Types of Child Care in Canada

All provinces/territories license regulated child care services according to their provincial legislation and regulations. Regulated child care services include:

  • centre-based full-day child care
  • regulated family child care
  • school-aged child care
  • most provinces/territories, nursery schools or preschools

There are enough regulated spaces for only 27.2 per cent of children aged 0-12 years old in Canada. There are only enough full and part-time spaces in for 28.9 per cent of 0-5 year olds (2016 figures).

Therefore, we must assume that the majority of child care is provided either by relatives or through unregulated arrangements, either in the caregiver’s home (unregulated family child care) or in the child’s home (a nanny or a babysitter). 

Kindergarten, provided as a separate program through public school systems in all provinces/territories may also serve as part of working parents’ child care arrangements.

Regulated child care 

Full-day child care centres

  • In every region of Canada, full-day child care centres must be licensed by the province/territory in order to operate legally, except in specified circumstances, such as cases where parents remain on the premises
  • To be licensed, they must meet or exceed their province’s/ territory’s regulations such as group size, staff-child ratios, staff training requirements, physical space, pedagogy, nutrition, sleep and outdoor time, health and safety, and record keeping requirements
  • Centres are monitored/inspected regularly by government officials
  • Provincial/territorial regulations for child care programs set minimum standards but do not necessarily establish high quality child care

Part-day programs

  • Are usually called nursery schools or preschools
  • Are regulated in almost all provinces/territories through the same licensing systems as full-day child care programs, although some requirements can be different
  • Part-day programs are permitted to operate in Saskatchewan and Yukon without a license

School-age programs

  • The starting age and specific requirements for school-age programs vary among provinces/territories
  • All provinces/territories offer regulated school-age child care, usually up to age 12
  • In some instances, before and after-school programs, as well as programs for young school-aged children during summers and school holidays are not required to be licensed (such as those that operate on school premises)
  • Summer sleep-away camps are not regulated and summer day camps are generally not required to be licensed as child care (although some may be)

Regulated family child care (home child care)

  • Home child care is provided to a group of children in a caregiver’s own home
  • It is offered in all provinces/territories
  • Regulations usually cover the physical environment, number of children by age, record keeping, nutrition, health and safety, monitoring, and sometimes caregiver training
  • In some provinces, regulated family child care homes are inspected or monitored by a government official who makes regular visits. In others, they are regulated through supervision by a licensed or approved agency that is responsible for monitoring multiple family child care homes through regular home visits
  • Several provinces offer group family child care – regulated child care in a private home with two caregivers and a higher number of children permitted
  • In several provinces, regulated family child care is approved rather than regulated
  • Most family child care is not regulated, monitored or approved. None of the provinces/territories requires all child care homes to be regulated, so long as they don’t exceed the maximum number of children

In the education system

Kindergarten, junior kindergarten, pre-kindergarten

  • Kindergarten is an early childhood education program offered by public authorities (school boards or school authorities) in all provinces/territories
  • Kindergarten is available as part of public and (public) denominational school systems with no parent fees and is often provided with parent fees in private schools as well
  • Kindergarten is generally an entitlement, or is treated as an entitlement
  • It is offered for all five-year-olds in all provinces/territories and all four-year-olds in Ontario, with Quebec and Nova Scotia phasing in kindergarten for all four-year-olds; other jurisdictions offer some four-year-old kindergarten with Saskatchewan including three -year-olds in pre-kindergarten targeted to vulnerable children
  • In nine provinces/territories, kindergarten provides full school-day programs
  • Kindergarten attendance is optional in most jurisdictions, compulsory in a few
  • Although neither full-day nor part-day kindergarten is set up to meet many parents’ work schedules (not covering teachers’ professional development days, summer or other holidays or a 9 to 5 work day), these may serve as one part of working parents’ child care arrangements

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