While it is promising to see publicly-funded education provide more ECE opportunities for younger children, the divide between education and child care persists. As more children participate in kindergarten and prekindergarten, child care is left to top and tail the school day and fill in during holidays. This is a poor model that leaves too many families on wait-lists for child care, destabilizes child care operators and creates split-shift, precarious jobs for early childhood educators. There are examples where regions have merged school programs and child care. This allows more mothers to work, creates full-time employment for educators and reduces transitions for children. Consolidated delivery also brings administrative efficiencies, creating savings that can be passed on to parents in lower fees.Service organization is not the only challenge. Large funding gaps persist between public education and the market delivery of child care. On average, per child funding for ECE programs in schools is twice as much as spending for a child care space.
Operating Expeditures per Child Care Space and Per Child in School Programs
How child care is funded also makes a difference. All provinces and territories provide some form of direct operating support to child care programs. Direct funding takes the pressure off parent fees and provides a level of stability to programs that parent fees alone cannot provide. Subsidies for parent fees are administratively cumbersome for parents and subsidy managers. They are often insensitive to the cost of care and the dignity of the family. When subsidies don’t cover the fees charged by licensed programs, families are often unable to make up the difference forcing them to settle for unregulated options.
Licensed Child Care Program Funding Versus Fee Subsidy Spending
Levels of public spending are also related to staff compensation. Wages have been a priority for most provinces and territories. For some jurisdictions, wage supplements are their single biggest ECE investment. Ontario tops up the wages of child care staff by $2/hour or $4,160 annually for a full-time position earning less than $26.68/hour. Newfoundland contributes up to $12,500 annually depending on the level of educator qualification. The Northwest Territories, the Yukon and New Brunswick provide similar supplements. Alberta enhances staff wages for child care operators meeting accredited quality standards. Manitoba has a wage floor, and Quebec and Prince Edward Island have province-wide wage grids. Jurisdictions have also implemented other measures to support the ECE workforce, including training bursaries, hiring incentives and bonuses for continuous employment.
Despite these efforts, the wage gap between kindergarten teachers and educators working in licensed child care is wider than can be justified by educational differences. The ECER sets the benchmark for early childhood educator salaries at two-thirds of those earned by kindergarten teachers. Only Newfoundland meets the benchmark in ECER 2017.
Early Childhood Educator Salaries as a Percentage of Teacher Salaries
With few exceptions, recruiting and retaining qualified staff in licensed child care remains a challenge. No jurisdiction requires all child care staff to hold post-secondary credentials in ECE, however all but Nunavut stipulate a minimum portion of qualified staff. Some provinces have adopted entry-level training requirements, which vary from 40 to 120 hours of ECE course work, while others have no policies governing preservice training except for recognised ECEs. Although staff/child ratios are consistent across the country, the required number of qualified early childhood educators varies widely.
Ratio of Qualified to Unqualified Staff in Preschool Groups in Licensed Child Care Centres
Wages are one indicator of the status of the workforce. Workforce stability has also been associated with the following:
These factors would indicate the need for a more holistic policy approach to addressing workforce stability and shortages.
Access, affordability and quality — ECE policy must consider all three. While federal funding conditions require provinces/territories to increase the number of child care spaces, economic studies indicate that new spaces will sit empty because parents can’t afford the fees.4 Who will staff the new spaces is in question. The density of qualified staff in licensed programs is already minimal. The practice of staffing child care using directors’ exemptions (i.e., filling positions requiring ECE qualifications with unqualified staff) drags on quality, further demoralizing qualified educators. Non-profit operators are reluctant to undertake expansion without trained educators, leaving commercial providers to fill the gap. This is why the ECER will begin tracking the proportion of profit to non-profit child care delivery with this report.
Percentage of Non-profit Versus Profit Child Care by Province/Territory
ECER 2017 is a snapshot of the status of ECE across Canada. Steady improvements are reflected in changed results and standings between jurisdictions. It may come as a surprise that Québec, a standard for many of the benchmarks in the ECER, has been overtaken for first place. Québec’s family policy is now 20 years old. A commission examining its status provides a portrait of a service that helped to transform and modernize Québec society, but it is now tired. Its facilities and workforce need attention. The commission made a number of recommendations to improve child care’s contributions to equal opportunity. Central to this is replacing the idea of child care as a service so parents can work with a system formally linked to public education and “covered by the same broad principles of universal and free access.”5Canada is well-placed to take up this challenge. We can enhance equity of opportunity by building on to public education to provide every child with the best start possible. Building education down to serve younger children and their families makes sense. Among our Anglo-American counterparts, Canada has the highest enrolment in publicly-funded education. Parent confidence is well-founded: Schools have helped prepare children, born here and abroad, to participate in shaping our democratic institutions. As schools respond to their communities across the life cycle, support for public education, for pluralism and for democracy grows.
Early Childhood Education Report 2017
4 City of Toronto Licensed Child Care Demand and Affordability Study, September 2016.5 Report by the Early Childhood Education Commission, February 2017.
© 2021 Atkinson Centre, All rights reserved
© 2021 Atkinson Centre, All rights reserved