Strengthening early years and child care in Ontario, 2020 report
Find out what we heard during our review of the legislation governing Ontario’s child care and early years system.
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The government understands the importance of high quality, sustainable, affordable and flexible child care and early years programs, to make life easier for Ontario families. We greatly value the feedback we received from parents, caregivers, sector partners and stakeholders about our child care and early years system.
The COVID‑19 outbreak has further highlighted the importance of having a range of high-quality child care and early years programs, that provide rich social, emotional and early learning experiences for children while allowing families to work. The outbreak has also highlighted what we already knew about people working in the child care and early years sector: they are passionate, dedicated and child-centred, able to adapt to changing circumstances while always keeping the best interests of children and families at heart.
The Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014 (CCEYA), the legislation that governs the child care and early years system, supports children, families and sector partners as users of the programs and services. The purpose of reviewing the CCEYA is to ensure it continues to meet the needs of today’s families, and to look for opportunities to improve.
In this report, you will find:
- the history of the CCEYA and scope of the review
- information on public and sector engagement
- key actions the government will undertake to further improve the child care and early years system
Thank you to all the parents, families, educators and staff, and sector partners who have shared their experiences with Ontario’s child care and early years system. We look forward to continuing this important work.
The 2020 CCEYA review
The goal of Ontario’s early years and child care system is to ensure high quality experiences and promote positive outcomes for children across the province. To achieve this goal, the CCEYA sets out a comprehensive legislative and regulatory framework for the entire system. The CCEYA came into force five years ago, on August 31, 2015. Under the act, the Minister of Education is required to review the legislation within five years of its coming into force.
To support transparency and accountability, the CCEYA also requires the Minister of Education to inform the public when the review begins and to make a written report with outcomes of the review available to the public.
On July 7, 2020, the Minister of Education announced the start of the review and encouraged families, educators and staff, and organizations to share their views through two online surveys. The surveys were open for two weeks between July 7 and July 21, 2020. In addition, the ministry invited sector partners to submit reports with their ideas on how to improve the child care and early years system. The review also focused on making sure the legislation continued to meet the needs of Ontario’s children, families, educators and staff, and the system as a whole.
We use the term “educator” throughout this document to refer to all staff who work with children and families in early years and child care programs.
In Ontario, the terms “registered early childhood educator” (RECE) and “early childhood educator” (ECE) are protected titles under the Early Childhood Educators Act, 2007. These are trained professionals specializing in the early development and learning of children and are registered with the College of Early Childhood Educators.
The surveys and submissions were a valuable opportunity to hear from the public and sector partners about the successes and challenges within Ontario’s early years and child care system, and to inform future child care planning in the province.
The surveys built on work already underway in the CCEYA review. This included an internal line-by-line analysis of the legislation and regulations and consultations with sector partners and advisory groups, which began in Fall 2019 to gather input on ways to strengthen the CCEYA and Ontario’s early years and child care system.
This report will outline the key actions the government will undertake to respond to feedback, including consulting on regulatory amendments and policy that would:
- support quality in child care and early years settings
- create flexible options for families and providers
- update staffing qualifications to support workforce retention
- clarify requirements for inclusion of children with special needs
- support Indigenous-led and culturally relevant programming
- reduce administrative burden and address technical issues and gaps
These actions support the government’s commitments to provide more choice and flexibility for children and families, reduce red tape and regulatory or administrative burden, and improve quality in child care and early years settings. In so doing, these actions will help Ontario’s child care and early years system meet the needs of children and families today, and better position the system to be responsive in the years to come.
CCEYA over the last five years
Since coming into force, the journey of the CCEYA has been one of constant improvement to keep it responsive, relevant and able to meet the changing needs of Ontario’s children, families, and the child care and early years sector.
The CCEYA replaced the nearly 70-year old Day Nurseries Actand established new rules for child care in Ontario, including regulations governing licensing standards (Ontario Regulation 137/15) and child care funding (Ontario Regulation 138/15).
The CCEYA modernized the early years and child care system by:
- setting system-wide goals
- clarifying rules on which programs required a child care licence to operate
- setting requirements for licensed home-based child care and unlicensed child care
- identifying the roles of the province and local service system managers
- creating new enforcement and compliance tools
Over the last five years, the ministry has continued to make legislative and regulatory changes to the CCEYA to ensure it keeps pace with the changing needs of the system. These include:
- August 31, 2015: First phase of regulatory changes to support the proclamation of the CCEYA
- May 9, 2016: Second phase of regulatory changes
- September 1, 2016: New provisions to Ontario Regulation 137/15 banning child care wait list fees
- March 1, 2018: Third phase of regulatory changes
- April 3, 2019: Bill 66, Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act, 2019 received Royal Assent, including four legislative amendments to the CCEYA and the Education Act
- August 5, 2019: Fourth phase of regulatory changes to the CCEYA and Education Act
- June 11, 2020: Regulatory amendments to O.Reg.137/15 in direct response to the COVID‑19 outbreak
In addition to these legislative and regulatory changes, the government recently introduced a number of measures to increase affordability and access to child care, including the Ontario Child Care Tax Credit, and a child care capital strategy to build up to 30,000 new child care spaces in schools across Ontario.
