Evidence suggests there is a serious policy gap in Canada that stands in the way of achieving these positive human and economic outcomes. Between the one-year parental leave for qualifying parents and the start of kindergarten, usually at age 5, there is no universal policy designed to support young children. The more than 50-year-old call for a pan-Canadian child care plan remains elusive. To date, the federal government has been an unreliable partner; the provinces and territories have been left to fill the void with varying capacities and results. As a result, we fail to realize our potential as a society, while governments and Canadians remain confused about how to help during the foundational years of human development.
The ECER provides a snapshot of provincial ECE services through 19 benchmarks organized into five equally-weighted categories, reflecting a common set of core standards essential for the delivery of quality programming. Thresholds for each benchmark were established to reflect Canadian reality. Each has been achieved in at least one jurisdiction. As such, they are not aspirational goals, but rather the minimum standards for program delivery. Because there is insufficient data to populate all the benchmarks, we were unable to include First Nations, Yukon or Nunavut. However, we are very pleased to welcome the Northwest Territories as an addition to the ECER 2014. The data sources and rationale for the benchmarks are summarized in background reports and supplemented by profiles of each jurisdiction.
In 2011, provincial ECE policy trajectories were promising. Most jurisdictions had considered the OECD’s advice and used their modest federal investments remaining from the cancelled child care agreements to launch action plans. In 2014, that trend largely continues, with some jurisdictions leaping forward. The most noteworthy development is the decision of policy-makers to at least maintain, if not grow, funding to early education. This tendency has not been the norm. Governments have historically looked at funding for young children as expendable. It may be too early to say that early education is an issue that is sticking with decision-makers, but the news to date is promising.
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Policy-makers are also making better use of the existing infrastructure in public education to grow program opportunities for young children. Whether through the direct provision of expanded kindergarten and pre-kindergarten, linking child care growth to schools or putting processes in place to smooth transitions for young children into the school system, the direction points to a deeper understanding of the needs of young children and their families. Attention to quality is partnering with access, as jurisdictions enhance efforts to provide early childhood educators with the tools they need for the important work they do.
Progress is uneven across jurisdictions, and obviously much work remains to be done. While a celebration would be premature, these promising patterns may be viewed with cautious optimism. With staged prudent investments and an eye on systems management, every young child could have a place in an early childhood program in the decade to come.
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