5. Accountability

Canada is signatory to a number of international agreements committing it to provide reasonable access to early education and care programs. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women obliges governments to provide sufficient, affordable child care as a human rights issue. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights to children, including the provision of programs promoting the young child’s development, nutrition and health.

These processes play important roles in monitoring and reporting on the progress of governments in improving access to early childhood services in their countries. Outside of Quebec, Canada does not score well on compliance with UN documents. On UNICEF’s 2008 Report Card, Canada achieved only one out of 10 targets on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.25

Federal/provincial/territorial agreements propose that progress be monitored by jurisdictions providing annual reports to their respective publics. Monitoring is an integral part of democratic accountability to children, families and the public. It is essential for informed decision-making, ensuring that societal resources are deployed productively, resources distributed equitably and social goals reached. The challenge is to develop monitoring systems that capture how programs are operating, what children are learning and if system goals are being met. Monitoring on its own does not deliver results, although it is a crucial part of a larger system designed to achieve them.

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Monitoring Early Childhood Education Programs

Learning outcomes for children cannot be considered apart from the inputs they experience in terms of program quality, and the health and well-being of their families and neighbourhoods. Each jurisdiction has established health and safety regulations that child care operators must meet as a condition of licensing. Child care regulations are intended to protect children from harm but tell us little about the quality of the experience.

Some jurisdictions apply additional criteria beyond basic licensing. Quality assessment tools encourage reflective practice and provide some assurances to parents of the quality of the environments where their children spend their days. Alberta has a voluntary accreditation system for child care programs that ties the maintenance of quality benchmarks to funding. Several jurisdictions use the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale to monitor quality, which looks at both the physical space children occupy and the quality of the interactions between adults and children. Some provinces/territories post their quality ratings online to allow parents to use the information when choosing their child’s program.

Population Monitoring

In 1999, the Early Years Study recommended the development of a population measure of early child development before entry to grade 1. The Offord Centre for Child Studies in Hamilton, Ontario introduced the Early Development Instrument (EDI) that collects kindergarten teacher reports of individual children’s development in five key domains: physical, social, emotional, language/cognitive and communication skills.

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When EDI data are collected on all kindergarten children across a jurisdiction, they provide information about how children are doing at the neighbourhood, community and provincial/territorial level. Together with data about access to programs, neighbourhood status and family characteristics, researchers can describe children’s well-being as they enter formal schooling.

EDI data are used extensively to inform communities about how their children are doing and what can be done to improve children’s early learning environments. In addition, a Pan-Canadian initiative using the EDI tracks results across the country.26 The Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and the Human Early Learning Partnership in British Columbia link administrative records from health care, education and other records to create population-based, longitudinal data. Reports show a strong link between EDI findings and later results on province-wide school testing.

The Early Years Evaluation (EYE) is used across the province to help educators assess the skills of children ages 3–6 years as they transition to school. The EYE consists of two complementary components: the EYE-Teacher Assessment (EYE-TA), a teacher rating scale, and the EYE-Direct Assessment (EYE-DA), which assesses four key areas of development: Awareness of Self and Environment, Cognitive Skills, Language and Communication, and Gross and Fine Motor Skills. A web-based tool calculates each child’s scores, provides  separate reports for each child and summarizes the results with graphical reports at the school, district and provincial levels.

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25. Adamson, Peter. (2008). The child care transition: A league table of early childhood education and care in economically advanced countries. Innocenti Report Card 8. Florence, IT: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

26. Forum for Early Child Development Monitoring. (n.d.). Population Measures. Retrieved from www.childdevelopmentmonitoring.net