When daycare costs as much as a ‘fancy apartment’

A Halifax parent describes the financial burden of paying $42 a day for full-time daycare for her three-year-old son.

When Catherine Bryan’s three-year-old son wakes up in the morning, he stands by the baby gate at the top of the stairs and calls for her to come and get him. Together, they go through their morning routine — a trip to the potty, eating breakfast and getting dressed, before heading off to daycare.

Bryan, 35, is a PhD candidate and sessional instructor at Dalhousie University. She and her partner, a university professor, pay $42 a day for their son to attend daycare five days a week.

“It’s like renting him a fancy apartment,” says Bryan. “Between the mortgage, my tuition, and just regular bills and things of that nature, the extra [$940] a month is extremely challenging.”

She dreads storm days, because although she loves spending the extra time with her son, Bryan and her partner still have to pay their daycare on the days their son stays home. This is also true when he’s sick.

Snow and sick days can also cause them to lose work, so while they’re still paying for daycare, they’re also not making any money that day.

“The cost is infuriating,” Bryan says. “It makes me sick, every single month.”

Bryan found the first daycare her son attended to be a bit challenging. Their policy on sick kids, says Bryan, was inflexible. “Germs spread extremely quickly in daycare, but [they had] a very restrictive policy, where a child could be better and have a doctor’s note, but according to their assessment would still be sent home.”

During her son’s first three months in daycare, Bryan was in the Philippines doing research for her PhD. That meant that if and when her son was sick, her partner, the primary bread winner, was unable to go to work.

Now, her son attends a daycare with what she considers a more reasonable policy on illness. “They’ve been much more balanced in considering ‘what does an infectious child actually look like?’ versus a kid who just has a runny nose. Their noses run six months out of the year,” says Bryan. “You can’t just exclude them from childcare.”

Although it’s difficult to afford, daycare is an important part of their day-to-day life.

“Having daycare means that I can finish my studies. It means that my partner can work and it means that we can do both of those things without worrying about the well-being of our son,” she says.

Bryan feels that daycare is necessary for her son’s early development. “The daycare supplements the care that he gets from us with learning and different kinds of things that he wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.” Socialization, she says, is a very important part of this.


Originally, Bryan hoped to have her son attend the daycare at Dalhousie. “I was probably two months pregnant when I called, and the waiting list was so long that they weren’t even adding anyone to it.”

When people find out they’re pregnant, she says, they start calling daycares and putting their names on lists immediately.

Bryan’s current daycare is “great.” She says it ended up being fortunate that she couldn’t get into the Dalhousie daycare because the centre her son is in now is much closer to home.


According to findingqualitycare.ca, a website run by the Childcare Resource and Research Unit and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, these were the average full-time daycare rates in Nova Scotia in 2012:

  • For infants, it was $792 per month (based on the daily average of $36).
  • For toddlers, it was $704 per month (based on the daily average of $32).
  • For preschoolers it was $682 per month (based on the daily average of $31).

These averages were determined by multiplying the daily rates from 2012 by 22, the average number of days a child spends in full-time daycare per month.

Of the daycares listed in the Halifax daycare directory, only nine daycares had their current fees listed online. These nine daycares featured increased monthly averages from those listed in 2012.

  • For infants, the monthly rate is increased to $895.44, significantly higher than the average rate from 2012.
  • The monthly average for toddlers increased to $755.42.
  • The monthly average for pre-schoolers increased to $765.43.

Government subsidies and childcare benefits 

Bryan says the lack of support from the government can make you feel that “maybe you’re not a good mother because if you were a good mother then you wouldn’t need child care, you would take care of your child yourself.

“As a mother, or a parent more generally, you never feel good about the decision [to put your child in daycare] because you’re not supported in that decision,” she says.

According to the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, daycare subsidies are dependent on family income, finances and social need.

These subsidies are provided to families with children 12 years of age or younger who are applying for full-time care at a licensed childcare facility.

Unfortunately, Bryan and her partner are not eligible for a subsidy. “We fall in this weird in-between space where we don’t have no money because my partner is a prof, so there is money coming in, but we certainly don’t have a lot of money.”

However, she says, she has friends who have been able to have a child and still attend school, largely due to such subsidies.

In Canada, there is also the Universal Child Care Benefit. Families receive $100 a month per child under the age of six. This benefit is taxable and can be applied for immediately after the birth of a child. If you have a child under the age of six and do not receive it, it is likely because your family income is too high.

There is also the Nova Scotia child benefit for families with a low to modest income who are raising a child under the age of 18. They receive:

  • $52.08 per month for the first child.
  • $68.75 per month for the second child.
  • $75.00 per month for any additional children.

This money could, however, bump families into a new tax bracket and cost them more in taxes or provide them with less of a rebate, so at the end of the year, regardless of the benefit, they end up with less money in their pocket than they had before.

It isn’t enough, says Bryan. “It does nothing. Nothing.”

What does it take to run a daycare?

There are a number of regulations that must be met for a daycare to be licensed. In a full-day daycare they must maintain a ratio of:

  • One staff member for every four infants (three to 18 months old).
  • One staff member for every six toddlers (18 months to three years old).
  • One staff member for every eight preschoolers (three to five years old).

To meet these staff-to-children ratios, a staff member must be at least 16 years old.

Daycares are also required to ensure that every child in attendance is provided with a meal at regular meal times throughout the day, as well as snacks if a child attends before or after regular meal times.

An example cost breakdown for staffing and operating a daycare at 90 per cent occupancy with 53 children in total (from infant to school age) and 10 staff members looks like this:

  • Eight Early Childhood Education (ECE) staff members have a projected salary at $28, 517 with $2,852 in benefits. This comes to a total of $$250,950 a year.
  • One ECE Director has a projected salary of $45,905 with $4,590 in benefits. This comes to $50,495 a year.
  • One cook/housekeeper has a projected salary of $24,620 with $2,496. This comes to a total cost of $27,116 a year.
  • The total cost of all ten staff members comes to $328,561 a year.
  • Additional operating costs (such as: rent, food, insurance, heat, light, program supplies) are estimated at $100,000 a year.

In total, this comes to $428,561 a year to run this facility at a 90 per cent occupancy rate.

In order for a daycare to break even with these rates, it costs $34.50 a day (or $759 a month) per child. However, typically daycare rates do not apply universally to each age group. It is important to understand that enrolling infants in daycare will likely cost more than enrolling toddlers or preschoolers, as infants require more intensive care.