A guide for parents in Canada

Finding quality child care: A guide for parents in Canada

Whether it’s called child care, day care, early childhood education or early learning, parents across Canada have a hard time finding what they need. This website provides information for parents looking for quality child care that’s affordable and meets the needs of their families.  Find out why it's hard to find good child care, about child care options in each province and territory, general information about child care in Canada, what the best evidence says about quality, and how to improve your chances of accessing high-quality child care.

toddlers on a skateboard

A vital family support

Most parents use early childhood education and child care at some point during their children’s early lives (0 – 12 years). This is true for parents in the paid labour force working full-time, part-time, shifts or other hours, as well as parents studying or training, or at home with their children. But what’s also true is that most parents looking for high quality, affordable child care don’t have an easy time finding it.

It’s hard to find good child care

It’s a scarce resource. While about 75% of mothers of young children are in the paid labour force in Canada, there are only enough regulated child care spaces (including part-day preschool and nursery school) to cover about 20% of 0-12-year-olds.

  • It’s expensive. Many parents can’t afford the fees.
  • It’s often not flexible. There is not a lot of child care available outside the typical “nine-to-five” workweek or for parents needing part-time care.
  • The quality can be uneven. Far too often, and for many reasons, child care quality  varies widely.

Finding good child care is especially hard for certain groups: families who live in certain regions of Canada and specific groups of children and families—infants and toddlers, families in rural or remote communities, parents working non-standard hours, newcomers to Canada, children with special needs, or First Nations, Métis or Inuit families.   While all provinces and territories provide kindergarten, these programs are usually for five year olds and—even when provided full-day—often do not meet most parents’ regular work schedules.

Some regions or towns offer multiple good child care options.  Provinces or territories with more generous public funding provide more choices, while others have fewer options. In almost all provinces, eligible families may be able to get help paying for child care fees through subsidies; in Quebec, the government instead reduces parent fees considerably through direct funding to regulated child care programs. In some provinces/territories, parents may find that a subsidy doesn’t cover the whole child care fee, while in Ontario, eligible families probably have to put their name on a long wait list before they can get a subsidy for their child.

Improve your chances

Use the information on this site to become informed. Know what’s available in your province and community and what to look for in a program or caregiver. Become as knowledgeable as possible about health and safety in child care, and other elements of quality early childhood education programs

Know when to act. Accessing a space or a subsidy in some parts of Canada could mean signing up long in advance of the date you think you will need child care—sometimes as soon as pregnancy is confirmed or long before the care is needed.