Childcare ‘deserts’ identified in Surrey and Burnaby in national report

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Most of Surrey and Burnaby and some neighbourhoods in Vancouver are examples of what a new report is calling “childcare deserts� that exist across the country.

Nationally, as many as 776,000 children who are not of school age live in neighbourhoods with a shortage of childcare spaces, according to a report released Wednesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Among 116,000 children in Metro Vancouver, 62,000 live in these “daycare deserts,� according to the report.

It defines a childcare desert as postal codes where there are three or more children per licensed daycare.

Iglika Ivanova, a CCPA senior economist, said in an interview that the report is the first of its kind to compare all the country’s licensed daycare spaces with the number of children in each postal code.

Many studies have looked at the high cost of childcare, but not at the availability of spaces across the country, she said.

“The report says that it is really important to pay attention to the availability of childcare spaces as well as the price,� Ivanova said in a phone interview in Vancouver.

According to the report, the area in Metro Vancouver with the highest proportion of children living in a childcare desert is Surrey, at 94 per cent.

(The worst in the country is Saskatoon, with 100 per cent of children living in a childcare desert.)

“(Surrey’s) 29,080 children have access to only 7,325 licensed childcare spaces,� the report says. “Almost all of the city is a childcare desert, with only the southern sections nearest to White Rock having slightly higher coverage rates of 42 per cent.�

Elsewhere in Metro Vancouver, 71 per cent of children in Burnaby live in a childcare desert. Within Vancouver, neighbourhoods such as Kitsilano, Kensington and Riley Park are also considered “largely childcare deserts.�

Neighbourhoods doing better, at about one licensed space per child, are the University of B.C., north Richmond, and southern areas of West Vancouver and North Vancouver.

The report explains that the idea of a “childcare desert� is similar to that of a “food desert,� which is described as a community without adequate access to healthy and affordable foods. The term is borrowed from the Center for American Progress and Child Care Aware of America.

Ivanova said one of the big trends the report found is that provinces that are more involved in fee setting or in planning and funding have better coverage rates and better access to childcare than provinces that leave it entirely up to the free market.

Ivanova said the report doesn’t explain why childcare deserts exist or why a city such as Victoria is doing so well at matching demand for childcare with access to available spaces. Victoria, as well as cities such as Laval and Charlottetown, have no childcare deserts, according to the report.

She said the CCPA wanted to compile data, create an interactive map, and make it publicly available as communities and governments look to improve access across the country.

“We expected to see big regional variations,� she said. “It’s interesting to see how big the variations are within cities.�

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