In September 2000, First Ministers1 released a communiqué on Early Childhood Development (ECD) that recognized the critical importance of the early years of life in the development and future well-being of the child. Recognizing that families play the primary role in supporting and nurturing children, they committed to improve and expand early childhood development programs, building on existing investments.
Progress has been made under the Early Childhood Development initiative in each of the four key areas for action identified by First Ministers:
• Promote healthy pregnancy, birth and infancy;
• Improve parenting and family supports;
• Strengthen early childhood development, learning and care; and
• Strengthen community supports.
Governments remain committed to improving and expanding programs and services in any or all of these four key areas for action over time.
Building on this commitment, Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services agree to make additional investments in the specific area of early learning and child care. Ministers recognize that quality early learning and child care programs play an important role in promoting the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of young children.
This early learning and child care framework represents another important step in the development of early childhood development programs and services. This initiative is consistent with, and builds upon, the commitments made by First Ministers in September 2000.
The objective of this initiative is to further promote early childhood development and support the participation of parents in employment or training by improving access to affordable, quality early learning and child care programs and services.
Areas for Investment
To advance the objective set out above, Ministers agree to further invest in provincially/territorially regulated early learning and child care programs for children under six. In the context of this framework, regulated programs are defined as programs that meet quality standards that are established and monitored by provincial/territorial governments.
Early learning and child care programs and services funded through this initiative will primarily provide direct care and early learning for children in settings such as child care centres, family child care homes, preschools, and nursery schools. Types of investments could include capital and operating funding, fee subsidies, wage enhancements, training, professional development and support, quality assurance, and parent information and referral. Programs and services that are part of the formal school system will not be included in this initiative.
In the settings described above, effective approaches to early learning and child care are based on the following principles:
Available and accessible:
Flexible and responsive early learning and child care options should be broadly available to promote early childhood development and to support parents to participate in employment or training. Examples of initiatives that support availability and accessibility could include increasing early learning and child care spaces, supporting extended and flexible hours of operation and parent information and referral.
Early learning and child care services should be affordable. Governments have established mechanisms to assist parents in meeting the costs of early learning and child care. Examples of initiatives that support affordability could include enhancing fee subsidies that take into account parents’ ability to pay and operational funding.
Early learning and child care should be of high quality to support optimal child development. Examples of initiatives that support high quality early learning and child care could include enhancements to training and support, child / caregiver ratios and group size, compensation, recruitment and retention, physical environment, health and safety, and learning environment.
Early learning and child care should be inclusive of, and responsive to, the needs of children with differing abilities; Aboriginal (i.e. Indian, Inuit and Métis) children; and children in various cultural and linguistic circumstances. Examples of initiatives that support inclusiveness could include special needs programming and supports, and culturally and linguistically appropriate resources and training.
Early learning and child care services should provide the flexibility to respond to the varying needs and preferences of parents and children. Examples of initiatives that support parental choice could include innovative approaches to service provision in rural and remote communities, and flexible approaches that address a range of family and employment circumstances.
Consistent with commitments made by First Ministers, governments will work together in full respect of each other's responsibilities, recognizing that provinces and territories have the primary responsibility for early learning and child care. Each government will determine its priorities within this initiative. Each government agrees to publicly recognize and explain the respective roles and contributions of governments to this initiative.
Governments will continue to work with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada to find practical solutions to address the developmental needs of Aboriginal children.
Governments will ensure effective mechanisms for Canadians to participate in developing early learning and child care priorities and reviewing outcomes.
First Ministers agreed that investments for early childhood development should be incremental, predictable and sustained over the long-term.
Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services agree that support for early learning and child care is a critical investment in our children's future. Ministers agree that further investments in early learning and child care should also be incremental, predictable and sustained over the long-term.
Ministers recognize that this initiative builds on the significant provincial/territorial investments already made in early learning and child care and agree on the need for flexibility to address local needs and priorities. This initiative also complements important existing federal investments for children and families.
Ministers believe in the importance of being accountable to Canadians for early learning and child care programs and services. Clear public reporting will enhance accountability and will allow the public to track progress in improving access to affordable, quality early learning and child care programs and services.
In the First Ministers’ communiqué on Early Childhood Development, governments committed to report annually to Canadians on investments and progress in the area of early childhood development. Consistent with that commitment, and with early childhood development reporting by jurisdictions, Ministers commit to report annually to Canadians on their progress in improving access to affordable, quality early learning and child care programs and services.
Ministers will report annually to Canadians on all early learning and child care programs and services as defined in this framework, beginning with a baseline report for 2002-2003. Reports will include:
• Descriptive and expenditure information on all early learning and child care programs and services;
• Indicators of availability, such as number of spaces in early learning and child care settings broken down by age of child and type of setting;
• Indicators of affordability, such as number of children receiving subsidies, income and social eligibility for fee subsidies, and maximum subsidy by age of child; and
• Indicators of quality, such as training requirements, child / caregiver ratios and group size, where available.
Governments commit to publicly release baseline information by the end of November 2003; annual reports will be released beginning in November 2004.
The purpose of performance measurement is for all governments to be accountable to their publics, not to each other. The amount of federal funding provided to any jurisdiction will not depend on achieving a given level of performance.
Governments will strive to continue to improve the quality of reporting over time.
Knowledge, Information and Effective Practices
Research, knowledge and information are the foundations of evidence-based decision-making and are critical to informed policy development. Governments recognize the importance of evaluation in determining the effectiveness and outcomes of initiatives in early learning and child care and agree to work together to develop an evaluation framework within one year of federal funding being received. Where appropriate, governments agree to pursue evaluations based on this framework, and agree to work together to share information on effective practices in early learning and child care, which may include evaluation findings.
Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services will begin implementation as soon as possible of the commitments and priorities outlined in this framework.
1While the Government of Québec supports the general principles of the Early Childhood Development Initiative and the Early Learning and Child Care Initiative, it did not participate in developing these initiatives because it intends to preserve its sole responsibility on social matters. However, Québec receives its share of federal funding and the Government of Québec is making major investments toward programs and services for families and children. All references to viewpoints shared by the federal, provincial and territorial governments in this document do not include the viewpoints of the Government of Québec.