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Nearly Half of Canada's Very Young Children Live in Child Care 'Deserts'

Across Canada, an estimated 776,000 non-school-aged children live in areas that lack access to child care, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The report, which was released Thursday, refers to these areas as "child care deserts." The organization’s research looked to map out a full list of licensed child care spaces in Canada, compared to the number of children, which is how it came to identify the deserted regions.

"The concept of a 'child care desert' is similar to that of a 'food desert,' understood as a community without sufficient access to healthful and affordable food," the report reads.

Take Action: Call on the UN Statistical Commission to Commit to #AllChildrenCount

The study found that better coverage was more likely in cities where its province regulated child care, as opposed to provinces that let the market direct prices and locations.

In Charlottetown and many Quebec cities, for example, the report indicated that less than 5% of children were living in child care deserts.

Saskatoon, though, is "one vast desert," as all of its non-school-aged children lacked proper access, according to the report.

Read More: Child Poverty at Staggering Levels Across Canada, Report Shows

Urban core daycares were found to be overcrowded, whereas daycares in the suburbs or rural areas were simply much harder to find.

In the city of Brampton, for example, 95% of children did not have access to child care.

"That means parents are on a waiting list to try and find child care, they're having to use unlicensed care, or rely on family even though that may not be their first choice," Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare told the Canadian Press. "They're having to commute with kids or they're having to off shift with their parents."

Read More: Canada’s Economy Benefits A LOT From Women In The Workforce

The report showed that Quebec’s child care policies yield great results. There were enough spaces for the number of children on the island of Montreal and the surrounding areas.

"Quebec shows a bit of a different model, and that's in part due to the fact that the province is much more involved in child care there — not only setting the fees, but also planning where these centres should go," David Macdonald, a senior economist at CCPA and author of the study, told CP. "You end up with a lot fewer deserts."

A study by economic analysts at the Bank of Montreal (BMO) in March revealed that the participation rate for women 25-54 (“prime working age”) in Quebec was four points higher than Canada’s average, according to BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic.

Read More: More Than Half the World's Children Face Poverty, Conflict, or Discrimination

"To put that in perspective, if the rest of the country saw female participation in that age group rise to Quebec levels, roughly an additional 400,000 women would be added to the labour force," Kavcic told HuffPost Canada.

Kavcic said that Quebec’s success can be attributed to the province’s subsidized daycare program that charges just $7 per day.

Not only does Quebec have fewer child care deserts, but it’s daycare is subsidized, and more women participate in the workforce. Seemingly, these things are all connected.

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Access to child care — especially affordable child care — is an important component in ensuring equal rights in a country, in many ways.

It allows for mothers to return to work, which is good for the economy as a whole, but can also help alleviate stress in low-income families, helping to break certain cycles of poverty.

Under the Trudeau government, federal funding will be provided for child care to the provinces and territories over the next 10 years, according to CP.

Read More: This Canadian Mom Breastfeeding at Her Hockey Game Is the Best

So far, there are plans for about 9,700 new child care spaces over the next three years, but that does not yet include plans for Ontario and Quebec.

Some of these spaces will be created for communities where child care is lacking, as well as marginalized ones. Others will be focused on parents working irregular hours, according to CP.

Strong public policy will be needed if governments intend to meet their promises on child care, according to the report.

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