Daycare Supply and Demand

Is There a Shortage of Daycare Spaces—or a Shortage of Children in the Spaces?

Recently the Toronto Star reported huge wait lists for subsidized spaces for low-income families [1]. The idea that there is a “child care crisis” consisting of an acute shortage of “high quality spaces” in licensed daycare centres is widely promoted by daycare lobbyists. Long wait lists are routinely cited as evidence. However, a closer look reveals not only that “wait lists” are meaningless as data, but also that vacancies—not shortages—are the norm.

It appears that there is not a shortage of daycare spaces, but a shortage of children in them.

Quality Daycare Shortage—True

It is true that it is hard to find “high quality” licensed spaces. This is because the majority of licensed daycares are of “minimal to mediocre quality” according to the You Bet I Care! study [2], the OECD, and the 2005 Quality Counts! report on Quebec by Hugh Segal’s Institute for Public Policy Research. Top daycare lobby researcher Dr. Gillian Doherty states, “The majority of children age 0-12 in centres do not receive adequate amounts or types of experiences to promote language and cognitive development“[3]. Unless current allowable staff:child ratios are dramatically improved this will not change. But the daycare establishment is not making such a proposal. Quebec allows 1 staff for 8 one year olds [4]. Internationally renowned child developmental expert Penelope Leach recommends 1:1 for infants.

But licensed spaces are out there if you aren’t fussy.

The Waiting List Game

Wait lists lengthened as the daycare lobby alarmed parents about long wait lists. But wait lists do not measure anything. They are really “reservation lists.” They demonstrate only that—surprise!—parents plan ahead and shop around. Lists are not centralized or updated systematically. Lists are of names not children. Names can be on as many lists as parents put them on. The child may not be born. Or parents may not wish to put the child in for months or years. The name may be of a child in daycare already. Parents may want a change. Names may not be removed from lists.

Quebec finally admitted that waitlists were not accurate when it was pointed out that there was no service for the thousands supposedly waiting. They plan to create a centralized system.

Daycare Vacancies and Vacancy Rates

More reliable evidence comes from data on vacancies and vacancy rates. This data is difficult to find and virtually unreported. The HRDC funded study You Bet I Care! was conducted by leading daycare lobbyists such as Drs. Hillel Goelman of UBC and Gillian Doherty. It found Canada-wide 53.7% of daycares reported vacancies and 14.7% had over a vacancy rate over 20 %. In Quebec 40% reported vacancies. In BC 58.3% reported vacancies, and the overall vacancy rate was 10.8%. [5]

They report stated “Vacancy rates of this magnitude make it extremely difficult to sustain financial viability.” The primary reason for the vacancies: “less demand for full-time spaces and less demand for centre care.” In other words there is a shortage of children not a shortage of spaces.

B.C.’s Vacancies

Last year the BC government gave daycares $7 million to make up for revenue lost in summer when many children are on holiday and not in daycare so parents don’t pay fees.[6] We are paying for empty spaces when the children are in care elsewhere.

The BC Provincial Child Care Survey 2001—removed from the internet—had similar findings, also unreported. In 2001 for age 0-2, 38.2% of daycare centres reported “available vacant spaces” with 5.1 as the mean number of vacancies; age 3-5, 49.3% reported vacancies with a mean of 5.6 spaces; school-age, 52.5% with a mean of 7.3 vacant spaces.

By measuring only “available” vacant spaces they lowered the actual number of vacancies: many daycares intentionally do not take in the number of children they are licensed for. Both UBC and SFU daycares—leaders in the lobby—have better staff:child ratios (1:3 instead of 1:4 for 0-18 months) thus not using all their spaces.

Subsidies to centres are based on the number of licensed spaces and not on enrollment. Therefore there is as economic cost—a disincentive—to having children actually in the space as that requires more staffing expenditure. Simply having spaces guarantees government funding regardless of use.

Toronto’s Unreported Daycare Vacancies

Unreported vacancy facts can be viewed on the City of Toronto daycare info website [7], updated frequently.

In a phone conversation, concern was expressed over “intrepretation” of the data. The City keeps track
of the 650 licensed centres from which the City purchases spaces for low-income families. They do not keep vacancy data for the rest of the approx 900 centres in total or for the licensed home daycare agencies. Therefore we may assume there are more vacancies. The fee – subsidy for an infant space averages 50-70$/day – or up to over $18,000 year (more than a full time minimum wage job pays).

