For many undergraduate students, the question of how you would raise a child while attending classes may not have even occurred. But while it may look as though it rarely happens, the reality is that at a university as large as UBC, these situations are inevitable.
Most parent-students are working on master’s degrees or PhDs, and though no official statistics exist, those at UBC Daycare Services and UBC Access and Diversity are not unfamiliar with younger student parents. In addition to being responsible for the health and happiness of a child, the major issues student parents face are predominantly childcare, finances and social isolation.
Beverly Christian, assistant director at the UBC Daycare, explained the intricacies of the UBC Daycare in detail, noting that the integration with Student Housing and Hospitality Services means the daycare is mandated to support students, faculty and staff. Waiting lists vary based on age, with the under-three category boasting the longest waiting list. Expectant mothers are advised to sign up for the waiting list as early as the first trimester. Typically the daycare is fully enrolled, though there are a few independent care services on campus. More than 50 per cent of families enrolled are also residents from within the university area. The good news is that a student quota of 40 per cent exists, and as the daycare cannot afford under-enrolment, the student quota is consistently filled.
B.C. does not have a publicly funded child care system, but Christian believes that it is absolutely needed. “UBC is doing a lot for its employees and students but it’s time for the government to step up to the plate,” she said. “It is not fair to just look at UBC, and we must also look provincially and nationally [for the childcare support B.C. requires].” She also applauded the efforts of student parents who manage to study, work and parent, expressing amazement at their management of what is a truly difficult situation — especially when pursuing something as challenging as a doctorate, which she told us is the case for many clients at the daycare.
When it comes to affording the costs of parenting, many student parents turn to subsidies offered by the B.C. government, which currently run at $750 monthly for infants (birth to 18 months), $635 for toddlers (19 to 36 months), $550 for preschoolers (37 months and up), all based on financial need. There is no childcare system in B.C., something childcare advocacy groups, such as the Coalition of Child Care Advocates and the Early Childhood Educators of BC, are desperate to change. Their proposed $10-per-day Child Care plan has earned the endorsement of the City of Vancouver, the UBC Child Care Services Parent Council and the BC NDP, to name a few.
The plan proposes a public childcare system to reduce the exceptionally high childcare fees in B.C. as compared to other provinces such as Quebec and Manitoba. Families would pay $10 per child per day for care, and families earning less than $40,000 annually would be entitled to free childcare. Proponents say the system would increase the number of parents in the workforce, especially those taking significant breaks from working after the birth of a child. The plan is based on the evolution of existing licensed childcare providers into “early years centre networks.”
A phenomenon often called the “generation squeeze” is felt at UBC just as it is throughout Canada. Many young parents in Canada struggle to afford high costs of living and the costs of pursuing higher education, often saddled with debt and subsisting on low wages, all while trying to provide a happy and healthy life for any children they have. According to the 2013 Child Poverty Report Card, compiled by First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, B.C. has the worst rate of child poverty in Canada, with 19 per cent of children growing up in the province affected by poverty. The report also strongly supports the $10-per-day per child plan, recommending it as a way of reducing the impact of poverty on the development of individual children and raising the employment potential of parents.
Another shocking statistic is that 50 per cent of B.C. single-parent households in 2011 were under the poverty line. The 2013 report says such high poverty rates likely stem from “the difficulty many face finding affordable childcare so [single parents] can sustain employment,” further reinforcing the case for a publicly managed childcare system in B.C. — or at least an intervention on behalf of policy makers to make the struggles of generation squeeze less severe, particularly when they are in the process of raising a generation of future Canadians.
When it comes to the accommodations granted to students struggling to parent and learn at the same time, certain case-by-case accommodations are often made when familial obligations interfere with classes or examinations. Janet Mee, director of UBC Access and Diversity, says accommodations for pregnant students include allowing parking close to a building that usually doesn’t allow it, among other provisions. Academic advising holds another role in being able to grant greater flexibility to those whose path to a degree is complicated by parenthood, though it is relatively rare at the undergraduate level, with the general undergraduate demographic being aged 18 to 24.
Parenting at the graduate level is a lot more common, as graduate studies often include a greater age range. Mee said that because the number of students is small, “it can be quite an isolating experience.” Campus activities targeted at creating a fulfilling undergraduate life include joining clubs, going on exchange or participating in a co-op program. Unfortunately, many of these prove inaccessible to those with significant parental obligations, making the pursuit of an undergraduate degree as a parent a “very different experience.”
Combined with the likelihood of having to work to support young children and being spread very thin financially, student parenting can be a very isolating experience socially, though there seems to be at least some support for single parents. The Single Parents on Campus group has published the expansive “Guide to Resources & Supports for Parents,” available online at students.ubc.ca. Furthermore, UBC Access and Diversity runs an active blog at blogs.ubc.ca/parentsoncampus.
While UBC does its best providing the necessary support for those balancing the trials of education and parenting, many different sources agree that a push towards public provincial childcare is required. The presence of communities for parents on campus, especially those who are raising children single-handedly, is a step in the right direction for alleviating the emotional weight of parenting. But the big issue is affordable childcare, and that still remains to be solved.