In addition, the government supported families and the sector during the outbreak by providing provincially funded emergency child care to front line workers, sustainability funding for the sector, and increased health and safety requirements.
When looking back at the legislative and regulatory changes since 2015, one thing is clear: the CCEYA has been continually evolving to support Ontario’s child care and early years system. The current five-year review is the next step in this evolution.
What we heard
Children and families matter - the quality of their daily lived experiences must be at the forefront of legislative and regulatory review for the licensed child care and education sectors.Network of multi-site service providers
To support the CCEYA review, the ministry sought feedback from families, educators, child care staff and sector partners through two public surveys, targeted meetings with stakeholders and advisory groups and formal submissions to better understand the strengths and challenges in the child care and early years system.
Engagement by the numbers
Public and sector feedback
We heard that access to child care continues to be a challenge along with the high cost of care, and that parents, families and children need more flexibility when it comes to choosing child care options that work for them. Sector partners asked us to consider flexibility with ratios and age groupings so that we can better meet the needs of families.
We also heard that quality interactions and the health and safety of children are top of mind. We understand that the development of quality programs begins with recruiting and retaining qualified child care professionals, which was another challenge raised by many of our sector partners.
A recurring theme was the importance of program locations and hours of operation to make life easier for families struggling to balance work and family responsibilities. Many survey respondents wrote about the lack of before and after school spaces, particularly in rural areas. Providers also noted the challenges they faced with high operating costs for these programs.
We heard that more needs to be done to support our children with special needs, from expanded staff training to more resources and funding. Finally, feedback from parents and the sector made clear that Indigenous-led and culturally relevant programs were a vital piece of the system and suggested increased flexibility in hiring practices to recruit staff from a variety of backgrounds.
We greatly value your feedback and our government is committed to taking action on what we heard.
Based on public and sector feedback, the ministry has identified six action areas to improve the child care and early years system. The action areas include immediate commitments, such as consulting on proposed regulatory amendments through the Ontario Regulatory Registry, and longer-term commitments to continue to enhance the system by providing more choice and affordability for children and families, reducing red tape and administrative burden, and improving quality.
Commitment 1: Support quality in child care and early years settings
Without a provincial definition of quality, interpretation of the meaning will continue to be subjective and inconsistent in its implementation. It is recognized that quality means many different things to different stakeholders.Municipal licensed child care operators
Both families and sector respondents to the survey indicated that quality programming is a strength of the child care and early years system, but that more can be done to be consistent across different types of programs.
The ministry will:
- Adopt a digital first approach by updating the child care webpage to make it more user-friendly for parents and families. This would provide parents with better access to information to help them make informed decisions when selecting care options for their families.
- Work with sector partners to develop a provincial statement on quality for release in fall 2020 and explore the possibility of an associated approach to quality assessment. A provincial statement on quality and exploring how quality may be assessed would address concerns of inconsistency across the province regarding supports, expectations for programming, and assessment approaches.
- Consult on the concept and elements of a provincial publicly-accessible registry for unlicensed child care providers in Ontario. This would support quality and health and safety in unlicensed child care settings.
- Develop and publish resources to support quality in unlicensed child care settings. This will further bolster quality in those settings and will help foster better experiences for children.
- Review and update Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years, “How Does Learning Happen” (HDLH). Released in 2014, HDLH is a resource about learning through relationships, for those who work with young children and their families.
- Continue to work with EarlyON child and family partners to establish an outcomes framework and enhance early intervention and prevention supports.
Commitment 2: Create flexible options for families and providers
During the months of April and May we opened two Emergency Child Care sites. We made a decision to keep families together in these programs to limit the potential spread of Coronavirus. This gave us an opportunity to see the benefits of bringing together children of various ages instead of separating them. It encouraged relationships between siblings, between younger and older children in ways that we have not seen in the traditional models. We would recommend increased flexibility for providers so that decisions can be made from the aspect of knowing the children, and understanding individual and family needs.Multi-site licensed child care operator
As we know, there is a shortage of infant care and before and after school spaces and waitlists to access care. In addition, home child care providers can often work in silos and face challenges accessing professional development opportunities.
The ministry will consult on regulations that will:
- Implement “Schedule 2,” which would give licensees the option of operating under current requirements for age groupings or opting for alternative age grouping requirements. This could include infant/toddler groups (younger than 24 months) and preschool age groups (24 months to less than five years). This will increase flexibility and help licensees meet community needs, while also increasing the availability and affordability of infant spaces and providing relief to parents with limited or no child care options.
