Child Care Now has released the first report, ‘Pan-Canadian growth of Early Learning and Child Care since 2008’, of the Growth by Design project, which is funded by the Employment and Social Development Canada’s Early Learning and Child Care Innovation grant Program. 

The  report provides a baseline for monitoring the expansion of licensed early learning and child care spaces across Canada since the implementation of the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) Agreements

The growth targets set out in the federal-provincial/ territorial agreements amount to over 275,000 new spaces primarily in the non-profit and public sectors, for children aged 0-6 years old across Canada between 2021 and 2026. In the previous five-year period from 2016-2021, there was an  increase in spaces of approximately 85,000 spaces, many of which were for-profit spaces. Of course it is important to note that growth in this earlier period was impeded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Drawing primarily on data collected through the Childcare Resource and Research Unit’s Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada series, the report highlights the key historical trends in space expansion, with particular attention to growth in spaces by 

  • Type: centre-based and family child care
  • Age: 0-5 and before and after school (BASC)
  • Part-day and full-day
  • Auspice: public, not-for-profit, and private for-profit 

Snapshot of findings

0-5 year old spaces

Across most jurisdictions, there was an increase in full-day spaces for children aged 0-5 years old, an increase in before and after school spaces (BASC), and a corresponding decrease in the number of part-day spaces for children aged 0-5 years old. This pattern is particularly noticeable in some provinces and territories in years immediately following the introduction of new full-day kindergarten programs.

Total number of licensed centre-based spaces for 0-5 year olds (full- and part-day), by PT, 2008-2021

Centre-based spaces for 0-5 year olds grew in all provinces and territories except for Newfoundland and Labrador, and Northwest Territories. The slight decrease in Northwest Territories is likely attributed to the introduction of full-day kindergarten for 5 year olds territory-wide, and the introduction of full- and part-day kindergarten for 4 year olds, depending on the community. The decrease in Newfoundland and Labrador is likely due to that province recategorizing spaces for children in kindergarten as school aged care in 2021.

Access for 0-5 year-olds

The proportion of children aged 0-5 years for whom there is licensed child care is another way to measure growth of the system. Looking only at centre-based child care (since family child care is not always broken down by age), the number of spaces for 0-5 year olds expanded from 1 space for every 5 children (20.3%) in 2008 to 1 space for every 3.5 children (28%) in 2021. 

It’s important to note there is wide variation across provinces and territories, with the Yukon and Prince Edward Island having the highest coverage rates, at 48.6% and 44.6%, respectively. Newfoundland Labrador and Saskatchewan have the lowest rates of coverage at 19.5% and 17.8%, respectively. Saskatchewan’s half-day preschool spaces are not licensed and so not included in this measure. Under the CWELCC Agreements, several provinces have set a target of 59% by 2026.

Proportion of children aged 0-5 years for whom there is a full- or part-day centre-based space (%), by PT, 2008 and 2021

The CWELCC funding agreements put priority on the expansion of public and not-for-profit spaces. Looking only at 0-5 year old full-day centre-based spaces, Alberta has the highest proportion of spaces that are for-profit, at 76%. This is followed by Newfoundland and Labrador (74%), New Brunswick (71%), Prince Edward Island (69%) and British Columbia (65%). Northwest Territories and Nunavut have no for-profit provision, while Manitoba and Saksatchewan have very low levels of for-profit provision, at 7% and 2%, respectively. 

Proportion (%) of full-time centre-based 0-5 spaces that are for-profit, all PTs, 2021

Spaces for 0-12 year olds

Some provinces and territories are spending their own funds to expand regulated child care for children 6 and older. The total number of regulated spaces for 0-12 year olds across Canada increased between 2008 and 2021, from 871,102 to 1,489,790.

Total regulated child care spaces, 0-12 years, Canada, by setting, 2008-2021

Regulated family child care decreased

The number of regulated family child care spaces in Canada overall decreased by approximately 24% between 2008 and 2021.  Regulated family child care spaces, as a proportion of all regulated spaces, decreased from 16% to 7%. 

Only Newfoundland Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Nunavut recorded an increase in regulated family child care spaces.

Family child care spaces as a proportion of all regulated spaces, 0-12 years, 2008 and 2021

Before and after school care (BASC) increased faster than 0-5 year-old spaces

While the number of 0-5 spaces increased in Canada between 2008 and 2021, the number of before and after school care (BASC) spaces, generally for 6 to 12 years olds (but with variation across provinces), increased at a faster rate. 

Number of licensed centre-based child care spaces, by age group, Canada, 2008-2021

BASC spaces increased by 122% between 2008 and 2021, while 0-5 spaces increased by 62%. The expansion of BASC was greatest in Newfoundland Labrador, with the total number almost tripling between 2008 and 2021. This is likely due to the introduction of full-day kindergarten in 2016 and a recategorization of children in kindergarten from preschool age to school-aged care. The number of spaces in Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and Quebec more than doubled in this period.

Faster growth of for-profit child care

Across Canada, the proportion of for-profit ELCC (0-12 spaces) remained relatively stable between 2008 (28%) and 2021 (29%), however the breakdown by jurisdiction tells a different story.

Number and distribution of licensed centre-based spaces, 0-12 years by auspice and PT, 2008 and 2021

In 8 of 13 jurisdictions the proportion of for-profit spaces for children 0-12 years increased between 2008 and 2021; in two provinces (ON and NB) the proportion of for-profit 0-12 spaces decreased; and in two territories all spaces remained not-for-profit (NU and NT). In Manitoba, the proportion of 0-12 spaces that were for-profit was 5% in 2008 and 2021. However, as noted above, the growth rate of for-profit spaces was higher for 0-5 year olds, compared with 0-12 year olds.

Why is this data important?

The CWELCC agreements provide funding to provinces and territories to expand the supply of licenced ELCC. To track how many, what kind and where spaces are being created, we must know the starting point and how new growth rates compare with growth in the past. and what policy mechanisms are most effective in encouraging the supply of public and not-for-profit spaces. 

As part of this, we are tracking what provinces and territories are doing to support capital expansion through infrastructure grants and loans.  

Growth by Design aims to contribute to the evidence by tracking and reporting on numbers, as well as by carrying out focused studies of growth in some provinces and territories. The project will also carry out a review of policy models in other countries from which Canada can learn effective approaches to expanding public and not-for-profit child care.