Seventy-six percent of Canadians believe it is best for children under six to be cared for at home by a parent, according to a poll released today by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. These results are consistent regardless of age, income, gender and working status. When parents are unable to be at home, Canadians choose options that most closely replicate the home environment such as a relative or a neighbourhood home day-care.

Centre-based care was the last choice. Only 11% of respondents considered centre-based care a good alternative for parents who are unable to stay at home.  In terms of funding, Canadians believe that instead of money going to day-care centres, it should go directly to parents in the form of cash payments, a child tax deduction or reduced taxes.

“This poll shows that the policy push in various provinces today stands in contrast to the desires of Canadians, who prefer to see funding go directly to them rather than into school bureaucracies or institutional care,” says Andrea Mrozek, Executive Director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.

“Parents aspire to spend more time with their small children. Across the country, it’s clear this is a goal. Public policy ought to better support families in this desire. A top-heavy, one-size-fits-all government solution will never serve the diverse needs of each unique family,” concludes Mrozek.

Tasha Kheiriddin poses the pertinent question in her National Post article – if it’s obvious that parents want family or family-like settings for their children, “why are so many governments and political parties running in the other direction, promising to create more big-box spaces, implement full-day junior kindergarten, and find other creative ways to outsource our kids?”

As Kheiriddin goes on to say, the answer lies in who has the loudest lobby, which in Canada isn’t the stay-at-home parents but rather the unions. And the labour union movement is targeting the childcare market as a potential growth industry, considering the membership decline in recent years due to economic change.

All hope is not lost though. Kheiriddin points out that while Canada may be ignoring the people’s voice, there’s been a turn for the better in the United Kingdom. Earlier this year, the UK government proposed to increase the number of children cared for by outside caregivers, and stay-at-home or part-time working parents have been contesting it since. Last week however, this sizeable opposition forced Prime Minister David Cameron to declare that he did not want to force mothers of small children to go back to work and that other options would be explored. As he eloquently put it, “The idea is not to dictate to people what they should do, but to support the choices they make.”

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.