A summary of ELCC workforce policies as of December 2023 under the Canada-wide child care system

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About this paper

This paper is intended to provide a thematic summary of the primary areas of ELCC workforce policy that have been put in place by Canada’s provinces and territories to support an evolving Canada-wide early learning and child care system (CWELCC).

The paper surveys the “lay of the land” as of December 31 2023, about two and a half years after the first CWELCC funding agreements were signed and provides an overview of all policies currently in operation. The policies and funding programs discussed are not exclusive to the CWELCC agreements, and some were implemented under earlier bilateral funding agreements or were pre-existing provincial/territorial policy. However, the Canada-wide funding represents such a significant funding infusion and subsequent policy change across the country that these agreements remain the primary focus of our investigation into the trends and themes of Canadian ELCC workforce policy at this point in time. 

With this in mind, this paper does not include Quebec, due to its Asymmetrical Agreement on the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Component in which it will meet its own child care plans rather than report to the federal government on an agreed-upon Action Plan1.

This paper also does not discuss progress under the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework, under which the federal the Government of Canada has committed to $1.7 billion over 10 years to strengthen early learning and child care programs and services for Indigenous children and families starting in 2018 to 20192.

The first part of this paper is primarily a summary of workforce policy across relevant Canadian jurisdictions under the areas of post-secondary access; compensation; professional learning and regulatory changes. It attempts to find trends and general themes rather than getting into detailed descriptions of each jurisdiction’s policies individually. The second part of the paper presents an analysis regarding what is missing from existing workforce policies, focusing on long-term planning and vision, and the need for data collection and evaluation. It concludes with situating this paper within Child Care Now’s “Educators Matter: Workforce Policy for Quality Early Learning and Child Care” project and presenting next research steps for the project and its Workforce Policy Table. 

About the Project

More information on this project, and the team is available here.

Introduction

Historical context

Child Care Now’s “Educators Matter: Workforce Policy for Quality Early Learning and Child Care” project emerged from the urgent need for advocacy to tackle the root causes of the retention and recruitment crisis within Canada’s ELCC workforce as the Canada-wide ELCC system is rolled out across the country. There has been acknowledgement of the importance of the child care workforce in terms of quality and access, and the need for governmental action to address their often poor working conditions and low wages since the federal 1986 Report on the Task Force on Child Care.3 Since then, there has been limited federal leadership on the child care workforce but a few notable initiatives that have played a critical and guiding role in shaping the knowledge and achievements within the ELCC workforce policy arena and informing this project.

Between 2003 and 2013, the Child Care Human Resources Sector Council (CCHRSC), funded by ​​Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (now Employment and Social Development Canada) through their Sector Council Program, served as the singular pan-Canadian organization dedicated to addressing human resources challenges within Canada’s ELCC sector4. Among the four founding organizations of the sector council was the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, now known as Child Care Now5. CCHRSC’s initiatives were centred on knowledge cultivation, tool development, and leadership provision, all aimed at elevating ELCC workforce issues within the realm of policymaking. 

The inception of the Sector Council followed a recommendation stemming from “Our child care workforce: From recognition to remuneration” (1998)— the first-of-its-kind sector study that identified and discussed structures affecting quality and the working environments of those delivering education and care in Canada’s ELCC context6. The establishment of the 34-member steering committee for the sector study also laid the foundation for an inclusive and collaborative strategy in tackling ELCC workforce policy concerns7. The initial sector study and the subsequent decade of the Sector Council’s work collectively positioned the ELCC workforce as a distinct sector within the labour market, underscoring the need for targeted policymaking on human resources issues. 

Beyond an extensive body of research, strategies, and tools that remain influential in today’s policy making and advocacy efforts, the Sector Council played a pivotal role in steering the focus of provincial and territorial governments toward workforce issues. This impact manifested in the launch of various initiatives across each province and territory, addressing key aspects such as wages, training, professional development, and recruitment within the ELCC workforce8. Under provincial jurisdiction, provinces and territories have implemented a variety of policy levers to incentivize a career in ECE, and to increase quality through professionalization efforts. 

Following the dissolution of CCHRSC in 2013 due to the cessation of federal core funding by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, a significant gap emerged in monitoring and advancing collective knowledge and vision for the ELCC workforce across Canada.

When Justin Trudeau was elected Prime Minister in 2015, his Liberal government committed to re-entering child care as a federal government.

Using bilateral agreements, the federal government began to flow $1.2 billion to provinces/territories to improve quality, accessibility and affordability of licensed child care under the Multilateral Framework9. The multilateral framework identifies “number and proportion of providers with Early Childhood Education (ECE) certification and/or participating in professional development or training” as indicators of high-quality child care, and under their respective bilateral agreements, many provinces/territories expanded their workforce-specific policies to support the objective of an increasingly qualified workforce10. Such policies implemented under the bilateral agreements included expanding bursary programs, increasing professional development funding and introducing new workplace training models. 

