A guide for parents in Canada

Nova Scotia

Who’s responsible?

Who to contact

  • Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
  •   Website
  •   (902) 424-5168

The Early Years Branch at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is responsible for licensing and monitoring child care centres, administering child care subsidies, and pre-primary and Grade Primary programs. The Early Years Branch also offers the Inclusion Support Grant (ISG) and Early Childhood Development Intervention Services (NSECDIS).

In September 2017, the province began rolling out a free, universal Pre-primary program for four year olds. In the September 2020-2021 school year Pre-primary will be fully implemented across Nova Scotia. Pre-primary is not a mandatory program but is available to all four year olds in their catchment areas. To register for Pre-primary, visit the Our Schools & Regional Centre for Education website. 

Grade Primary (kindergarten in other provinces/territories) is also a voluntary full-day program for five years old (on or before December 31st of the calendar year in which they are being enrolled).

Finding child care

Facts and figures

  • There is a regulated space for 16.7% of children aged 0 – 12 years. (2019)
  • There is a regulated full or part-time centre-based space for 25% of children aged 0 – 5 years. (2019)
  • 56% of childcare is owned by private, for-profit organizations. There is no publicly delivered child care. (2019)

Families are responsible for finding and obtaining a child care space for their child(ren);  there is no universal entitlement to a child care space for children in Nova Scotia.

A child care directory is available through the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. The directory provides a search of facilities by name and/or location, and shows whether a facility currently meets its licensing requirements. Parents need to contact centres directly to register their child or put their name on a waiting list.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development also offers a guide to support parents in choosing licensed child care centres and approved family day care homes, finding available spaces, and applying for a child care subsidy.

Paying for child care

Families are responsible for paying child care fees.

In the 2019 Child Care Fee Survey it was found that the full-time, median monthly fees in Halifax was $939 for infants, $829 for toddlers, and $861 for preschoolers. See In Progress: Child care fees in Canada 2019 for a breakdown of child care fees in 37 cities across Canada.

baby with a blanket


The Child Care Subsidy Program may provide families with a subsidy to cover a portion of their child care costs. Family income, financial assets, and special needs within the family determine subsidies.

Child care subsidies can be used in any licensed program and are paid directly to the child care centre or family home day care on behalf of eligible parents. A program may surcharge subsidized parents if costs are above the maximum subsidy rate.

Accessing subsidies

Forms and application instructions are available online. For further information you can contact your regional community services office.

Note: You must find a child care centre or family home day care for your child before a subsidy can be applied. You will need to let your Child Care Subsidy caseworker know when your child will be starting and the program’s daily fees.

Regulated child care

In Nova Scotia, child care centres and Family Home Daycare Agencies must operate in accordance with the regulations set out in the Day Care Act and Day Care Regulations.

Family child care is subject to similar regulations and is approved, managed and monitored by licensed family child care agencies.

The Nova Scotia Day Care Act and Day Care Regulations address a wide range of requirements, from space requirements to attendance taking. Selected regulations related to program quality are highlighted below.

  • In regulated child care centres, 2/3 of the staff working with children must hold one of the three classifications:
    • Level I: Completion of Orientation for child care staff
    • Level II: Completion of approved college program in early childhood education
    • Level III: Completion of a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or Level II requirements and a bachelor’s degree
  • In a regulated child care centre offering school age programming, 2/3 of the staff working with children must have training in early childhood education, or training in school age programming.
  • All other staff must complete an orientation program. See Orientation for Staff Working in Licensed Child Care Facilities.
  • All staff must provide proof that they have participated in 30 hours of professional development every three years.See the guide to classification and professional development for Early Childhood Educators for more information.
  • Centre directors must hold a diploma or degree in early childhood education, with the exception of those who are deemed ‘equivalent’ prior to May 1, 2012.
  • For school-age programs, director/acting director can complete orientation training and a PSE credential related to school-age child care.
  • The care provider is required to have Family Home Day Care Training - Level 1 of the Canadian Child Care Federation’s (CCCF) Family Home Day Care Training and must complete a first aid course including infant CPR.
  • 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

AgeStaff:child ratiosMax. group size
Infant 1:4 10
Toddler 1:6 18
Pre-schooler 1:8 24
Toddler older than 30 mos 1:12 24
Pre-schooler 1:12 24
School-age 1:15 30

Regulated family child care homes

AgeStaff:child ratiosMax. group size
Any age*                                 1:7 7
Infants 1:3 3
School-age 1:9 9
*If a care provider is caring for 4 to 7 children, no more than 3 children may be under 3 years of age and of those 3 children no more than 2 children may be younger than 18 months.

