Day Care | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Day Care

The licensed or approved care of young children, for all or part of the day, outside the children's own home. The 2 most common types of day care are centre care and family day care.

Day Care

The licensed or approved care of young children, for all or part of the day, outside the children's own home. The 2 most common types of day care are centre care and family day care. The latter refers to the care of children (between a few weeks of age to about 12 years old) in private homes that have been assessed and are supervised by a social agency or governmental staff. The older children are cared for in after-school programs during their out-of-school hours. Major types of day care include private commercial, private nonprofit, and those under municipal welfare services.

Until 1990 the federal government, through the provisions of the Canada Assistance Program, shared 50% of eligible costs to provinces and municipalities of providing day care to families who are in need, or who may fall into this category if they do not receive the service.

In 1990 the federal government placed a cap on their Canada Assistance Plan contribution to the 3 richest provinces (Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia). For these 3 provinces federal contribution was limited to a 5% annual increase. Day care advocates believe that since soaring welfare costs in Ontario and BC far exceeded the 5% ceiling, these 2 provinces had less money to spend on day care. Effective April 1996 federal contributions previously made under the Canada Assistance Plan are included in the Canada Health and Social Transfer payments to the provinces. A 1997 report by the Canadian Council on Social Development indicated that while child care costs to parents have increased, public spending on child care has decreased.

Because day care falls under provincial jurisdiction, the provinces are responsible for the licensing procedures, the establishment of standards, and the basic design of the day-care system. Day-care programs across Canada share some similarities, particularly on standards regulating health and safety, child-staff ratios and staff training; but there are some significant differences, because of differing provincial philosophies and perspectives. For example, Saskatchewan will only license day-care centres that are operated as parent co-operatives, while in Alberta about 62% of day-care centres are operated as commercial ventures. Ontario and Alberta are the only provinces where municipally owned and operated day-care centres exist, although they are not numerous. Some provinces will provide a partial subsidy to everyone using the service regardless of family income, while others restrict subsidization to families who pass a needs or income test.


Although some day-care centres date to WWII and before, the majority have been established since 1972 in direct response to the increasing number of working mothers with preschool children. In 1971 there were only 14 400 full time day-care spaces in Canada; by March 1991 there were approximately 394 300 spaces, a 27-fold increase. The number of day-care spaces has declined since 1991. By 1995 there were only about 360 000 spaces available. The availability of service is different depending on the age of the child. In 1994 there were enough spaces to serve about 44% of children aged 3 to 6 whose parents worked at least 20 hours per week or who were enrolled in school. However, there are only sufficient spaces to meet about 15% of children under 18 months of age whose parents were in the same category. Part of the reason for the underdevelopment of infant day care is the high cost.

Cost of Services

The cost of day-care services is directly related to almost all of the current day-care issues. Day-care staff, generally underpaid, are faced with the dilemma that because day care is labour intensive (representing about 70-80% of day-care costs), an increase in salaries places its cost beyond the means of many low-income and middle-income earners. In fact a 1993 report funded by the federal government found that despite the fact that about 7 out of 10 early childhood child-care workers have a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree, they remain near the bottom of industrial wage earners. The average salary earned by a child-care teacher is about $18 000. In reviewing the day-care needs in Canada, the main areas of concern that have been identified include quality of care, accessibility to care and affordability of care.