ECEC Policy in Ontario

ECEs in Ontario work within various systems, legislation and regulatory environments and policy frameworks that make up the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. Although we are united in our shared collective knowledge and identity as ECEs, we may also have very different working contexts and experiences.

Child Care

Early childhood education and child care falls under provincial jurisdiction (there is currently no federal role in education or child care) and is the responsibility of the Ontario Ministry of Education. Licensed child care centres and family home child care agencies are licensed and monitored by the Ministry of Education.  Individual family child care providers are monitored by the family child care agency.

Legislation provides the overarching laws and rules that govern early years programs in the province.  In 2014 Ontario passed new legislation called the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014.  Legislation sets rules around licensing, inspections, enforcement and the roles of different levels of government in the administration and provision of services. This is also where the rules for unlicensed home-care and what qualifies as illegal child care are determined.

In addition to legislation, regulations are the specific rules of operation that must be followed in order to maintain a child care license. New regulations to fit the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014 are being phased in over time while some regulations from the previous legislation, the Day Nurseries Act, remain in the meantime. Regulations identify critical requirements for programs such as the ratios of adults to children and the number of qualified staff required for each group of children.

Ontario is unique in that local governments also play a primary role in child care. 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.

Because of this local government role, ECEs may experience different funding arrangements and working requirements from one municipality/region to another, including additional quality criteria and curriculum expectations. Each CMSM and DSSAB has a Children’s Services department and is responsible for creating a service plan that can be accessed online. The contact information for Children’s Services in your CMSM or DSSAB can be found here.

Policy is the work of government to plan for and provide child care and early learning services. Policy should set out who is responsible for what, what we are trying to achieve (i.e. universal access), and what it should look like. The most current policy is the Ontario Early Years Policy Framework that was released in 2013 (Ontario Early Years Policy Framework)

Curriculum documents provide an overarching approach to educating and caring for children in licensed programs and outline our collective visions of children, families, educators and services. How does learning happen? Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years is the overarching framework for licensed child care programs and all other related services including family resource and support programs.

How Does Learning Happen? Ontario's Pedagogy for the Early Years and related resources including Think Feel Act: Lessons From Research About Young Children and Excerpts from ELECT are available online at: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/pedagogy.html

Family Resource Programs

Family resource programs provide multiple supports to children and families and are often closely linked with licensed child care centres, providers and agencies. However, they do serve a different purpose and are typically free to families. Many ECEs work within family resource programs and no matter where you work you should know about this important service for children and families. There is no specific legislation or regulations for family resource programs in Ontario. The government is currently working towards stronger integration between all early years services and programs as highlighted in the Early Years Policy Framework (above) and How does learning happen? (above).

The two main family resource programs supported by the government are Ontario Early Years Centres and Parenting and Family Literacy Centres.  These programs often act as hubs where families can access further information about other supports including, but not limited to, licensed child care and early intervention supports.

Full Day Kindergarten

Ontario introduced and began implementing full-day kindergarten in the public school system for 4 and 5 year olds in 2010. As of fall 2014 the program was fully implemented across the province.

With the introduction of full-day kindergarten, Ontario school boards are also now required to provide before- and after-school programs or the ‘extended day’ for full-day kindergarten students at schools where there is interest from the families of at least 20 children. These extended-day programs may be provided by the school board or through third-party operators that have an arrangement with the school board. Third-party operators are typically community based child care centres located in or near the school. The provision of these extended-day programs varies across, and sometimes within, school boards.

ECEs are part of the teaching team that consists of one Registered Early Childhood Educator (RECE) and one Ontario Certified Teacher (OCT) in full-day kindergarten.  In the full-day kindergarten teaching team the RECE is referred to as the Designated ECE or DECE. DECEs are also the lead professionals in the extended-day programs for full-day kindergarten.

The legislation and regulation governing full day kindergarten is the Ontario Education Act and regulations. The Education Act outlines the overarching guidelines and rules for Ontario’s public education school boards and everything and everyone contained within. The Act defines “early childhood educator” as a member of the College of Early Childhood Educators and outlines that DECEs and OCTs have a ‘duty to cooperate’ and work together to deliver the full-day kindergarten program in Ontario public school. 

Curriculum documents for full-day kindergarten are different from those in licensed child care but the government is working towards greater alignment with the various documents. All of the curriculum documents supporting full-day kindergarten can be found on the Ministry of Education website (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/kindergarten.html)

The Full-Day Early Learning-Kindergarten Program (Draft version) is the complete draft version of the program document including the introduction and the learning expectations. There is also a guiding document for the extended day program.

Sources to learn more about early childhood education and care policy in Ontario and across Canada

Childcare Resource and Research Unit

Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada

Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development

Canadian Child Care Federation

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives