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Survey on Early Learning and Child Care Arrangements, 2019

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Released: 2019-04-10

About 60% of children under the age of 6 participated in some form of formal or informal child care in the previous three months. This represented almost 1.4 million young children. The type and quality of non-parental child care in the early years has been linked to healthy childhood development and school readiness.

Findings from the new Survey on Early Learning and Child Care Arrangements are now available. This survey, which was collected from mid-January to mid-February 2019, was designed to inform policies aimed at ensuring Canadians have affordable, accessible and quality child care options for their young children. The survey fills an important data gap on the use of various child care arrangements across Canada.

Early learning and child care arrangements include any form of care for children, formal or informal, by someone other than their parent or guardian. Examples include the use of daycare facilities, in-home care by a relative or non-relative, as well as before and after school programs. Occasional babysitting or kindergarten were excluded from the survey.

Participation in early learning and child care varies by province and territory and by child age

Early learning and child care, including formal child care and kindergarten, is organized and regulated at the provincial and territorial level. Therefore, participation rates may vary across the provinces and territories. Children living in Quebec and Prince Edward Island were more likely to be in a formal or informal child care arrangement than children in the other provinces or territories. By comparison, children living in Nunavut, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta were less likely to participate in early learning and child care.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Proportion of children aged 0 to 5 participating in child care, provinces and territories
Proportion of children aged 0 to 5 participating in child care, provinces and territories

Participation in child care also differed based on the child's age. About two-thirds of 1 to 3 year olds (68%) and 4 and 5 year olds (65%) were in child care, compared with about one-quarter of children under the age of 1 (24%). The lower participation rate of infants reflects the fact that some parents have access to parental leave.

Type of child care arrangements varies by child age

Among children in any child care arrangement, parents/guardians were asked to report all of the different types of child care in which their child was participating. Daycare centres, preschools or centres de petite enfance (CPE) (52% of children in child care) were the most commonly used types of arrangements, followed by care by a relative other than a parent (26%) and a family child care home (20%). Some parents used multiple arrangements to meet all of their child care needs.

Differences in the type of care were also found based on the child's age. Children who were under the age of 1 were most likely to be cared for by a relative (46% of infants in child care), while children aged 1 and older were more likely to be in a daycare centre, preschool or CPE (58% of children aged 1 to 3 years, and 47% of children aged 4 and 5 years). About one-quarter (24%) of children aged 1 to 3 who were in child care were in a family child care home, compared with 14% of children aged 4 and 5 years. Finally, about 25% of 4- and 5-year-old children in child care participated in a before or after school program.

Parents have many reasons for choosing a specific type of care

The reasons that parents/guardians choose a particular child care arrangement are unique to their family needs. The survey provides insight into the overall reasons that parents/guardians choose certain child care arrangements.

Parents/guardians reported a variety of reasons for using the main type of child care, that is, the one used for the most hours per week. More than half of parents/guardians of children aged 0 to 5 years said that the choice was based on location (61%) and/or based on the characteristics of the individual providing care (53%). Many parents/guardians also chose their main arrangement because of the hours of operation (41%) or because it was affordable (40%).

Almost two-thirds of parents do not have difficulty finding child care arrangements

Almost two-thirds (64%) of parents/guardians who had a child in child care reported that they had no difficulty finding an early learning and child care arrangement. However, some parents/guardians of children aged 0 to 5 years did report challenges, which may relate to availability, cost, flexibility or quality. Among all parents of children aged 0 to 5 years, 12% had difficulty finding child care in their community, 11% had difficulty finding affordable child care, 8% had difficulty finding care that fit their work or study schedule, and 8% had difficulty finding the quality of care that they desired.

These results reflect the challenges generally experienced by parents/guardians of children aged 0 to 5 and do not take into account any particular characteristics of the family situation, such as child characteristics or parent work schedule.

Having difficulties finding child care can affect parents' ability to work

The survey indicates that having difficulties finding child care can result in one or more negative consequences for the parent, including having an impact on their ability to work. In fact, almost 1 in 10 parents of children aged 0 to 5 years (9%) changed their work schedule because they had difficulty finding child care, 7% worked fewer hours and 6% postponed their return to work. Some parents/guardians who experienced difficulties also resorted to using multiple care arrangements or a temporary arrangement (8% of all parents of children aged 0 to 5 years).

The reasons parents/guardians report not using child care vary

Not all parents need or chose to use non-parental child care arrangements. Results from the survey suggested that almost 2 in 10 children aged 0 to 5 (17%) had a parent/guardian who had decided to stay at home, 11% had a parent at home on maternity or parental leave and 6% had a parent who was unemployed. Approximately 6% of children were not participating in child care because they were in kindergarten.

Other reasons for not using child care included that the cost was too high (10% of all parents of children aged 0 to 5) and/or that there was a shortage of spaces or a waiting list (3%).

The survey provides current child-level information on child care participation. Findings suggest an increase in child care participation over the past two decades, from 54% of children aged 6 months to 5 years who were reported to be in non-parental care in 2002/2003 (based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth) to 60% now.

The findings support an increase in child care participation in Canada over the past two decades. The top reasons for choosing child care arrangements were location and characteristics of the caregiver. Results also suggest that while the majority of parents are able to find child care arrangements, those that have difficulty may experience challenges related to work.

  Note to readers

The Survey on Early Learning and Child Care Arrangements (SELCCA) provides a current snapshot of early child care usage in Canada, and can be used to better understand the reasons why families choose to use or not use different types of child care arrangements.

The SELCCA was conducted as part of the Rapid Stats program offered by Statistics Canada's Centre for Social Data Integration and Development to rapidly respond to pressing data needs.

The data were collected in the provinces and territories in January and February 2019. The response rate was 53% in the provinces and 41% in the territories, yielding a sample size of 7,548 children. This response rate is similar to other Rapid Stats surveys.

The target population was children aged 0 to 5 years of age, although the information was obtained from a parent, guardian or person that was knowledgeable about the child's child care arrangements (or lack thereof). The respondent was female in 91% of cases. Children living in institutions or on reserve were excluded from the target population.

Survey sampling weights were applied to render the analyses representative of Canadian children aged 0 to 5 living in the provinces or territories. Bootstrap weights were also applied when testing for significant differences (p < 0.05) in order to account for the complex survey design.

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