In Focus: The Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care System

It has been a busy month for anyone involved in child care research and advocacy in Canada. On April 21, as part of Budget 2021, the Federal government announced the establishment a Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care System. The announcement outlined a plan to reduce fees for parents with children in regulated child care and invest billions of dollars to support quality, not-for-profit child care, including the needs of early childhood educators.

To learn more about the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care System and what it will mean for children and families across the country, HELP’s Communication Lead Amy Mullis sat down with Dr. Barry Forer, HELP Research Associate and member of the Federal Expert Panel on Early Learning and Child Care Data and Research, for a second, In Focus Interview.

Amy Mullis: What do we need to know about the National Child Care Plan announced in the budget?
Barry Forer: Some highlights: The federal government is making a permanent commitment to Early Learning and Child Care, investing $30 billion over the next five years, with $9.2 billion per year after that. The cost of child care to parents will be reduced by 50% by the end of 2022, and down to an average of $10 per day in five years’ time. The plan includes growing both the number of spaces (primarily not-for-profit), and the number of trained Early Childhood Educators (ECEs). It will also increase remuneration and professional development opportunities for ECEs. In addition, a new National Advisory Council will be created for expert advice and consultation. Finally, federal early learning and child care legislation will be introduced in fall 2021, to legally commit Canada to a child care system.

AM: Why is a child care plan like this one so important? What does it mean for Canadian families?
BF: The plan marks a new era for social programs in Canada. After more than fifty years of federal promises for a publicly-funded and publicly managed national child care system, it now appears that early learning and child care will (eventually) join the ranks of public health and public education as a basic social good. It means that all families with young children will be able to afford the care arrangements that they need. They will be able to access a space that fits their needs – in terms of location, hours of operation, type of program, etc – without being on an endless wait list. Their children will benefit socio-emotionally, cognitively, and in their connectedness to their communities. Many more mothers will now have the option of participating in the paid work force, without guilt or economic sacrifice. The economy of Canada will grow, and inequalities will diminish.

AM: What are the next steps for your research work?
The long-standing pan-Canadian Early Development Instrument (EDI) research team, which currently includes members from McMaster University, the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Manitoba, is working on a research proposal that would examine the effects of early learning and child care initiatives across Canada (including pre-kindergarten and kindergarten) on the relationships between the social determinants of health and EDI outcomes. Here at HELP, we are hoping to use our child care expertise to assist our provincial government in developing, monitoring, and evaluating our made-in-BC early learning and child care system.

AM: What are the next steps for child care advocates across the country?
BF: The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC, the strongest provincial advocacy group in Canada, has developed a six-part “Roadmap for $10aDay Child Care in BC,” and is currently engaging with individuals and groups across the province to rally support for this provincial plan. The federal advocacy organization, Child Care Now, along with the Canadian Child Care Federation, and the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, are very active on multiple fronts – informing their members about the federal budget, seeking additional details on investments and timetables, writing policy briefs, and giving interviews outlining the importance of this plan.

Since early learning and child care is a provincial/territorial responsibility, advocacy within these jurisdictions will be very important, particularly in provinces that are philosophically less inclined than others to adopt a publicly-funded early learning and child care system.

AM: When can families expect to see the announcement in action?
BF: The proposed federal early learning and child care legislation is due to be introduced in the fall of 2021, with widespread consultation. But the first really specific promise in the plan is to reduce parent fees by 50% on average by the end of 2022. While the proposed mechanism for this reduction is not yet clear, one can expect to see the specifics sooner rather than later.

AM: This has been part of your life’s work. How do you feel?
BF: I am really encouraged, more than I have ever been in my thirty plus years of being involved in child care research. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I believe that the lessons learned during the pandemic – about child care as an essential service, about the fragility and the promise of a well-trained and compensated workforce, and about the role of young mothers’ labour force participation in a healthy and equitable economy – have made this opportunity a reality. I hope to continue playing a helping role, particularly in the development of a comprehensive research and data strategy for early learning and child care in Canada.

Additional Information & Resources

The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC
Child Care Now
Canadian Child Care Federation
Childcare Resource and Research Unit