In June 2019, the federal government appointed the Expert Panel on Early Learning and Child Care Data and Research, which concluded its 18-month mandate in 2020. Comprising 14 diverse leaders, practitioners, Indigenous representatives, and experts, the panel was tasked with identifying priority action areas and innovative approaches to inform an ELCC data and research strategy. Addressing ELCC workforce issues was a key priority, and Morna Ballantyne, Child Care Now’s Executive Director, served as a panel member. In the 2020 Fall Economic Statement, Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland announced the creation of the Federal Secretariat on Early Learning and Child Care, which is housed within Employment and Social Development Canada and provides funding and oversight for ELCC data and research project among other oversight responsibilities for the new Canada-wide system11.

Building upon the legacies of CCHRSC and the recent work of the Expert Panel on ELCC Data and Research and Federal Secretariat on ELCC, as well as recognizing Child Care Now’s leadership role in the current child care advocacy landscape, the “Educators Matter” project aspires to continue the critical mission of uniting diverse perspectives in a systematic and collaborative manner. The goal is to maintain the focus on ELCC workforce issues within the context of long-term system planning and policymaking for the Canada-wide ELCC system.

Canada-wide child care system

The federal investment in child care increased significantly with the announcement in Budget 2021 of a new $10/day Canada-wide child care system. Under the new “Canada-wide agreements,” $27 billion of federal funds over five years would be allocated to provinces/ territories to meet goals related to affordability, accessibility, inclusion and quality.

Combined with other investments, including in Indigenous early learning and child care, the total federal investment was $30 billion over five years with a promise of ongoing funding amounting to a minimum of $9.2 billion annually12.

As the federal government was negotiating and signing Canada-wide child care agreements with the provinces and territories in 2021, separate one-time workforce agreements with each province and territory were reached and signed. The latter agreements were an acknowledgement that immediate action was required on the child care workforce, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds transferred through these “workforce agreements” were used by most provinces and territories to fund short-term initiatives. For example, in Alberta these funds were used to pay all educators a one-time bonus. Ontario flowed the funds through to the municipal service system managers, who were told they could not use the funds for any wage initiatives. Instead, Ontario municipalities used the funds for professional development workshops, infrastructure to assist in professional development (such as tablets at a centre) and free tuition programs at public colleges13

Upon the announcement of the Canada-wide ELCC system in Federal Budget 2021, child care advocates rejoiced at the possibility of a truly universal, publicly managed, affordable and accessible system supported by both federal and provincial governments. The 2021 budget acknowledged the importance of the child care workforce in developing the system, stating “with provincial and territorial partners, the government will work to ensure that early childhood educators are at the heart of the system, by valuing their work and providing them with the training and development opportunities needed to support their growth and the growth of a quality system of child care.”14

As the federal government began to undertake negotiations with each provincial and territorial government on the parameters of their agreements, child care advocates understood that the workforce must be well-supported and well-compensated in order for the Canada-wide child care system to be a success. Coalitions of child care advocates and associations of early childhood educators (ECEs) advocated for their provinces to sign the deal expeditiously, and to include significant commitments to the child care workforce in their agreements15

Decades of small tweaks, wage top-ups and professional development days had proven to be ineffective at stemming the recruitment and retention crisis of ECEs, and there was cross-Canada support for systemic change in the form of comprehensive, publicly funded workforce strategies which advanced equitable (or fair) compensation (through wage grids and benefits and good working conditions). Professional ECE associations and advocacy groups in several provinces published Roadmaps proposing paths to build a universal child care system. All proposed the implementation of a wage grid, and decent work standards, such as benefit packages and paid program planning and professional development time. 

As new bilateral funding agreements began to be signed in the summer of 2021, it became evident that the federal government was hesitant to be prescriptive with respect to labour practices and wages (unlike its approach to parent fees), and the commitments in the agreements to the workforce vary widely based on the provincial or territorial government’s appetite for workforce policy change. Many of the pre-existing workforce-specific programs and policies, some developed under the Multilateral Framework or the one-time workforce funding, were expanded and rolled into the Canada-wide agreements. 

The programs and commitments in the Canada-wide ELCC agreements that pertain to the child care workforce can be broadly organized under the following categories: 

Post-secondary access

Tuition programs

Most provinces and territories have had ECE specific post-secondary financial support programs for several years based on the belief that reducing financial barriers to entry encourages enrollment. Post-secondary financial support programs range from textbook purchasing support, targeted scholarships and bursaries, and free tuition. The programs all reduce the financial costs of completing an early childhood education program, with different policy designs to induce specific outcomes. 

BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador all have programs in which tuition is reimbursed after a specific criteria are met—for example, in Manitoba, ECEs are able to have their tuition costs covered if they commit to working two years in the sector after graduation. In BC, the Early Childhood Educators of BC administers the province’s bursary program and provides bursary funds to the student after the completion of their coursework or practicum16. Saskatchewan will provide up to $500 reimbursement in tuition and textbook costs after completion of the program. These programs are intended to target retention in the sector, as opposed to having students attend ECE as a stepping stone to another career path, such as employment in the public education sector. The one-time workforce federal funding was used in Ontario by some Consolidated Municipal Service Managers (municipalities) to support several public colleges to offer tuition-free accelerated and regular programs for domestic students. These programs were tuition free from the beginning – with no requirements of work in the sector for receiving funds.

Targeted bursary programs

Bursary programs have also been used as a policy lever to encourage certain populations to enroll in ECE programs, generally populations with disproportionate financial barriers. Nova Scotia has cultural bursaries, which provide financial support for Mi’kmaq/Indigenous ancestry, Black/African Nova Scotians, Acadians/ francophones, and newcomers interested in pursuing a career in early childhood education at one of the approved ECE training institutions in Nova Scotia17. The Ontario ECE Qualifications Upgrade program prioritizes fund distributions to Francophone, First Nation, Métis and Inuit Individuals and those working under a Director Approval18

Programs to encourage those who already work in the sector to upgrade their qualifications through financial support exist in most provinces—BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. In Northwest Territories, scholarship eligibility was recently expanded to include part-time students, with the intention of targeting those already working in the sector19. The assumptions are that 1) the individual already working in child care likely already knows they like the work and are more likely to be retained long term, rather than recruiting individuals without any experience; and 2) increasing the qualifications of staff will increase the quality of the program overall.

In some cases, these supports go beyond tuition reimbursement to offset lost wages and other employee and employer costs associated with attending a training program. In BC, Alberta and Ontario, employees are able to apply for additional funds to cover their lost wages and travel costs while upgrading their qualifications20. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the centre applies for funding to compensate for the employee’s absence, and then continues to pay regular wages during the course. In Manitoba, a centre or home child care may apply for a Staff Replacement Grant and receive payment for the actual cost of a replacement staff (substitute) while a child care assistant participates in an approved ECE workplace training program21. Saskatchewan has recently launched a similar program under CWELCC, in which centres are able to receive up to $1,500 per month per educator to support costs for a substitute or alternate child care provider while an educator pursues studies leading to an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) I, II or III continues to receive their regular wages22.

Expansion of post-secondary programs

To accommodate the increased demand for child care and the expanded number of child care spaces, there has also been an expansion in the capacity numbers and delivery models of post-secondary ECE programs. An increase in the number of ECE post secondary programs has been announced in Yukon, Northwest Territories, BC (funded provincially), Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Canada-wide funding is also being used to develop and implement new delivery models and accelerated programs. These include accelerated and apprenticeship programs for those already working in child care in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Some provinces and territories have also expanded capacity in free introductory-level programs: Alberta has increased their free Child Care Orientation course from 4,000 to 10,000 participants per year and Yukon has began to offer a free new “Understanding the Early Years” course which will run six times a year and certify participants with their Level 1 ECE. Introductory ECE courses targeting high school students through online or dual credit programs have also been implemented or expanded in BC, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. New delivery models, such as online and hybrid programs, have also been introduced across many provinces to expand access.  

Compensation

Wage grids

Prior to the Canada-wide agreements, very few provinces/territories had a province-wide wage grid for licensed child care. A wage grid is defined as a system which sets out the required wages and pay levels for educators, usually based on factors such as qualifications and years of service23. Existing provincial and territorial ECE wage grids vary in terms of the level of public funding, their structure and other implementation details. 

Wage enhancements of one kind or another have been the predominant mechanism used by provincial and territorial governments to raise ECE wages.  Prior to CWELCC, Northwest Territories, BC, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador all had some form of publicly funded wage enhancement, usually in the form of a few dollars per hour paid on top of the educator’s base wage set by the employer. In 2020, outside of Quebec, only Prince Edward Island had a widely used provincially funded wage grid, which was required in the province’s designated Early Year Centres.

