A guide for parents in Canada

Types of child care

Every province and territory is responsible for monitoring and licensing regulated child care services according to their provincial legislation and regulations. Regulated child care services include centre-based full-day child care, regulated family child care, school-aged child care, and in most provinces, nursery schools and preschools. With regulated spaces for only 24.9% of children aged 0-12 years old in Canada it is assumed that the majority of child care is provided through unregulated arrangements, either in the caregiver’s home (unregulated family child care) or in the child’s home (usually a nanny or a babysitter). Kindergarten, provided through the public school system in every province and territory may also serve as one part of working parents’ child care arrangements.

Regulated child care services

Provincial/territorial regulations for child care programs set minimum acceptable standards for regulated arrangements—these do not necessarily establish quality. This means that simply meeting the regulations and obtaining a license do not necessarily indicate high quality. High quality programs usually strive to exceed some or all of the regulations.

Full-day child care centres

Unlicensed full-day child care centres do not operate legally in any region of Canada.

  • Must be licensed everywhere in Canada. (In some regions, private schools such as Montessori, religious schools or others that may include very young children may be exempt from licensing.)
  • Must meet their province’s or territory’s regulations to be licensed, such as group size, staff-child ratios, staff training requirements, physical space, nutrition, sleep and outdoor time, health and safety, and record keeping requirements.
  • Are monitored/inspected regularly by government officials.

Part-day programs

  • Include programs such as nursery schools or preschools.
  • Are regulated in almost all provinces/territories through the same licensing systems as full-day programs, although some requirements can be different.
  • Unlicensed part-day programs are permitted to operate in Saskatchewan and Yukon.

School-age programs

  • Are regulated in all provinces/territories, usually up to age 12.
  • The starting age and specific requirements for school-age programs vary.
  • Some before and after-school programs, as well as programs for young school-aged children during summers and school holidays are not required to be licensed (including some that operate in school premises).
  • Summer sleep-away camps are not regulated and summer day camps are not required to be licensed as child care (although some may be).
girl with maracas

Regulated family child care (home child care)

  • Is provided to a group of children in a caregiver’s own home.
  • Is offered in all provinces/territories.
  • Regulations usually cover the physical environment, number of children by age, record keeping, nutrition, health and safety and sometimes caregiver training.
  • In some provinces, regulated family child care homes are inspected or monitored by a government official who makes regular visits. In others, they are regulated through supervision by a licensed or approved agency that monitors multiple family child care homes through regular home visits.
  • Several provinces offer “group family child care” – regulated child care in a private home with two caregivers and a higher number of children permitted.
  • In several provinces, regulated family child care is “approved” rather than regulated.
  • Most family child care is not regulated, monitored or approved. No province/territory requires all family child care homes to be regulated, so long as they don’t exceed the maximum number of children.

In the education system

Kindergarten

  • An early childhood education program offered for all five-year-olds in all provinces/territories, either part-day or full-school day, not covering teachers’ professional development days or summer or other holidays (six provinces/territories offer full-school-day kindergarten for five-year-olds).
  • Some kindergarten for four-year-olds is available in some regions; only Ontario offers kindergarten for all four-year-olds.
  • Kindergarten is available as part of public and denominational school systems with no parent fees and is sometimes provided in private schools as well.
  • Although neither full-day nor part-day kindergarten is set up to meet many parents’ work schedules, these may serve as one part of working parents’ child care arrangements.