A guide for parents in Canada

Types of child care

Every province and territory regulates, monitors and licensed child care according to their own legislation and regulations. With regulated spaces for only 28% of children aged 0 – 5 years Canada-wide, many families use unregulated arrangements, either in the caregiver’s home (unregulated family child care) or in the child’s home (a nanny or a babysitter).

Kindergarten, provided through the school system in every province and territory is also often part of parents’ child care arrangements.

Regulated child care services

Regulated child care includes centre-based full-day child care, nursery schools and preschools, regulated family child care, before-and after- school child care. Most regulated child care operates standard work schedules but some (limited) non-standard hours child care is available.

Provincial/territorial regulations for child care programs set minimum standards for regulated arrangements. The minimum standards, however, do not necessarily guarantee quality. Although the minimum requirements are an important baseline, high quality programs usually strive to exceed some or all of the regulations. One of the important elements of regulated child care is the public oversight provided through the monitoring processes carried out by all provinces and territories, so parents are not alone in monitoring health and safety.

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. Unlicensed full-day child care centres do not operate legally in any region of Canada. However, private schools that are exempt from child care licensing may sometimes include very young children.
  • must meet their province’s or territory’s regulations, such as group size, staff-child ratios, staff educational requirements, physical space, nutrition, sleep and outdoor time, health and safety, and record keeping requirements in order to be licensed.
  • are monitored/inspected on a regular schedule by government officials.

Part-day centres for preschool-age children

  • are usually called 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 preschool-age programs are permitted to operate in Saskatchewan and Yukon.

Before-and after-school child care

  • are regulated in all provinces/territories for children between ages 4 – 12, depending on the province/territory.
  • specific requirements for before-and-after school-age child care vary considerably.
  • some before-and-after school child care is funded or has some regulations or requirements but is not licensed. Provision for public monitoring of these programs varies but is different from monitoring of licensed programs.
  • some before and after-school programs and some summer and school holiday programmes for children as young as age 3 are not required to be licensed or egulated, including some 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, usually required to be in a caregiver’s home.
  • is offered in all provinces/territories.
  • regulations 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, usually annually. In others, they are regulated through supervision by a licensed or approved agency that monitors multiple family child care homes through regular home visits.
  • in several provinces, regulated family child care may be provided by two (or more) caregivers in a home setting, with and a higher number of children permitted.
  • in several provinces, regulated family child care is “approved” rather than regulated.
  • many child care providers in their own homes are unregulated. No province/territory requires all family child care to be regulated, so long as they don’t exceed the maximum number of children.


  • kindergarten is 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.
  • in all but three provinces, kindergarten for five-year-olds is now full-school day. 
  • kindergarten for four-year-olds are available in provinces/territories and in development in others. Four-year-old kindergarten has been growing Canada-wide. 
  • kindergarten is part of public and denominational school systems with no parent fees and is often also provided in private schools, which charge fees.
  • kindergarten is not designed to meet many parents’ work schedules but may be part of working parents’ child care arrangements.

Care for Newcomer Children (CNC)

  • CNC is free, on-site, short-term child care for children whose parents are attending Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) programs.
  • all permanent residents and accepted refugees to Canada have access to free settlement services including CNC programs prior to obtaining citizenship.
  • CNC is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) as a support to settlement services in every province except Quebec.
  • some CNCs are licensed under provincial/territorial child care regulations but the majority are not required to be unlicensed and operate under the Care for Newcomer Children Requirements.