Most provinces and territories committed to developing a wage grid in their funding agreement with the Government of Canada, and all provinces and territories made some acknowledgement that the current ECE wages were insufficient, but the policy solutions have ranged from a fully funded wage grid to an additional dollar or two supplement. As of December 2023, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Newfoundland and Labrador all have implemented ECE wage grids of some form. In some provinces, the wage grid sets a minimum wage but employers can pay more, while in others the provincially set wage grids mandate specific rates of pay. The degree of public funding tied to the wage grid also varies—in New Brunswick, the province does not publicly fund the entire amount of the required minimum wage per level, and the wage grid sets out the portion the government will fund. Manitoba has released a wage grid that is not mandatory and that sets out two wage rates for each classification: a “starting point” and a “target” wage rate without setting out pay rates for salary steps between the two. 

Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have committed to implementing wage grids before 2025-2026, and each is at a different stage of development. Alberta and Ontario are the only provinces that have not committed to developing and implementing a wage grid. Alberta has continued its existing wage enhancement programs, and Ontario introduced a new wage floor and additional $1/hour top-up for those making under $25/hour, with the upper eligibility threshold increasing annually. 

Since the signing of the CWELCC agreements, wages for ECEs in all jurisdictions have gone up either through improvements to wage enhancement programs, or the introduction of wage grids. Several provinces have also made upward adjustments to those grids or wage enhancements since their initial implementation. For example, Nova Scotia increased adjustments and built-in annual increases to their existing wage grid to off-set the cost of employee contributions in their sector-wide defined benefit pension plan, announced in December 202324. Ontario’s initial wage floor was widely seen as insufficient and in November 2023, they announced an updated wage floor of $23.86/hour, from the planned $20/hour wage floor for 2024 to better align with ECEs working in school boards25. Prince Edward Island, which has had a wage grid in its Designated Early Years Centres prior to their Canada-wide agreement, has implemented three wage increases between the time it signed its CWELCC agreement in July 2021 and December 2023. PEI is also the only province to embed ECE paid preparatory time into the funding for their wage grid—an element of a quality work environment identified in many provincial advocates’ Policy Roadmaps26.

Benefits

Wages are only one aspect of compensation, and benefits have also been recognized as important for overall compensation and retention of ECEs. Benefits can include, but are not limited to: Paid sick days, paid personal days, maternity top-up, parental top-up, health and dental benefits, pensions, and reduced child care fees27. Prior to Canada-wide agreements, benefits were generally left up to individual employers (as opposed to governments) and as a consequence, the percentage of ECEs with benefits and/or pension plans varies across and between jurisdictions. Provincial ECE associations in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, PEI and the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care all have a history of offering benefits packages in which their centre members can enroll and provide the benefits package to their employees. 

The Manitoba Child Care Association has also been administering retirement benefits for quite some time. In 2010, the Government of Manitoba introduced Registered Pension Plan and Retirement Supports for the child care workforce. These supports included a matching contribution to a registered money purchase pension plan for full and part time staff in licensed, non-profit centres and nursery schools, a matching Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) for licensed, home-based family and group child care providers, and a long-term service recognition retirement benefit for long-term employees or providers who meet eligibility requirements28.

In their Canada-wide agreements, Yukon and Nova Scotia are the only jurisdictions that have committed to providing health benefits to the workforce, and Nova Scotia has announced employers will start enrolling in a group benefits plan, administered through Health Association Nova Scotia in May 2024, with full enrollment by the end of 202429. Yukon has not developed a group benefits plan but instead provides compensation for up to 8 percent of staff wages for employers to select and offer a comprehensive benefits package from a registered Canadian insurance provider30.

Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have also announced pension plans for the sector, both with enrollment planned for 2024. In Prince Edward Island, the sector-wide defined contribution pension plan will be developed and administered by the Early Childhood Development Association of PEI and open to employees of designated Early Years Centres31. In Nova Scotia, all employees of licensed child care will be enrolled in a defined-benefit pension through the The Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) Pension Plan with the province funding operators for 100% of employer contributions towards the pension and benefits plans32. Nova Scotia’s wage grid for ECEs will also increase in April  2024 to offset the employee pension contribution. Licensed family home child care providers will receive grant funding to purchase their own health benefits and contribute to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan..

Professional learning

Beyond certification upgrading, continuous professional learning has been identified as important both for ECEs own sense of engagement and identity, and to increase the quality of the learning environment33. Canadian and international research has affirmed that effective professional development for ECEs must be designed to be ongoing, reflective and relational with other educators and their community —as opposed to standalone workshops and courses that exist in a vacuum34.

In some provinces, participating in professional development is a requirement to maintain certification—this is the case in BC, Ontario, Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador. In most provinces, provincial ECE associations  take on a leadership role in developing professional development opportunities for ECEs—often working alongside the Canadian Child Care Federation, local resource centres, independent professionals and companies in the professional development sector.

