A guide for parents in Canada

Who's responsible for child care?

The provinces and territories are responsible for most aspects of child care in Canada (as they are for kindergarten and all other levels of education).

Parents have the main responsibility.

Unlike public education, access to child care is not considered a right for families and children—it’s a private family responsibility. Generally, parents trying to find and pay for child care are more-or-less on their own.

Each province/territory has a program of regulated child care with its own Act and legislated requirements—regulations that cover standards, licensing and monitoring. Each also has its own funding arrangements, and provides a number of child care options: centre-based full-day child care, regulated family child care, school-aged child care and (usually), nursery schools or preschools.

There is no national program or policy for child care or early childhood education. The federal government plays only a limited role in child care outside some specific programs for Aboriginal, military and newcomer families.

Assessing child care quality

girl with a painted hand

Parents are also pretty much on their own when it comes to judging quality even though, realistically, there are limits to any parent’s ability to do this. The province or territory may provide some quality improvement incentives to programs, or tools to help assess the desirable elements in a child care arrangement. But in practical terms, parents are responsible for finding child care and assessing the quality of their child care arrangement, even if it’s regulated.

This is especially true when child care is unregulated. In an unregulated arrangement, the responsibility for monitoring all aspects—including quality, health and safety—rests with parents. This holds true whether care is provided by a “nanny”, unregulated family child care in an unregulated provider’s home or early childhood program for preschool-age children such as those operated by some private schools or otherwise exempt from licensing.

In regulated centre-based or home (family) child care, provincial/territorial governments are responsible for monitoring, licensing and ensuring regulatory requirements are met. Regulations are intended to be a baseline, representing a minimum standard; there is good agreement that regulation does not necessarily signal a high quality standard. So even in regulated child care, parents have the ultimate responsibility for figuring out just how good the child care is.

More in this category: Types of child care »