Child care in Canada: overview
In Canada, child care is provided in a “hodge-podge” fashion. There is no one, coherent system of early leaning and care for children in this country.
Provinces and territories are primarily responsible for early childhood education and care (ECEC) services such as: child care, nursery schools and kindergarten. Provinces and territories contribute most of the public funding. Some funding is provided by the federal government.
Each province and territory has its own regulated child care and public kindergarten programs. Regulated child care includes: child care based in a centre, nursery schools and regulated family-based child care. These programs all fall under provincial and territorial Acts and regulations. They set staff to child ratios, maximum group size, training requirements, physical environments and other program conditions. Most provinces and territories require at least some of the staff to have some Early Childhood Education (ECE) training but Canadian requirements for early childhood training are acknowledged to be less than adequate.
Regulated child care is in short supply in Canada. In 2007, there were 4.7 million children in Canada under the age of 12. Of these, 3.1 million had mothers in the workforce. The number of regulated spaces for all of these children in 2008 was – 867,194. That is less than one space for every four children.
Ready access to publicly-delivered child care is found in only in Quebec – which has a extensive child care system including centrebased and home-based child care, full-day kindergarten and after- school care. Child care in Quebec costs $7 a day. Across the rest of the country, provision of child care services is uneven, inadequate and expensive.
Most child care is public and/or non-profit. However, twenty-five percent of child care centre-based spaces were for-profit in 2008.
Nationally, the proportion of for-profit centres, which had declined for a decade, began increasing again in 2006.
Canadian child care (except in Quebec) is funded mostly through parent fees. Many families are not able to afford regulated child care.
Fee subsidies are targeted to low income parents who must pass a means test. There are not enough subsidies for all parents who need them. Waiting lists for spaces and for subsidies are long. Subsidies cover some or all of the costs in regulated child care for those parents who can secure one. The subsidy substitutes for the low-income parent’s fee, they are not designed to fund the child care program as a whole.
Some provinces also provide some funds for the overall operation of child care programs, for example, grants to raise staff wages.
All provinces and territories provide free public kindergarten for five year olds as part of the public education system. Several also include four year olds in some schools. Ontario provides kindergarten for all four year olds. However, kindergarten in Canada is only for a part of the day, usually about half of a normal school-day (2.5 hours).
Kindergarten participation is usually optional (although it is compulsory in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). Most parents send their children to kindergarten when it is offered.
Ontario is beginning a new initiative to provide full-day kindergarten for four year olds as part of the public education system. It is to include child care before and after kindergarten hours on a parent-fee basis. The program is under the Ministry of Education and is to be phased in over a number of years.
Early child care educators (ECE) in Canada are almost 100% women. They are one of the lowest paid of all professions in the country. The median average full-time, full-year income for ECEs in 2006 was only $25,100.
A cross-Canada system of quality, accessible and affordable child care is possible. Canada is one of only a few industrialized countries without a coherent and effective early childhood education and child care system. In many countries, governments have concluded that both are necessary and desirable – good for children, women, families, the economy and society. They have put public resources into building widely accessible and high-quality ECEC programs.
Several important international organizations have rated child care systems in industrialized countries – and Canada fares very badly.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and UNICEF have noted our country’s lack of progress. A 2006 OECD report ranked Canada lowest on public spending on ECEC – below the US, Australia and the United Kingdom. In a 2008 report, UNICEF ranked Canada last out of 25 countries – in a tie with Ireland. Canada failed to meet nine out of ten of UNICEF’s benchmark indicators of quality and access to early childhood education and child care.
As the fourth wealthiest country in the world, there is no reason that Canada can’t do better to provide for the needs of its children, women and families. This country has the capacity. What’s lacking is the political will to make the changes – everyone who cares for the quality of life that children have in Canada should be an advocate for child care.
Date Modified : 2011/02/18