Data for Jan 8, 2007 for 650 licensed centres:
– there are 3,313 of 39,064 spaces are vacant: calculated vacancy rate = 8.48%
– infant: 153 of 2267 vacant: vacancy rate = 6.74% – all but 7 of 44 wards have vacancies
– toddler: 418 of 4576 vacant: vacancy rate = 9.13% – all but 2 wards have vacancies
– preschool age: 1963 of 20,274 vacant: vacancy rate = 9.68% – all wards have vacancies, up to 109 per ward
– school-age: 779 of 11,974: vacancy rate = 6.5% – all but one ward have vacancies The website clarifies that vacancies are the norm: “there will always be child care vacancies in the licensed system because of the progression of children from one age group to another as well as the movement of children in and out of the system”.

Bogus Ways to Measure Daycare Demand

The daycare lobby has invented a number of bogus measures to indicate high demand for daycare. In BC some years ago Canadian Auto Workers billboards insisted “650,000 children are waiting.” That was the total population 0-12, not the total number wanting and not finding daycare.

We are constantly told “70% of mothers are working” as if this factoid indicated the number of children mothers wanted in daycare. But mothers’ Labour Force Participation rates do not tell us who’s “working” let alone measure daycare demand.

We are told that large numbers of children languish in “unregulated low quality” or even “illegal” care. But this simply means that children are in any type of non-maternal care that is not licensed by government—including dad or grandma care.

And we know that most licensed care is low quality (see above). And we know from the highly respected National Institute for Child Health and Human Development study of non-maternal care that “The highest level of positive caregiving was provided by in home caregivers, including fathers and grandparents, caring for only 1 child.” [8]

Stats Can Avoids Studying Demand

The obvious way to measure demand is to ask parents their preferences. This was done—but not really—by Statistics Canada in the huge 1988 National Child Care Study. They simply did not ask the preferences of parents who “did not work or study,” or those who did so only when their child was at school. Thus they intentionally excluded the parents of most children. They reported that “regulated group care” was the most preferred choice. But the questionnaire did not even specify that option. The term would include preschool and after school programs other than daycare. The obviously biased researchers included daycare lobbyists Drs. Hillel Goelman and Donna Lero.

Parents’ Preferences

Use of Daycare Centres Outstrips Preference

The Vanier Institute did ask the question Stats Can did not ask. In 2004 they found that “9 out of 10 say 1 parent should be at home with preschool child” and 6+/10 say the same for elementary age child. Parental care was ranked #1 and daycare centres #5 [9]. But Statistics Canada data shows that 15.1% are in daycare centres [10]. So the use of daycare centres is higher than the preference for that care form. It is possible that at least one third of daycare users apparently do not prefer their “choice.”

The Institute for Marriage and Family Canada poll done in 2006 found that 78% of parents preferred that “a parent stays at home” (not wording we would use) over a “competent caregiver.”[11]

Any polls that show massive support for “child care” intentionally do not define this term as “daycare centre.” No one is against care for children!


It’s time to base policy for Families with Dependent Children on what parents and children actually want and need. Families struggle with a legacy of harmful discriminatory policy founded on dis-information. The democratic principle of informed choice means that we—especially women—deserve facts. We need an end to tax-funded spin doctorates dumbed-down data. The leaders of the daycare establishment have practiced deception in order to get more of us to buy into daycare. They constitute a repackaged patriarchy still bent on controlling women. Even worse than dis-informing us is the practice of coercing low-income parents into daycare by de-funding direct financial support for families such as welfare.

We call for accountability: legal action against the tax-funded daycare lobby researchers who have systematically dis-informed parents, the public, the media and policy makers.


[1] “City’s poor hurt by daycare crisis,” Toronto Star, Oct 5

[2] You Bet I Care! Report 2 pp. ix-x (broken link)

[3] Dr Gillian Doherty presentation “Quality & Predictors of Quality in Canadian Child Care,” (broken link) Centre for Excellence for Early Childhood Development, Regina, June 2005, p.4

[4] Early Childhood and Education in Canada 2004 (broken link)

[5] You Bet I Care! Report 1, 2000, pp. 163-168 (broken link)

[6] “Funding creates child care spaces, supports providers“, BC government (broken link)

[7] Toronto daycare “Facts and Figures” (broken link) (broken link) (broken link) (broken link) (broken link)

[8] “Characteristics and quality of child care for toddlers and preschoolers.” Applied Developmental Science, 4. (broken link)

[9] Profiling Canadian Families—Vanier Institute sections 5, 8 (broken link)

[10] Child Care in Canada 2006 see p 6 and 14 (broken link)

[11] Spring 2006. IMFC – polling report (PDF): “Canadians make a choice on child care

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