All provinces/territories have implemented policies and/or funding to support access to professional development prior to CWELCC implementation, and professional development featured prominently in the bilateral agreements and the one-time federal workforce funding in 2021-2022. Professional development was reaffirmed as a priority in Canada-wide agreements, generally taking the form of increasing spending on existing PD initiatives (often those that began under the bilateral agreements), or funding the expansion of program offerings in areas such as Indigenous reconciliation and outdoor play. All agreements include a provision to increase spending in professional development at least in proportion to the increase in regulated child care spaces35

Centre-level professional learning

Professional learning policies can operate at the centre/program level or developed province or region-wide for individual ECEs to access. At the program level, centres in Alberta and Saskatchewan, can apply for professional development grants to provide learning opportunities to their staff or compensate for time off work. For example, in Alberta licensed centres and day home agencies can receive professional development funding for eligible ECEs to access approved conferences and workshops—the educators receive up to $500 to use towards workshops and conferences. In Alberta, there are also release time grants where both the ECE and the centre are partially compensated for the time spent in either post-secondary courses or professional development workshops.

On the supply-side of professional learning, many provinces have provided CWELCC funding to expand the professional learning opportunities available to ECEs through course development and increased capacity in existing courses. Professional learning curriculum development and facilitation are contracted out to the local agencies, or funding is provided to the provincial ECE associations to coordinate workshop offerings based on the sector’s priorities. 

Provinces/territories have also taken on a coordinating role, connecting ECEs to existing online and in-person professional development opportunities. For example, Yukon’s agreement has funded the creation of Early Learning Educators Web Hub, a virtual network that provides early childhood educators access to online courses, resources and events. Manitoba also has an free online access portal which provides province-wide access to an online textbook on early childhood development.

British Columbia has taken a slightly unique approach, and funded several professional development community programs including Peer Mentoring, First Nations Pedagogies Network and the Early Years Pedagogical Network, which acts as a governing body coordinating a provincial network of 50 pedagogists to serve communities by supporting early childhood educators (ECEs) in British Columbia36.

Structural & regulatory factors: working conditions

Central to the discourse on the ELCC workforce are educators’ working conditions, an aspect significantly determined by the legislation and regulatory frameworks that govern licensed child care in each province and territory.

Legislation provides the overarching laws and rules that govern child care in each province/territory. Complementary to this, regulations outline specific rules shaping the day-to-day operations of child care programs, including requirements related to staffing. Within this regulatory framework, provinces/territories set out standards such as staff-child ratios, employee qualifications at both individual and program level, administrator and supervisor qualifications, job roles, facility requirements, ongoing professional development, and more.

These regulatory rules and guidelines determine various aspects of the work environment in which educators carry out their professional duties37. This encompasses responsibilities such as ensuring a safe and secure environment, observing and responding to children’s needs, developing curriculum, maintaining effective communication with families, among numerous others. Therefore, laws and regulations play a pivotal role in establishing a quality work environment—a concept emphasized by educators as essential to their wellbeing and professional engagement38.

Working conditions, along with wages and benefits, have a profound impact on educators’ job satisfaction and their decisions to persist or exit the profession39. For instance, higher staff-child ratio (smaller number of children per staff) has proven to reduce stress and improve educators’ work experience as they can “give sufficient attention to different developmental domains and create more caring and meaningful interactions with children.”40 Furthermore, having additional educators in a child care room has proven to enhance quality of care by providing opportunities for supervision, consultation and collaboration41.

Despite the critical role working conditions play, there has been a noticeable absence of initiatives focusing on improving the working conditions that impact recruitment and retention. The provincial/territorial legislation that governs licensed child care is reviewed regularly. No province or territory has committed to amend legislation or regulations to improve ratios or group sizes within CWELCC. Regulatory changes are firmly in provincial jurisdiction, so a province/territory could also potentially undergo significant regulatory change (e.g. changing qualification levels, increasing ratios) wholly separate from their CWELCC agreement, but this has also not occurred in the past two years. 

Since the signing of CWELCC agreements in 2021-2022, Yukon and PEI are the only jurisdictions that have begun a process of proposing regulatory changes aimed at changing ECEs’ working conditions.  In Yukon a review of their Child Care Act began in November 2023, and is currently in its initial consultation stage42. In PEI, these proposed changes include redefining ECE titles to reserve the title of “Early Childhood Educator” for those with a minimum of two-year diploma, revising the number of infants allowed in one program, and aligning physical space requirements with the updated standards43

Manitoba has also committed to a review of certification levels, which may trigger subsequent changes to staff-child ratios, job roles and staff qualification requirements at a room level but is currently seeking an external consultant for this work44. Notably, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, currently lacking a certification process for ECEs, have also committed to establishing a certification structure supported by legislation within their agreements but are still in the planning stages. 

