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U of O law student says city day-care policy unfair

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Duffy, Andrew
Publication Date: 
18 Dec 2012



OTTAWA - A University of Ottawa law student says the city's new child care policy is offensive to women who want to pursue graduate studies.

Olena Stetskevych, 28, a master of laws student and new mother, was recently told that she does not qualify for a child care subsidy because she's in graduate school.

She applied to the city last month for a subsidy in order to resume her studies after taking one semester off to care for her infant son, Mikhail.

Stetskevych thought her subsidy application would be a formality since her family income is low and the city's website said students are eligible.

But last month, Stetskevych found out she did not qualify because the city had recently revised its policy to exclude most masters and doctoral students.

"This situation is ridiculous," said the Ukrainian-born Stetskevych, who immigrated to Canada in November 2010 with her husband, Viktor.

"I think that the changes they've made are really offensive to women. Because it means women who are mothers, they have to give up their masters or PhD programs and mind their kids.

"This is what the City of Ottawa is telling women."

The city's general manager of community and social services said Ottawa had to narrow eligibility for the program in response to a surge in demand for child care subsidies.

Aaron Burry said the city has received about 4,700 subsidy applications this year, an increase of more than 20 per cent from 2011.

Demand outstrips the available daycare subsidy dollars in Ottawa - about $43.3 million from the province - which means the city must decide how to best spend the money, he said. Only about half of all those who apply to the city will receive a child care subsidy.

"We have to focus on those most in need," said Burry. "What we're trying to do is give people the opportunity to get some basic education so they can improve their employment opportunities."

The city introduced its policy to limit child care subsidies for graduate students in September.

Stetskevych has appealed the city's ruling, asking that she be considered under an exception made for immigrant graduate students. The city continues to offer subsidized child care to graduate students working toward Canadian equivalencies of their foreign degrees.

Stetskevych has yet to receive a response to her appeal, and has already lost her child care spot for nine-month-old Mikhail.

"What do I do now? I don't know. I'm in a very uncomfortable situation ... It seems like I cannot go on with my studies."

They have no relatives in Canada to whom they could turn for help.

Stetskevych holds a master of laws degree from Ukraine, where she taught at the Odessa National Academy of Law. Her husband, an accountant, came to Canada as a skilled worker. He has found work in Ottawa, Stetskevych said, but is only earning a starting salary, which means the family cannot afford $1,600 a month for child care.

The family would have been eligible for a $1,400 a month subsidy under the city's former policy.

Stetskevych is studying for a master's degree because she hopes to again teach law; in order to work as a lawyer in Canada, she would have to complete a full undergraduate law degree.

"We have never asked the Canadian government for any financial assistance," she said, "but we do need day care for our child to pursue our careers, stay employed and contribute to society."

Stetskevych's thesis adviser, U of O law professor Amir Attaran, said the city's policy is discriminatory and paternalistic.

"Ottawa should be well past debating that women have the right to an education, and need daycare to do that," he said. "Our city seems to be stuck in the Leave-it-to-Beaver era."

Burry said the day-care subsidy is not a universal program, but a government service targeted to those most in need. About 6,800 children in Ottawa have a subsidized space.

The number of subsidized spaces, he added, have steadily decreased during the past decade in response to the federal government's use of child care tax credits. The system essentially delivers day care subsidies directly to parents.

As a result, the City of Ottawa plays a much smaller role in the local day care marketplace. Today, the city - it administers the province's envelope of local child care money - subsidizes less than 25 per cent of available spaces.

In 2000, about 70 per cent of child care spaces in Ottawa were subsidized by the city.

-reprinted from the Ottawa Citizen


Entered Date: 
19 Dec 2012
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