by John Richards and Matthew Brzozowski
Raising the next generation is a preoccupation of adults, and debates over how best to do it surely predate recorded history. In earlier times, religious leaders or village elders pronounced on the rights and wrongs of parenting. In our secular age, the decisions of politicians, the conclusions of academic policy analysts and the arguments of advocates loom large. Not surprisingly to anyone who is a parent, the matter remains unresolved.
Here in Canada, one dimension, the appropriate role for nonparental education and care of preschool children, has become a major component of the national political dialogue – what has become known as the child care debate. Some OECD countries – notably Scandinavian countries and France – provide universally accessible, heavily subsidized centres for preschool children. So does Quebec, where the Centres de la Petite Enfance (CPEs) are accessible in principle to all parents on payment of $7 per child per day. The annual cost of a comparable Canada-wide program would be between $8 and $10 billion.
In the 2004 Speech from the Throne, Paul Martin’s government announced its intention to promote “high quality,” “universally inclusive,” essentially publicly financed child care centres “focused on enhancing early childhood learning opportunities.” Such a program falls within the jurisdiction of the provinces. To induce their cooperation, the 2005 budget offered conditional grants, amounting to $5 billion over five years. To gain access to the funds, provincial governments agreed during 2005 to launch programs consistent with the following guidelines:
• Quality – evidence-based, high quality practices relating to programs for children, training and supports for early childhood educators and child care providers, and provincial/territorial regulation and monitoring.
• Universally inclusive – open to all children, without discrimination.
• Accessible – available and affordable for those who choose to use it.
• Developmental – focused on enhancing early childhood learning opportunities and the developmental component of [Early Learning and Child Care] programs and services.1