The federal government has a direct role in funding early childhood programs on First Nations reserves, for military personnel, federal prisoners and refugees and immigrants to Canada.
Four federal departments are responsible for early learning programs to Aboriginal people: Health Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. These departments transfer funds to First Nations communities for on-reserve schools and off-reserve school tuitions, Aboriginal Head Start on- and off-reserve, family support and maternal and child health programs on- and off-reserve and for the First Nations and Inuit Child Care Initiative. In addition, through intergovernmental agreements with Alberta and Ontario Aboriginal Affairs, the federal government reimburses a portion of the costs for on-reserve early childhood programming.4
Funding formulas and agreements between First Nation communities and four federal government departments and their provincial counterparts have created a jurisdictional quagmire that impedes service development and provision. Efforts to integrate child care programs and services were piloted in selected First Nations communities in 2008 to test the impact of streamlined funding, program reporting and community development. Researchers had difficulty assessing progress in the absence of baseline information, and the evaluations were discontinued due to costs.5
Program development in First Nations communities faces additional social and structural barriers. The pain of residential schools has left a legacy of suspicion of group programs for children, particularly those influenced by non-Aboriginals.6 Mechanisms to accommodate the education of Aboriginal children who often move on- and off-reserve are woefully inadequate. School boards invoice Band Councils for the education costs of First Nations students attending provincial schools, but federal funding does not keep pace with rising provincial education costs. Bands find themselves in tuition arrears with local school boards, creating interracial tensions and a negative learning environment for First Nations students.
Antiquated funding systems challenge First Nations communities to provide equitable programming in their schools. For example, the development of full-day kindergarten in some provinces has not rolled out at the same rate in First Nations communities. Obstacles to the recruitment and retention of qualified educators for young children are magnified in Aboriginal communities. Administrators and educators are not required to have the same qualifications as educators working in provincial schools and programs. They do not have access to the same professional development opportunities, nor do they enjoy the same remuneration or job security available to the largely unionized education sectors in the provinces.
According to the 2006 Census, there were approximately 7,000 Inuit, 35,000 Métis, 40,000 onreserve and 47,000 off-reserve First Nations children under the age of six across Canada.7 They are served by a number of federal programs.
Aboriginal Head Start is a school readiness program targeted to preschoolers. Health Canada delivers Aboriginal Head Start On Reserve (AHSOR) in more than 300 sites at a cost of $59 million. Approximately 9,000 children participate.8 The Public Health Agency of Canada oversees Aboriginal Head Start for Urban and Northern Communities operating at 140 sites, involving almost 4,500 children.9 AANDC also funds an additional 15 First Nation Child and Family Services Head Start programs in New Brunswick.10
Across Canada, of those children in non-parental care, about 42 percent of First Nations children living off-reserve, 52 percent of Métis children and 54 percent of Inuit children were in licensed child care programs, including child care centres, nursery schools, preschools or Aboriginal Head Start programs.11 In 2006, 24 percent of First Nations children living off-reserve and 14 percent of Métis children receiving child care were in an arrangement that promoted traditional cultural values and customs. Inuit children fared better with 56 percent in programs promoting their culture.12
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada provides $50 million for the First Nations and Inuit Child Care Initiative, which supports the labour market participation of parents through the provision of child care for their children. About 8,500 spaces have been created in 486 First Nations and Inuit communities.13 First Nations children living on-reserve are the most likely to be cared for in a home setting (65 percent).14
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has intergovernmental agreements that support about 800 on-reserve spaces in Alberta15 and another 3,000 spaces in First Nations communities in Ontario.16
The Department of National Defence/Canadian Forces supports 43 Military Family Resource Centres in Canada and abroad.17 Their mandate covers child and youth development, parenting and family supports. Some provide child care on-site, while others act as a referral service. A 2009 report identified a significant gap between the need for and the availability of child care services for Canadian Forces families. In particular, there was a lack of emergency care to deal with deployment, evening and weekend work, respite care and casualty support. Despite the shortage of ECEs for Canadian Forces programs, there is no strategy for training or recruitment.18
These programs are funded through ministerial agreements between the Public Health Agency of Canada and provinces/territories, and are managed through joint management committees in each province. The Community Action Program for Children (CAPC) is for activities targeted to children between the ages of birth and 6 years living in challenging circumstances. Funding of $48,630,134 (2006) is allocated based upon the proportion of children in this age range in each province or territory.19 The program is undergoing review.
The Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP) is for pregnant women facing difficult life circumstances, with a focus on immigrant women and Aboriginal women living outside of their communities. An annual budget of approximately $30 million supports 330 projects, involving approximately 50,000 women across the country.20
Approximately two-thirds of federally sentenced women have dependent children. Correctional Service Canada provides mother–child programs that allow preschool age children to reside with their mother with the option of attending preschool programs in the community or in the prison facility.21
The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration offers funding for Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC). A child care component, available for children ages 6 months to 6 years, helps parents attend LINC classes by covering the costs of informal care on-site or in local licensed child care centres.22
The Child Care Human Resources Sector Council is one of the industry councils funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Through research and networking, it develops and disseminates information and tools for early childhood staff and operators. In 2010, the council received $580,000 in funding. The program is under review.
The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY) developed jointly by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Statistics Canada, follows the development of children in Canada through regular monitoring of factors that influence their well-being. It has a budget of approximately $2 million annually.23 Its final report is scheduled for 2012.
The Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development funded by the Quebec ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux, the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation, the ministère de la Famille et des ainés and the Institut de la statistique du Québec is focused on understanding the factors that contribute to academic success in primary school, while taking into account children’s life experiences.
Next: 3.1 Policy developments: The provinces and territories - Governance
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