January 15, 2015

“Ghost” spaces in childcare services: Bill 27 is not an answer to families' needs or to desired optimization

Québec City, January 15, 2015 - Today the Québec Ombudsman tabled its brief on Bill 27 - Act respecting the optimization of subsidized educational childcare services, with the Committee on Citizen Relations. Aimed mainly at curbing the phenomenon dubbed “ghost” spaces in childcare services, the bill attempts to resolve a complex problem through means ill-adapted to what families really experience, Ombudsperson Raymonde Saint-Germain points out.

As she sees it, the ministerial proposal penalizes parents, especially those with atypical childcare needs. These needs must be taken into account in providing an adequate response. “Furthermore, there is the risk that the solutions put forward might not have a positive impact on public finances, and instead push many parents into having their child in childcare full-time rather than what they would have wanted. We conclude that this will not generate available spaces or savings.”

Know the needs of atypical childcare and take them into account

The Québec Ombudsman endorses the will to optimize this public program in terms of accessibility and finances. It believes that in order to act effectively and fairly in the specific context of underused childcare spaces, the priority focus must be the factors that give rise to this unwanted effect. Its examination of the situation leads it to conclude that the system lacks flexible schedules for meeting the childcare needs of many parents.

Reality check

The day-to-day reality in childcare services is that situations such as the following create what are called “ghost” spaces because parents have no choice but to adjust to the system, when it should be the other way around:

  • an infant is registered for September even though he will attend childcare starting in December only;
  • a child whose parents have several weeks of summer vacation (notably teachers) “attends” childcare on paper even though she is not there during this period;
  • a child whose parents work part-time is in educational childcare only three days out of five but the parents pay for five days.

What emerges from these various situations is that parents, given the penalties for atypical childcare periods in Bill 27, will prefer to have their children registered full-time. Consequently, the Québec Ombudsman's opinion is that the bill does not solve the problem of the mismatch between the system and parents' needs and does not address the root causes of “ghost” places.

The Québec Ombudsman's recommendations

For an adequate alignment of supply and demand, and considering the problem of “ghost” childcare spaces stemming primarily from the demand for atypical childcare, the Québec Ombudsman recommends that government authorities:

  • remove from the bill the provisions that impose sanctions on parents and childcare services;
  • establish funding for the program for subsidized childcare services on the basis of the real overall attendance rate;
  • require childcare centres and other subsidized childcare services to offer spaces partly available for occasional or part-time childcare with a view to meeting atypical childcare needs;
  • as part of the development of the reduced contribution program, provide for funding mechanism requirements in response to the demand for atypical childcare.

The Québec Ombudsman proposes that, again, in order to ensure a better fit between supply and demand, private unsubsidized day care centres be allowed to apply to become subsidized, with the same requirements as to quality.

Within the framework of its mandate, the Québec Ombudsman reviews all bills and draft regulations. When it deems necessary, it intervenes under section 27.3 of its constituting act, which empowers it to call the attention of the government to legislative, regulatory or administrative reforms it deems to be in the public interest.

To be consulted:

Press relations:

Carole-Anne Huot, 418-646-7143/418-925-7994
carole-anne.huot@protecteurducitoyen.qc.ca