Regulatory change is complex—and most of the regulatory changes suggested by ECEs and best practice research require more ECEs, particularly more ECEs with higher qualifications. There exists an impasse: improving working conditions through regulatory changes could foster ECE retention, yet the implementation of such changes often requires a larger pool of qualified ECEs.

Furthermore, any regulatory shift must be backed up by sufficient funding and supporting policies to ensure comprehensive implementation. For instance, despite each province and territory mandating a specific number of qualified educators in a licensed child care program, chronic staff shortages have meant wide-spread use of “director approval” policies to allow programs to operate with fewer to no staff holding ECE qualifications. This speaks to the need to ensure a comprehensive workforce strategy that works in tandem with any regulatory change.

While the conversation surrounding the ELCC workforce has predominantly centred on compensation, it is crucial to acknowledge the pivotal role that working conditions play in shaping the professional experience of educators and, subsequently, the quality of ELCC. The lack of emphasis on this aspect within the regulatory landscape is notable, even in the periodic reviews of provincial/territorial legislation. Addressing the complexity of regulatory change is essential to ensure that working conditions receive the attention and improvement they deserve, ultimately contributing to the well-being of educators and the quality of child care provided. 

What’s missing?

Long term planning & vision

While the CWELCC agreements have a clear overarching objective to make child care accessible for all by decreasing fees and expanding services, the envisioned future of child care remains less defined.

Throughout the Canada-wide child care agreements there has been a clear articulation of the problem facing parents: child care is too expensive and hard to find, and clear policy prescriptions: decrease fees to $10/day and expand child care access across the country. The overarching idea here is clear: public funding to ensure licensed child care for all who want it, at a price that is not excessively burdensome. This is popular, as many families struggle to access affordable child care in their communities and mothers are usually the ones who pay the price. 

However, the vision of what child care could be, and should be, has been less clear. Originally rationalised as an economic driver in the federal government’s 2021 budget, there remains a need to clearly articulate what is the purpose of early learning and child care in Canada  – and how will children, families, educators and communities be cared for in this system, and involved in its co-creation. In countries with well developed child care systems, the child care system and its consequent policy decisions are grounded in publicly articulated values of democracy, solidarity, active citizenship, creativity and personal fulfilment45. There is a vision that quality care and education are integrated to “meet all children’s needs in a holistic way” and children have a right to active participation in society and to develop their full potential through education46. In this values-based vision of child care, quality is understood to be co-constructed, and relational, “not created by materials in the ELCC setting so much as by the trust, attention, and care created in relationships between educators and children.”47 Educator wellbeing (and policies to support this) must then be understood as foundational to children and families’ experiences of child care and our vision of a quality system overall. Discussions of these sorts of values, and an overarching vision for both educators and children have so far not factored into Canadian policy decisions in a substantive way.

Coupled with developing a long term vision is the need for long term strategic planning to advance a system of ELCC which is currently lacking in the Canada-wide agreements and provincial action plans.  By developing a long term plan based on a vision of what child care should look like in 10, 25, and 50 years, decision-makers will be better able to facilitate and support the workforce that will make this vision a reality. 

We are at a point in system building where the early childhood workforce could look many different ways in ten years, depending on the policy steps and programs put into place today, and what vision is being worked towards. For example: do provinces envision a child care sector where everyone in programs is qualified with a minimum of a two year degree? Or instead, do they want to move towards a system where most staff have a three or four year degree in early childhood education, as is common in many developed child care systems? So far, the only articulated goal is that most provinces/territories have the goal of 60% qualified staff by 2025-26, but where 60% came from, what “qualified means”, and whether this is the end goal or a marker towards a different goal is not clear. Other than the Pedagogists Network in BC, there have been limited thinking about re-imagined roles of an ECE, and career ladders that provide new career options, particularly at a well-remunerated and more senior level. 

Throughout press releases and policy announcements, provincial/territorial governments have acknowledged, although somewhat partially, that ECEs need to be paid better in order to retain them in the sector, and that high quality child care requires qualified, supported staff. However the bigger questions of who exactly provinces and the federal government think should care for children in child care, and how the system should be designed in order to best facilitate this care is not clear. So far the wave of workforce policies under CWELCC have maintained the status quo in terms of how the ECE workforce is structured and there has not been many indications of whether provinces/territories see this structure as permanent or simply a stepping stone towards a reimagined system and a different role of the ECE. What continues to be needed is a comprehensive workforce strategy which advances an aspirational vision of the role of child care in our communities. These workforce strategies must be coupled with strategies to improve quality and access of child care, also grounded in a forward-facing vision.

