A guide for parents in Canada


Who’s responsible?

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. 

Kindergarten (both senior and junior) in Ontario is provided on a full-day basis for all four and five year olds. Kindergarten is not compulsory but all children are entitled to attend.

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

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 Ontario.

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 24% of children aged 0 – 12 years. (2019)
  • There is a regulated full or part-time centre-based space for 20.6% of children aged 0 – 5 yrs. (2019)
  • 21% 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 and subsidy calculator.

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

Families are responsible for paying child care fees. 

According to the Government of Ontario’s Licensed Child Care Survey, median monthly fees were $1,320 for an infant, $1,080 for a toddler and $940 for a preschooler. (2019)

A 2019 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 $1,774 a month or $21,288 annually. Fees in rural areas in Ontario tended to be comparable to fees in nearby cities. See In Progress: Child care fees in Canada 2019 for a breakdown of child care fees in 37 cities across Canada, including 12 cities in Ontario.

Toddler with purse


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, fee subsidies are available in all types of regulated child care (centres and home based, public, not-for-profit and for-profit). 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. 

School board operated before and after school programs, authorized recreational and skill building programs, and camps that meet criteria set out under the CCEYA and regulations are also eligible to receive children with fee subsidies unless the CMSM or DSSAB specifies otherwise.

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 13 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. 

In addition, there are in-home services which refer to child care provided under the aegis of a home child care agency for a child at her/his home, or at another place where residential care is provided for the child. There is an agreement between a home child care agency and the child care provider that ensures the agency’s oversight of the provision of care

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 is required with groups: infant, toddler, kindergarten, and school age children and two staff persons in preschool group of children must have a two year early childhood education diploma and be registered with the College of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario.
  • Home child care providers are not required under the CCEYA to have specific training or educational qualifications. 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) 1:3 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 four;
  • No more than three of these children (including the caregiver’s own children) may be under two 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).

How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy For The Early Years has been Ontario’s official framework to guide programming and pedagogy in licensed child care since June 2015. Licensed child care settings are required to have a program statement consistent with the frameworks of children, foundations, and approaches. Additional regulations under the Child Care and Early Years Act are in place to support implementation of How Does Learning Happen? in licensed child care settings. EarlyON Child and Family Centres as well as school board operated before and after school programs are also required, through guidelines, to use How Does Learning Happen? to support programming.

Early Learning For Every Child Today, released in 2007 and updated in 2014 is an additional resource about learning and development that includes guiding principles and a continuum of development for children from birth to eight years of age. Use of Early Learning For Every Child Today is not a provincial requirement for licensed child care programs.

The regulations do not address all aspects of quality. For example, health and safety elements (such as diaper changing practices) are not regulated. 

Unregulated child care

According to the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014, unregulated family child care homes 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 four 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. 

Authorized recreational and skill building programs that both provide child care outside school hours for 6 – 12 year olds and also include, activities that promote recreational, artistic, musical, or athletic skills or provide religious, culture or linguistic instruction may be termed “approved” but are not licensed.

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.

Last modified on Monday, 08 February 2021 16:45