BC Priorities Project:  Improving Child Care Waitlist Processes

The BC Priorities Project is a research and educational partnership between SFU’s School of Public Policy and provincial government, agency and not for profit partners, which began in 2010. The goals of the project are to enhance the learning outcomes of our students by giving them the opportunity to work on issues of concern to government and community agencies, and to enhance research capacity across various sectors.

Each year, the first-year cohort of Masters students receives topics from different BCP partner organizations that are of medium to long-term interest to them. Students, in teams of four to five members, investigate the problems over the two semesters (September to April) of their Introduction to Policy Analysis I and II courses (MPP 800 and 807). The program is structured to match students’ interests with organizational needs in evidence-based research and policy analysis.

Partner organization: YMCA of Greater Vancouver
MPP team members: Marcus Ferguson, Ziyan Huang, Maegan McKay and Mariam Nasser

Here is an excerpt from the team’s BCP report which was presented to YMCA executive in March 2021.

British Columbia, like most Canadian provinces, does not have a system of universal childcare, which has led to challenges in accessibility and affordability of centre-based care (Pratt & Fabes, 2018). Spaces are limited across the provinces, and as a result, childcare providers such as the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, are in high demand. Increasingly long waitlists pose a challenge for the efficiency of the organization’s operations and for equity in access for families. In response to this challenge, four students at Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy have partnered with the YMCA of Greater Vancouver to investigate methods of improving waitlist and inquiry management within the organization.

The research questions that guided this analysis include: “What systems can be used to manage waitlists for childcare?” and “What practices can be used to ensure efficiency and equity in the waitlist management process?”

Our research methodology utilized a mixed methods approach which included a literature review, jurisdictional scan, nine qualitative interviews with childcare representatives and two with software providers, quantitative data analysis through a parent survey with 287 respondents, and case studies. Following the literature review and interviews, six case studies from childcare providers across Canada were selected. The case studies will remain anonymous for the purpose of this report, instead referenced through assigned numbers. All of these childcare organizations were from within Canada.

Based on the case studies, a list of promising practices was identified:

  • Implement a management software
  • Centralize waitlist management and waitlists
  • Move to quarterly open houses
  • Increase parent initiatives
  • Improve FAQ pages and have a website that is easily navigated
  • Reduce potential language barriers
  • Develop child care mapping with vacancies
  • Manage child care through an intersectional lens
  • Incentivize earlier withdrawal notices

Two software programs and five management practices were selected as policy options based on the promising practices. In order to provide clear comparisons between the software programs and practices, the analysis was divided into two components: Software program analysis, and Practices analysis. The software analysis two programs. The analysis of practices included: 1. Transitioning tours to quarterly open houses, 2. Child care mapping with vacancies (adding a child care map onto the YMCA Greater Vancouver website identifying vacancies when they arise), 3. Increasing parent initiatives (3-month confirmations for parents to stay on waitlists and a limit to the number of locations parents can apply to), 4. Application process translations (translation of the application form, FAQ page, and emails during the waitlist process into the five most common languages other than English or French in Vancouver), and 5. Incentivizing 3-month withdrawal notices.

The following objectives were created to analyze each of the policy options:

Efficiency, with the criterion of minimizing the time and resources needed to manage waitlists (double-weighted to signify its importance)
Equity, which has two criteria including the reduction of barriers to access the waitlist for those with low socio-economic status and recent immigrants to Canada
Stakeholder Acceptance, which also has two criteria, including acceptance from YMCA staff and acceptance from families
Administrative Complexity, which has two criteria including the ease of implementation and ease of replicability
Cost, which has the criteria of the expenditure on the waitlist and inquiry management to the YMCA of Greater Vancouver.

Our report proposes other promising practices that were not explicitly analyzed, due to them being outside the direct scope of waitlist and inquiry management, but are seen as beneficial and recommended to the YMCA of Greater Vancouver nonetheless.

Firstly, the YMCA of Greater Vancouver should utilize data analytics to gain improved data on subgroups they serve. Increasing the level of data collected from families (including their immigration status, their income level, or current location of residence) through the application form is a promising practice that can inform program-level decisions, prioritizations, and location expansion opportunities for the future (Zweig et al., 2015). Secondly, we recommend that the YMCA of Greater Vancouver standardize their acceptance deadline and ensure that this is transparently added into their waitlist FAQ, so that processes are standard across centres and parents are made aware in advance.

Child care remains a challenge across Canada, and our research shows that unless a universal child care system is implemented, the systemic challenges facing Canada’s child care organizations will not be fully resolved (Cassese & Barnes, 2019; Moorman, 2021; Prentice & White, 2019; Kershaw & Andersen, 2011). However, the Government of British Columbia has launched a $10-a-day child care prototype, with commitments to expand it, and Canada’s federal budget may include a national child care fiscal spending plan, which together suggest that universal child care may be implemented in BC (Ministry of Child and Family Development, 2021; Press, 2021). This report addresses the priorities of the YMCA of Greater Vancouver in the absence of universal child care but is hopeful for and accommodating to the possibility that systemic changes may arise in the near future.

Comments and Impact
The BC Priorities Project is an incredible experiential learning opportunity that allows the Masters of Public Policy students to take what we are learning academically and theoretically, and put it into practice. Working with the YMCA on the issue of childcare distribution and inefficiencies in British Columbia provided my team and I with not only a networking opportunity with one of the largest childcare providers in Canada, but it also provided us with the skills to facilitate a policy analysis on a salient issue facing Canada  -Maegan McKay, MPP team member