Christy Clark says her heart goes out to the parents of a toddler who died at an unlicensed daycare earlier this year, but she can't support their campaign for a universal system. 

The 15-month-old boy, nicknamed "Baby Mac," lost his life at a private home in East Vancouver on Jan. 18. Through their grief, his parents, who struggled to find space for him at a licensed provider, have been pushing for $10 a day child care in the province.

On Friday, the B.C. premier responded to an open letter the boy's mother, Shelly Sheppard, posted on Facebook this week pleading for Clark's support.

"The thought for any mother of losing a child, it's just the worst possible thing that can happen to anybody," Clark told reporters. "Obviously all of us join her with our sympathy and our hearts go out to her."

She said the government can't get behind universal daycare, however, and pointed to issues in Quebec's popular but flawed program.

To meet the massive demand for spaces, which cost as little as $7.30 a day, Quebec still relies on many home-based services even 20 years after its system was first introduced.

"There were massive shortages in the number of spaces as everybody suddenly moved their kids into daycare, even those who could afford a nanny," Clark said. "A lot of people started rushing to put their kids into unlicensed, unregistered spaces. We don't need that to happen in British Columbia."

B.C. and the federal government have pledged a combined 8,000 new spaces in the province over the next three years, all of which will be licensed and regulated, Clark added.

"That's a really good start," the premier said. "I think parents really prefer that over an unlicensed space, if that's what they can find."

But finding a space is the heart of the problem, according to Baby Mac's mother and father, and they don't believe the government's commitment is a big enough step toward a solution.

According to the Canadian Child Care Federation, there's only space for 20 per cent of daycare-aged children in licensed providers across the country. The cost can also be prohibitive, even for educated, employed parents like Mac’s.

"Working families deserve support. A few spots in an unaffordable day care system is not supportive and leave our children at risk," Sheppard said in her letter.

The grieving mother also described their struggles to find adequate care for their son. The couple initially had Mac in a licensed provider, but pulled him out after he suffered an injury on the premises that required him to go to the hospital.

That triggered a long, fruitless search for a new licensed daycare they felt was trustworthy. Eventually, when they were up against a wall, unable to take more time off work or afford a nanny, they put Mac in an unlicensed, unregistered home provider in January.

"Mac died on his second full day at this daycare," Sheppard wrote. "It was entirely preventable. I would never had placed Mac in this home if there had been other licensed options or if I had reliable information about the history of this daycare."

The child's death is still being investigated by Vancouver police, and the family said they're unable to comment on the circumstances of what happened to their son.

Though the parents support universal daycare, which has been endorsed by the B.C. NDP, they admit they're not experts. They still believe the failures of the current system are too glaring to ignore, and they desperately want their tragedy to inspire the kind of change that will help other children.

"My precious son did not deserve to die. He deserved to be in a safe and nurturing daycare. He deserved to live a full, happy life," Shelly wrote to Clark. "Let us strive to be better, let’s push for real change, and dream of a better future for our children. It is in your hands."