Each home may have a maximum of:

  • Seven children of mixed ages including the provider’s own children; or
  • Nine children all in school age, including the provider’s own school-age children (4-12 years old); or
  • Three children all in the infant age (younger than 18 months), including the provider’s own children; or 
  • Four to seven children, no more than three may be under three years of age, and of those three children no more than two children may be infants.

Regulated centres are required to provide meals and snacks that are in accordance with the Manual for Food and Nutrition in Regulated Child Care Settings.

An outdoor play space used by a facility must be accessible to all enrolled children, including those with diverse abilities. Children enrolled in a full-day program or a school-age program must be provided with one or more outdoor play spaces located at the facility that are safe and suitable for the age range of the children enrolled in the program; or access to a safe and suitable outdoor play space that is within a reasonable distance of the facility and that is suitable for the age range of the children enrolled in the program.

The child care program must provide a minimum of 30 minutes for uninterrupted outdoor play in the morning and afternoon.There must be 7 metres squared outdoor play space per child.

See Standards for the Daily Program.

Child care centres and family home day care providers are required to have a  behaviour guidance policy and are responsible to review the policy with staff, parents and volunteers on an annual basis.

“Corporal punishment”, “isolation”, “deliberate harsh or degrading measures”, and “deprivation of a child of basic needs including food, shelter, clothing or bedding” is prohibited by provincial regulations in all regulated child care settings.

A parent committee must meet a least 2 times a year. The parent committee provides parents with the opportunity to contribute to the child care program and receive important information regarding their children’s child care experience. The parent committee must have a minimum of 5 members consisting of 3 parents of children currently enrolled in the child care program, 1 representative of the licensee or its director, and 1 representative of the child care staff who directly work with children, or in the case of a family home daycare, 1 care provider.

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

  • Have a daily written record summarizing incidents affecting health, safety, or well-being of staff or children.
  • 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).
  • Have a valid first aid certificate that includes infant CPR training.
  • Follow provincial guidelines for promoting and maintaining health and safety and controlling communicable disease.
  • If over the age of 18, complete a criminal record check. This applies to anyone over the age of 18 who may have contact with children, including volunteers and those who reside in a home where regulated childcare is offered.
  • If over the age of 13, complete a child abuse register check. This applies to anyone over 13 years of age who may have contact with children, including volunteers and those who reside in a home where regulated childcare is offered.
  • Child Abuse Protocol (CAP) Training is offered throughout the province for the staff of Child Care Facilities and Family Home Daycare Agency Consultants. CAP training is delivered by a registered Social Worker, and an Early Childhood Education Consultant, and is intended to provide licensees, child care staff and care providers with the information needed to respond to suspicions and/or allegations of child abuse.

The Government of Nova Scotia has developed the Capable, Confident and Curious curriculum framework. Although the curriculum framework is only mandatory in provincially funded child care centres and pre Primary programs it is used as a curriculum guide in licensed child care centres that access provincial funding.

The regulations do not address all aspects of quality. For example, there are no regulations or standards addressing curriculum or pedagogy in child care in Nova Scotia.

Unregulated child care

A family child care home is not required to be regulated if it has six or fewer children of mixed ages on a regular basis, including any children of the person providing the care. If children in care are school-age (four years old as of December 31 and attending school or pre-primary), a care provider can have up to nine children, including their own. After-school programs for children in Grade Primary through Grade 6 do not require a license.

Children with disabilities

The Inclusion Support Grant is a grant provided to support inclusive programs. Funding can be used for specialized training and professional development for early childhood educators, additional staff to enhance ratios for the delivery of a facility’s inclusive program, and to purchase educational and resource materials directly related to inclusive programs.

Both the application process and use of SCCG funding are the responsibility of the child care facility.

The Nova Scotia Early Childhood Development Intervention Services (NSECDIS) provides specialized services to families with children between birth and school entry who are either at risk for or have a diagnosis of developmental delay. These services are to support developmental outcomes for children through information sharing, support, consultation, and services to help both the child and their family.

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.