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23 Jun


Growing Pains: Childcare in Canada

June 23, 2015 | By |

There is strong evidence that effective childcare policies boost employment, reduce gender inequality and promote child development, particularly for struggling families.

Despite this value proposition, and with some exceptions, governments in Canada have not invested significantly nor paid serious policy attention to childcare.

A 2008 UNICEF study ranked Canada last among 25 industrialized countries in early childhood services. Fewer than one in four children in Canada have access to regulated childcare spaces. The spaces that do exist are often unaffordable. The quality of care children receive in private, public and informal care settings is inconsistent.

Canada’s political parties are currently staking out their positions on childcare in advance of the 2015 federal election, ranging from enhancements to the Universal Child Care Benefit to a universal childcare plan. This paper provides an overview of the policy opportunities and challenges in the childcare realm, and proposes options to improve upon current approaches that are flexible enough to meet the diverse needs of Canadian families.

Policy Objective

Governments should ensure that Canadians have childcare options that are affordable, accessible, promote early childhood development and provide parents with the flexibility to work.

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What is Childcare?
  • Childcare includes home-based care, centre-based care and preschool. The focus of this paper is care for children under the age of 5.
Who’s involved in childcare policy and delivery?
  • Childcare is under provincial/territorial jurisdiction and service delivery is often handled by municipalities. Private sector providers and unlicensed care (e.g., by family members) also are key elements of the delivery network.
  • The federal government plays a role in funding social services through transfers to governments and individuals.
Who is affected?
  • 5.6 million children under age 14 living in private households.
  • In 2012, 1.37 million children aged zero to five had employed mothers.
  • In 2012, there were nearly one million regulated full or part-time childcare spaces in Canada, or enough regulated centre-based childcare spaces for 22.5 per cent of children aged zero to five. Available capacity ranges from 46.5 per cent in PEI to 11.5 per cent in Saskatchewan.
How much does childcare cost governments and families?
  • Infant spaces (for children under 18 months), which are the most expensive, cost families in Toronto $1,676 a month in 2014, St. Johns $1,394 a month and are as low as $152 a month in the province of Quebec. Median fees for infants average $761 per month.
  • Average childcare costs for parents in Ontario for 2012 range from $835 to $1,152 per month.
  • Government spending on regulated childcare in 2011-2012 in Canada totaled $3.7 billion – Quebec accounts for two-thirds of spending.
  • More broadly, the federal government will spend more than $13 billion in 2014-15 on transfers to families meant to help pay for child-related costs such as childcare – including the Universal Child Care Benefit, which currently cost the federal government $2.8 billion per year, and will rise to $4.4 billion in 2015-16.

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Sunil Johal & Thomas Granofsky

Release Date

June 23, 2015

Release No.