A guide for parents in Canada

Ontario

Who’s responsible?

Who to contact

  • Ministry of Education, Early Years Division
  •   Website
  •   (416) 325 - 2929 
  • 1 800-387-5514

In Ontario, the Ministry of Education is responsible for child care and kindergarten overall.

The Early Years Division of the Ministry of Education administers the legislation and is responsible for monitoring and licensing regulated child care. 

Ontario is the sole province to currently provide four-year-old kindergarten to all children. All kindergarten programs for four and five year olds in Ontario operate for a full school-day.

Ontario is unique in Canada in the role played by local municipal or regional governments.

In Ontario, 47 local governments are designated Consolidated Municipal Service Managers and District Social Services Administration Boards (CMSMs and DSSABs), responsible for planning and managing child care services, administering fee subsidies and allocating additional resources to families and centres providing care to children with a disability. In addition, some of these also provide municipal/regionally-operated (public) child care in centres or through family child care agencies.

Finding child care

Parents are responsible for finding and obtaining a child care space for their child(ren); there is no entitlement.

A licensed child care search tool is available through the Ministry of Education. This tool allows users to find licensed child care providers by city, postal code, type of program (i.e., centre vs. home care), age group and/or name of centre. It also provides some information about the centre's compliance with provincial regulation. In most of Ontario, parents are required to contact the program directly to place their child on the waiting list.

Facts and figures

  • There is a regulated space for 21.3% of children aged 0 – 12 years. (2016)
  • There is a regulated full or part-time centre-based space for 29.1% of children aged 0 – 5 yrs. (2016)
  • 22% of childcare spaces are owned by private, for-profit organizations. (2016)
  • Ontario municipal and regional governments operate less than 2% of regulated spaces. (2016)

Toronto has its own child care finder.This tool allows users to search for centre-based and home child care by area, alphabetically, and/or specialty program (i.e., francophone, aboriginal). There is also an online subsidy application.

The Child Care Finder also provides information about the quality of programs based on ratings derived from the Assessment for Quality Improvement (AQI) tool developed by the City of Toronto. All centres in the City of Toronto with service contracts to provide subsidized child care are part of the City’s quality rating program; this comprises about 80% of licensed spaces.

Ottawa has an online centralized waiting list that allows parents to place their name on waiting lists for multiple child care centres and/or home child care agencies within the City of Ottawa.

Other Consolidated Municipal Service Managers (CMSM) or District Social Services Administration Boards (DSSAB) in Ontario are likely to have their own local information including lists of child care services and—in some instances—quality information. Contact information for your local CMSM/DSSAB can be found online.

Paying for child care

Parents are responsible for paying child care fees.

In Ontario, median monthly fees were $1,152 for an infant or toddler and $835 for a preschooler (2016).

A 2017 national survey of child care fees, found that Ontario cities had the highest median full-time centre-based and regulated home child care infant fees in the country at $1,758 a month, or $21,096 annually. Fees in rural areas in Ontario tended to be comparable to fees in nearby cities. This report also included median fees for toddlers and preschool children in 28 major Canadian cities, including 10 cities in Ontario. 

Toddler with purse

Subsidies

The Ontario Child Care Subsidy Program, which is administered by your local Consolidated Municipal Service Manager (CMSM) or District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB) may provide families with a partial or full subsidy based on a province-wide income test.

In Ontario, subsidies can be used in either non-profit or for-profit regulated child care. However, not all regulated child care services have service contracts with the local municipality to provide subsidized child care, so it’s important for parents who may be income-eligible for a subsidy to check this with each service being considered. 

In Ontario, separate applications must be made by parents for licensed spaces (usually to the centre or agency) and for subsidies (the local municipality). There are often (usually) long municipal waiting lists for subsidies. Parents do NOT need to have secured a space in child care to apply for a subsidy but cannot use the subsidy without securing a regulated space.

Do not hesitate — put your name on the waiting list for a subsidy when you put your name on a wait list for a child care space. It is important to do both of these well before child care is actually needed. Thus, you should consider putting your infant on the subsidy waiting list as soon as you learn you are pregnant, which is allowed in some municipalities at least (Toronto and Ottawa, for example) as well as on centre wait lists.

Accessing subsidies

Contact your local consolidated municipal service manager (CMSM) or district social services administration board (DSSAB) to find out how to apply for a subsidy or get on a subsidy waitlist.

Regulated child care

In Ontario, licensed child care programs, including child care centres, nursery schools, before/after school programs and regulated family child care, must operate in accordance with the regulations set out in the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014

A licensed centre is required to post its license in a place where parents and staff can easily see it. Provincial government personnel, referred to as program advisors, monitor licensed child care centres on an annually basis.

