How the System Works

The Ontario Ministry of Education is responsible for the funding, licensing and regulation of child care. Under the Child Care and Early Years Act, the Ministry of Education ensures that all licensed child care centres adhere to the same basic standards regarding safety, cleanliness, group sizes, staff/child ratios, nutrition, etc. Licensed child care centres may be run as small or large businesses or as not-for-profits, be owned and operated by a larger multi-service organization, or be part of the government--typically a municipality.

Full-Day Kindergarten: The Provincial full-day kindergarten program offered by school boards is exempt from the Child Care and Early Years Act regulations. It also isn't free. Most school boards charge parents who need care beyond regular school hours additional fees. Additionally, the group sizes in the Provincial full-day kindergarten program tend to be larger, the children's meals are not included in the price, and children as young as 3.8 years of age may have to make a lengthy school bus commute with much older children in order to attend.

The Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Program: In March of 2022, Ontario signed an agreement with the federal government to implement the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care program (CWELCC). While the federal government initially promoted this program as "universal, $10-per-day child care," it hasn't worked out that way. There were never enough qualified educators in the country to staff it. Even if staff were available, Ontario doesn't have nearly enough licensed spaces to accommodate all of the families whose children would qualify to participate. As a result, waiting lists for $10-per-day spaces are lengthy.

Why Not All Licensed Child Care Centres Offer $10-Per-Day Care: Participating in the CWELCC means that a centre's ongoing viability is far from assured. Some centres also report that participating compromises their ability to maintain the level of educational quality and service to families they have typically offered. Certainly, runaway inflation combined with relatively flat funding levels means that centres are forced to do more and more with less and less, because they can't raise their fees as long as they participate in the program. The paperwork associated with the CWELCC also consumes a tremendous amount of staff time. The municipal governments that administer the CWELCC funding often add to these burdens by imposing their own requirements on centres. They may also arbitrarily terminate a centre's CWELCC funding at any time--leaving parents scrambling.

Municipal "Management" of the Child Care System: In Ontario, almost all child care funding from the federal and provincial governments is funneled through its 47 municipal bureaucracies, rather than directly going to licensed centres or families. While municipalities are supposed to adhere to Provincial guidelines that dictate how these funds get allocated, the Provincial guidelines are very loose and there is no transparency regarding enforcement. The result is that for some 20 years now, Ontario has had 47 different flavours of child care policy. Further, the Ontario Child Care and Early Years Act allows municipalities to artificially restrict the growth of licensed child care in their jurisdictions. Some municipalities pump large amounts of taxpayer money into centres they own and operate, or into national “charitable” organizations that provide child care but also invest heavily in lobbying activity at all levels of government. What this means is that your family's ability to access licensed child care depends largely on where you live, how good a steward your municipality is of the funds it receives, and whether or not it values parental choice in child care.

The CARE tax credit: In April of 2019, the Ford government introduced the CARE tax credit. Depending on your income, you can receive a tax credit for up to 75% of your receipted child care expenses, up to $6000 per year per child under age seven. While the CARE tax credit isn’t necessarily the perfect solution for every family, it could make a major difference to yours. You can learn more here.




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