Child Care in Canada by 2020: A vision and a way forward
…sets out Child Care Now’s vision for what early childhood education and child care (ECEC) in Canada should look like and how we get from what children and parents have now to what is needed. The vision was developed and adopted at Canada’s 4th national child care policy conference, ChildCare2020, which took place in November 2014, bringing together more than 600 people to set a ten-year course for child care advocacy.
What child care in Canada could be
Imagine this. High quality early childhood education and child care has become a reality for children and families across Canada’s six time zones. In Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island, Newfoundland, a nutritious lunch is being served to the toddlers at the new early childhood centre in the school. In small-town Lac Etchemin, Quebec and suburban Markham, Ontario, home child care providers arrive at early childhood “hubs” to meet and learn while the children under their care enjoy outdoor activities with other early childhood educators.
In Winnipeg, a mom on paid parental leave arrives with her new baby at nursery school to drop off her three-year-old daughter. At Haida Gawaii’s Skidegate Children’s Centre, an educator greets the First Nations parents and children as they arrive.
Child care is universal, affordable and accessible
Children and parents across Canada have access to the type of high quality child arrangements they want and need.
Many improvements have been made to services and policies for parents who work non-standard hours, and a national task force set up to find more comprehensive solutions is well underway.
There are still waiting lists, but parents know a space will be available before too long—it doesn’t matter if they are in the paid labour force or not. ECEC is sufficiently funded by governments through sustained public operational/base funding and that means fees can be made affordable for all parents.
Governments work together with community and parents
Under the new Canada-wide policy framework, provinces, territories and Indigenous communities receive federal funds. Each has a well-worked-out long term plan with expansion targets. To meet them, provincial/territorial officials work closely with local governments, school authorities, other service providers, early childhood educators and parent/community groups, as well as with the federal government.
Parents can count on regulated services
As the supply and affordability of regulated ECEC has grown, parents’ reliance on unregulated care with no public oversight has diminished substantially. Many previously unregulated home child care providers have now become part of the funded, regulated system.
Not-for-profit and public child care grows
The for-profit child care sector has stayed small, diminishing as a proportion of the whole system as the public non-profit sectors expand.
Although there are still quite a few non-profit programs, many more ECEC services across the 0-5 age range are now delivered by school boards and municipalities.
Quality is high
Quality has improved across Canada. Broad curriculum frameworks designed to be adapted at the program level to support local choices are regularly fine-tuned.
Children with disabilities and from diverse cultural backgrounds are fully included in all programs with extra support when needed.
The ratio of educators to children is favourable to ensure that children’s needs are well met at all ages.
All ECEC settings are staffed by early childhood educators, share common pedagogical approaches and provide enriching, caring, seamless and comfortable environments for children and parents.
School-age children up to age 12 have access to outside-school-hours programs and enjoy enriching, age-appropriate activities.
Early childhood educators are valued
All early childhood educators are now educated at the post-secondary level before they enter the profession; lead educators have four-year early childhood education degrees or more. Regular in-service learning opportunities are available for anyone working with young children. ECE is a well-recognized, mostly-unionized profession with career ladders and good wages. All across Canada, ECEC program quality and staff morale are strong. The days of non-stop staff turnover are a thing of the past.
Facilities are designed for young children
Many ECEC centres are now in purpose-built (or purpose-renovated) facilities, some in, or on the grounds of, elementary schools. Centres are designed with young children in mind: inviting rooms, big windows, easily accessible outdoor spaces, on-site kitchens, good storage and equipment and dedicated staff rooms.
Child care and parental leave are coordinated
Federal, provincial and territorial governments have improved their legislated parental leave provisions. A paid leave is available to all parents and they are encouraged to take it.
So much better than what we have now
In Canada today, there is no national Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) program or policy. Each province/territory has its own approach to child care supported by a variety of funding arrangements. Each also provides publicly-funded kindergarten, mostly for five-year-olds. Globally, Canada is one of the world’s wealthiest countries but international reviews from groups such as UNICEF (2008) rank us at the bottom when it comes to ECEC.
In Canada, market forces and a consumerist approach shape, create, maintain, deliver and finance child care services. Federal and provincial/ territorial child care policy encourages this dependence on markets, flying in the face of clear evidence that public management of child care, including public/non-profit delivery, is a much more fair and effective and fair way to deliver services.
The current approach to ECEC has created a plethora of problems: high parent fees, lack of quality of appropriate child care when parents and children need it, inequality of access based on income and place of residence, almost no access for children with disabilities or for linguistic minorities. Also, the market-approach to ECEC has created serious ECEC workforce problems including unfair and low compensation, and a crisis in recruitment and retention of qualified staff.
Governments must make ECEC a priority
It is well recognized that ECEC has the potential to address multiple social and political objectives. Women’s equality and employment, poverty reduction, family-work balance, social integration and equal opportunity, improved child development and well-being, and economic prosperity are regularly cited as good reasons to support high quality ECEC.
ECEC as a human right for both women and children is well accepted internationally, articulated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Education for All (EFA).
In a number of countries, this idea is carried into national policy that makes ECEC an entitlement for all children. Overall, in the absence of federal participation and leadership, Canada’s record on ECEC issues leaves many family and societal needs unmet.
It’s affordable for Canada
There is a strong case for recognizing the substantial long- and short-term economic benefits of universal high quality ECEC. A 2012 Toronto Dominion Bank study reviewed economic benefits from children’s learning and development, reduced social costs and increased workforce participation. A key Quebec study showed enhanced government revenues from increased mothers’ labour force participation—enough to offset 40% of Quebec’s hefty child care spending. These larger societal and financial issues are closely related to provision of a new social program like ECEC.
The pillars of reform
The best evidence shows that the surest way to give all Canadian families ECEC options is to use a multi-layered governance approach that includes: an overarching national policy framework and funding strategy; robust service systems designed and administered by each province/territory; and local management and planning, including a democratic voice for parents and early childhood educators.
Canada’s national policy framework and funding strategy must advance the principles of universal entitlement; high quality; and comprehensive services to meet all needs of all children and parents.
More Child Care Matters
For a better idea of where child care in Canada is currently at, read our “Child care in Canada at a Glance” report. Find out how provinces compare, where there have been improvements, and where there is still much work to do.
There’s a better path forward. One that could see affordable, safe, inclusive, and high-quality care made available for all kids and families. Read our “Child Care by 2020” vision document to find out more.