Centres and licensed family child care agencies need to have a parent handbook to outline policies and procedures, including how parent’s issues and concerns are to be addressed and a program statement, reviewed annually, describing the goals for children.

Family child care (“supervised private home day care” or “home child care”) in Ontario is provided to children under age 10 in a caregiver’s private residence. Child care homes are monitored by licensed agencies responsible for multiple family child care homes that operate under the regulations. Ontario family child care agency personnel (home visitors) make regular visits to the homes they are responsible for and may provide caregiver training, equipment and backup. 

The Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014 and its regulations address a wide range of standards, including window sizes, child to staff ratios, and outdoor time.  A number of regulations related to program quality are highlighted below.

  • Centre supervisors must have a two year diploma in early childhood education (ECE), at least two years experience working in a day nursery and be registered with the College of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario.
  • In centres, one staff person with each group of children must have a two year early childhood education diploma and be registered with the College of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario.
  • Regulated families child care providers are required to have valid certification in standard first aid, including infant and child CPR. As well, agencies may provide other training.
  • Staff:child ratios address the number of staff required per number of children.
  • Group size is the number of children, usually of one age group, that stay together throughout the day in a defined group – often a room.
  • Family child care homes have a specified number of children by age.

Child care centres

Staff:child ratios and max group size
Age of childStaff:child ratioMax group size
Infants (<18  mos) 3:10 10
Toddlers (18 – 30 mos) 1:5 15
Preschool (30 – 71 mos) 1:8 24
Kindergarten (44 mos – 7 years) 1:13 26
Grade 1+ (68 mos – 12 years) 1:15 30

Regulated family child care homes

  • a maximum of six children under 13 of age including the caregiver’s own children under age six;
  • no more than two of these children (including the caregiver’s own children) may be under two years; 
  • if the caregiver’s own children are under six years, there may be no more than five school-age children who are more than six years.

Child care centres are required to provide meals that meet specified nutritional standards. The names of children in the child care centre who have allergies or food restrictions and their respective restrictions must be posted in cooking, serving and play areas.

Menus must be posted in an accessible place for parents to see.

  • Children in full-day child care (six hours or more) are required to have at least two hours outdoor time per day (weather permitting) unless a physician or parent of the child advises otherwise in writing.  
  • In child care centres, the play area is required to be at ground level, adjacent to the premises, have “appropriate fencing” and allot 5.6 square metres per child.

Centres and family child care providers are required to have their own written policies and procedures outlining the expectations of staff as they implement goals of the program with children.

In all regulated child care settings, “corporal punishment”, “physical restraint for the purposes of discipline or in lieu of supervision”, “use of harsh or degrading measures or threats”, or “deprivation of a child of basic needs including food, shelter, clothing or bedding” is prohibited.

Every child care program must have a parent handbook that outlines policies and procedures, including a written statement that sets out how parent’s issues and concerns are to be addressed.

The regulations require some basic health and safety precautions to be met. For example, service providers are required to:

  • Have a written procedure for emergency evacuation.
  • Daily written record summarizing incidents affecting health, safety, or well-being of staff or children.
  • Have a written anaphylactic policy.
  • Have medications stored in a locked place, written permission obtained before staff can administer medications to children.
  • Have a centre-specific written policy and procedure regarding serious occurrences (i.e., injury, death).

The regulations do not address all aspects of quality. For example, health and safety elements (such as diaper changing practices) are not regulated. There are no regulations addressing curriculum or pedagogy in child care in Ontario although there is an optional and widely-used curriculum framework, How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years.


Unregulated child care

According to the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014, unregulated family child care home can care for a maximum of five children under the age of 13. Unregulated (and regulated) caregivers must include their own children in the number of children under six years. No more than two children under two years (including the caregivers’ children) may be cared for.

It is not legal to operate a nursery school or child care centre without a license.

Children with disabilities

It is a matter of ‘provincial interest’ that Ontario child care programs respect equity, inclusiveness and diversity in communities and the particular qualities of children with disabilities.

Children with special needs up to the age of 18 who are in a regulated child care program (either family child care or a child care centre) may be eligible for a subsidy. For a child with additional needs who receives child care, an up-to-date individualized support plan must be in place.

The local consolidated municipal service manager (CMSM) or district social services administration board (DSSAB) may also provide additional funds to providers to help support the inclusion of children with special needs in their program. Providers are responsible for applying for this extra support.

See Do you have a child with a disability or special need? for more information on provincial/territorial supports for children with disabilities in child care.