- Allow for two home child care providers (overseen by a licensed agency) to work together in one location, including requirements related to the maximum number of children allowed under this model and other quality, health, and safety standards. This is expected to help increase access to home-based child care in Ontario and support flexibility and professional development in the sector.
- Enhance access by removing the 3 hour rule for specified authorized recreational programs (which under the CCEYA are considered unlicensed child care programs) and allowing these programs to operate before and after school, as well as for full days on non-instructional days. This will help families by addressing the shortage of before and after school spots and reduce waitlists for before and after school care, while maintaining strict health and safety measures.
- Clarify the criteria used to assess whether a children’s recreation program requires a child care license or is exempt under the CCEYA.
Commitment 3: Update staffing qualifications to support workforce retention
RECEs are best placed serving the youngest children. For older age groups, it is recommended that the CCEYA allow for the utilization of staff from various disciplines. Older children can benefit from more diverse forms of pedagogy and care. For example, Child and Youth Workers, teachers, Recreation and Leisure Specialists and other qualified professionals with the right level of experience could all act as strong leaders for school-aged children in licensed child care.A regional child care and early years resource network
There are ongoing challenges with retaining and recruiting staff in the sector.
Consult on updated staffing qualifications that would:
- Allow for individuals with specified non-ECE diplomas and certification to be considered “qualified staff” for licensed programs serving children 4 years and up.
- Provide licensees with flexibility to appoint non-ECEs into positions requiring ECEs in short-term supply situations.
- Permit multi-site approvals so that “director approved” staff can move from location to location as needed.
- Allow supervisors to be hired if they have at least two years of experience in the provision of any type of children’s programs/education.
The proposed changes would address ongoing recruitment and retention issues in the sector and prioritize the hiring of ECEs in younger age programs while continuing to ensure high standards for the health, safety and quality of Ontario’s child care system.
Commitment 4: Clarify requirements for inclusion of children with special needs
The CCEYA needs to be very clear that every child must have the opportunity and supports to be fully included and who must provide this support, so that children are not excluded from care due to funding/staffing issues.Network of agencies receiving funding for Special Needs Resourcing
There is a need for the ministry to clarify guidelines related to Special Needs Resourcing to address inconsistency across the province.
- Clarify policies regarding Special Needs Resourcing (SNR), which supports children with special needs in licensed child care settings, authorized recreational programs, etc., through updates to the EDU Child Care Service Management and Funding Guideline. Clear policies would support municipal service managers to improve the access and participation of children with inclusion support needs in early years and child care settings. Updates to the EDU Child Care Funding and Management Funding Guideline would foster consistency in the provision of SNR-funded services and reduce duplication with other early intervention services.
Commitment 5: Support Indigenous-led and culturally responsive programming
It is imperative that Indigenous child care and early years programming be understood as a right held by Indigenous communities, however organized, to develop and maintain Indigenous systems of learning and development of cultures and languagesAn Urban Indigenous Organization
The child care and early years system should better support Indigenous-led services and access to culturally responsive programming for Indigenous children and families.
Continue to work with Indigenous partners in Fall and Winter 2020-2021 to strengthen the delivery of Indigenous-led and culturally responsive programs. This may include:
- Having more frequent and regular forums with Indigenous partners.
- Examining current program requirements to promote better alignment with Indigenous history and culture.
Commitment 6: Reduce administrative burden and address issues and gaps
The CCEYA must support high quality while minimizing the red-tape and unnecessary bureaucracy that limits the ability of licensed operators to respond quickly and effectively to the needs of children, families and the communities.Network of multi-site service providers
There are requirements in the CCEYA that are already covered in other legislation and municipal by-laws, and it is onerous for providers to have to duplicate these requirements.
Reduce administrative burden and address gaps in regulation while ensuring that health and safety requirements are in place for Ontario’s children in licensed child care by consulting on:
- Removing certain regulatory requirements that may be duplicated or redundant (for example, capital provisions that are covered in transfer payment agreements).
- Addressing health and safety requirements such as those related to the legalization of cannabis.
- Updating a number of outdated terms (for example, “Aboriginal”) and remove unnecessary transitional or non-functional provisions.
- Supporting licensees in understanding and meeting licensing standards (including new and revised regulations) through updates to the Child Care Licensing Resources, licensing kits and other resources.
The action items outlined in this report are merely next steps toward creating a child care and early years system that better meets the needs of children, families, educators and staff. To that end, the government remains committed to providing more choice and affordability for families, reducing red tape and administrative burden, and enhancing quality in child care and early years settings.
We look forward to continuing to work with families, educators and staff, operators and sector partners to provide high-quality, enriching and safe child care experiences for children.