Data collection & evaluation

Working towards a long term, publicly articulated goal requires data collection and evaluation along the way to track progress and correct course when necessary. The Canada-wide agreements all include a data collection framework, which sets out a number of reporting indicators for the initiatives supported by the federal funding—indicators such as reporting on the number of ECEs with various certification levels each year, or how many new spaces have opened. What is missing however, is deeper program-specific data collection and public reporting to evaluate the many workforce initiatives that are taking place. As detailed in the summary above, there are a wide range of workforce-related policies and initiatives occurring across 13 provinces and territories which vary in their implementation details but share a common goal: to recruit and retain a qualified ECE workforce. How well these programs support this goal, and how different policy levers contribute or detract from a program’s efficacy must be monitored and shared publicly to facilitate improvements when necessary and cross-jurisdiction learning. For example, how do the different delivery models of professional development or post-secondary support affect ECE retention and engagement, and who is currently most likely to engage with the different models?

At this stage of system-building there is a degree of experimentation that is needed—to determine what is the best combination of policy levers to attract and retain educators. Even if there is trialing and different models being used simultaneously, a larger long-term goal must guide all policies. There are also certain policy levers, currently widely unused, that we know from decades of research are already important for ECE workforce retention and quality and don’t require further research—defined benefit pension plans, mentoring programs, health benefits, higher wages to name a few. 

Provincial and territorial governments, in partnership with the federal government, must engage the public and ECE sector in co-developing the vision, and remain accountable to them throughout system building through consultation and public data reporting.

Situating this project

Through Child Care Now’s “Educators Matter: Workforce Policy for Quality Early Learning and Child Care” project, we will analyze the current policy landscape, and convene a National Policy Table focused on the child care workforce to collaboratively set a research agenda, develop policy recommendations and advance our collective knowledge to influence policy change at the federal and provincial/territorial level. This project comes at a crucial time in child care system building: after two years of Canada-wide ELCC funding, child care costs have drastically decreased across the country while systemic workforce and expansion challenges persist amidst increased demand.

Child care advocates up to this point have been widely in agreement about the need to build an affordable and accessible child care system across Canada, founded on robust public funding. However, we are now at a point in system building where we need to dig deeper into the policy details and have conversations within the child care community, and with the public at large, about what sort of system we are collectively building. There remain many unanswered questions and a lack of clarity about what the government’s overall vision for child care is, and how ECEs fit into this vision. Through the Policy Table, we hope to have space to address these unanswered questions collectively and come to a shared understanding of our next steps of advocacy. These research questions will be further developed in a separate Policy Table Research Agenda paper, which is forthcoming.

Some of the questions we see the Policy Table, and project as a whole, examining are: 

  • The relationship between the regulatory environment and the child care workforce’s working conditions and how these working conditions relate to retention;
  • Relationships and tensions between immigration policy, international ECE students and current ECE recruitment programs; 
  • The potential role of unionization and sectoral bargaining in advancing better wages and working conditions for ECEs;
  • Effective wage scales: What are the best practices for developing wage scales? What are the issues in existing wage scales?;
  • Implementing pensions and benefit programs for the child care workforce.

Resources of workforce policy

Child Care Human Resources Sector Council (archived) (last updated 2013)

A Summary of Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreements and Action Plans – Childcare Resource and Research Unit (April 2023) 

Encouraging Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) – Childcare Resource and Research Unit (April 2023) 

Research brief: Working Conditions Matter (Series: Encouraging Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care) – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Early Childhood Educator Wages in British Columbia: A Cross-Canada Scan of ECE Wages and Wage Grids  – Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC and Early Childhood Educators of BC (July 2023)

Position Paper on a Publicly-Funded Early Learning and Child Care Salary Scale – Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario and Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (October 2023)

Workforce Strategies

New Brunswick (2021-2022)

Nova Scotia 

Prince Edward Island (published 2019)

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Citation: Child Care Now (2024). A summary of early learning and child care workforce policies as of December 2023 under the Canada-wide child care system

