care is essential for teachers. If teachers cannot access the child care needed to work, the result is a shortage of teachers.
Quality in child care and early childhood education is as important as quantity. Consistency in child care providers helps with the attachment of children. This, plus consistency in the emphasis on education, helps a child’s development and their readiness for school. Though play is an essential part of a child’s ability to enjoy an experience in child care, it is also an opportunity for learning and for the development of social skills. For this reason, my colleagues Dougald Lamont, Cindy Lamoureux and I believe that putting child care and early childhood education under the provincial Department of Education merits serious consideration — to stabilize and enhance the supports for it, and for the linkage to later education. There are several high-quality early learning centres right here in River Heights that need support.
Early learning and child care is so important that we also believe it needs to be better supported financially with improved remuneration for child care and early childhood educators so that they are not lured away by better salaries as educational assistants. Their efforts and education need to be properly valued to attract more workers to this field and lower turnover rate.
Just as schools need flexibility in the pandemic era, just as children and families need to be supported by having access to online learning as well as in-school and home-school options during primary and secondary school, child care and early childhood education centres need flexibility. It includes the flexibility to address the needs of the children and the parents during periods when there may be a need for children to have time in quarantine because of their exposure or their symptoms.
Centres for child care and early childhood education need to be supported, including with personal protective equipment, so they can be stable financially and professionally during this period of stress, strain, and change.
We have called on the provincial government to better support existing centres and to enable us to better meet the needs of the many children and parents who are still looking and waiting for child care and early childhood education for their children.
Many studies have demonstrated the benefit to the health of our society and our economy of providing excellent child care and early childhood education. Investments in this area allow early detection and help for children with learning or behavioural problems. This alone pays big dividends in savings later in education, health care, child welfare, and in the justice system — not to mention the healthier and less troubled society which results. Our economy also gains as more parents work happily and productively.
Let us cast off the old view that child care is "babysitting." As a pediatrician who has become a politician, supporting children and families has long been a primary goal of mine.
Let us strive to improve our approach to child care and early childhood education. It will help build a better Manitoba and pay dividends to us all.
River Heights constituency report
Jon Gerrard is Liberal MLA for River Heights.
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