Footnotes

  1. Government of Canada. (2021). 2021 to 2026 Asymmetrical Agreement on the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Component ↩︎
  2. Government of Canada (2017). Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care ↩︎
  3. Government of Canada (1986). Report of the Task Force on Child Care, p. 125  ↩︎
  4. Child Care Human Resources Sector Council (2013). In just 10 years: A history of the Child Care Human Resources Sector Council, p. 1 ↩︎
  5. Ibid. p. 2 ↩︎
  6. Jane Beach, Jane Bertrand & Gordon Cleveland (1998). Our child care workforce: From recognition to remuneration: A human resource study of child care in Canada: More than a labour of love: Main report ↩︎
  7. Child Care Human Resources Sector Council (2013). In just 10 years: A history of the Child Care Human Resources Sector Council, p. 5 ↩︎
  8. Ibid. pp. 8-9 ↩︎
  9. Government of Canada (2017). Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework ↩︎
  10. Ibid ↩︎
  11. Government of Canada (2023). Federal Secretariat on Early Learning and Child Care ↩︎
  12. Government of Canada (2021) Early Learning and Child Care Agreements ↩︎
  13. Toronto Children’s Services (2023) Early Years and Child Care Workforce Project, p. 12. ↩︎
  14. Government of Canada (2021). Budget 2021 (Archived) ↩︎
  15. See, for example Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (2023). A workforce at breaking point ↩︎
  16. Early Childhood Educators of BC (2023). Education Support Fund ↩︎
  17. Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (2019). Early Childhood Development Services – Bursary Program Promoting Cultural Representation in Early Childhood Education – Terms and Conditions 2019/2020 ↩︎
  18. ECE Grants (2023). ECE Qualifications Upgrade Program ↩︎
  19. Government of Northwest Territories (2022). Early Learning and Child Care Scholarship now open to part-time and full-time students ↩︎
  20. Early Childhood Educators of BC (ECEBC), Education Support Fund; Ontario ECE Grants, Qualifications Upgrade; Government of Alberta, Alberta Child Care Grant Funding Program ↩︎
  21. Province of Manitoba. Staff Replacement Grant Application and Payment ↩︎
  22. Jane Beach, Martha Friendly, Ngọc Thơ Nguyễn, Patrícia Borges-Nogueira, Matthew Taylor, Sophia Mohamed, Laurel Rothman, Barry Forer (2024). Early childhood education and care in Canada 2021, p. 224. ↩︎
  23. The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC and Early Childhood Educators of BC (2020). A competitive, publicly funded provincial wage grid is the solution to BC’s ECE shortage, p. 10 ↩︎
  24. Government of Nova Scotia (December 20 2023). Wage Increases for Early Childhood Educators; New Pension, Benefits for Child-Care Sector ↩︎
  25. Government of Ontario (November 16 2023). Supporting Child Care in Ontario ↩︎
  26. See for example, Roadmap to a quality early learning and child care system in Alberta and Roadmap to universal child care in Ontario ↩︎
  27. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (2019). “Unappreciated and underpaid”: Early Childhood Educators in Nova Scotia ↩︎
  28. Manitoba Early Learning and Child Care Program. Registered Pension Plans and Retirement Supports for Manitoba’s Early Learning and Child Care Workforce ↩︎
  29. Government of Nova Scotia. Pension and Group Benefits ↩︎
  30. Government of Yukon (December 1 2021).  The governments of Canada and Yukon support benefits program for early childhood educators ↩︎
  31. Government of Prince Edward Island (August 21 2023). Creating more child care spaces and making investments to support early childhood educators ↩︎
  32. Government of Nova Scotia (December 20 2023). Wage Increases for Early Childhood Educators; New Pension, Benefits for Child-Care Sector ↩︎
  33. College of Early Childhood Educators (2015). The evolution of professional learning for RECEs in Ontario ↩︎
  34. See for example, University of East London & Universiteit Gent (2009). Competence requirements in early childhood education and care or  Moss, P. (2004). The early childhood workforce: continuing education and professional development. UNESCO Policy Brief on Early Childhood, #28. ↩︎
  35. Government of Canada (2021). Early Learning and Child Care Agreements ↩︎
  36. Early Childhood Pedagogy Network. Pedagogies Responding to the Conditions of Our Times ↩︎
  37. Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario. Ontario Early Childhood Sector Decent Work Charter ↩︎
  38. Ibid. ↩︎
  39. Child Care Human Resources Sector Council (2009). Recruitment and Retention Challenges and Strategies ↩︎
  40. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Encouraging Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC): Working Conditions Matter ↩︎
  41. Goelman et al. (2006). Towards a predictive model of quality in Canadian child care centers ↩︎
  42. Government of Yukon (November 20 2023) Government of Yukon begins review of Child Care Act ↩︎
  43. Government of Prince Edward Island (July 5, 2023). Feedback wanted on changes to Early Learning and Child Care Act regulations ↩︎
  44. Province of Manitoba (2023) Manitoba Action Plans, p. 35. ↩︎
  45. University of East London & Universiteit Gent (2009). Competence Requirements in Early Childhood Education and Care ↩︎
  46. Ibid. ↩︎
  47. Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario and Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (2023)
    Position Paper on a Publicly-Funded Early Learning and Child Care Salary Scale, pg 10. ↩︎