Many studies and task forces have clearly demonstrated the importance of the early years in establishing the foundation for children’s later success. The most notable are the McCain-Mustard reports “The Early Years” (1999) and “The Early Years Three Years Later” (2002), and the Coffey-McCain report “The Commission on Early Learning and Child Care for the City of Toronto.” These studies have shown that a child’s cognitive, social and physical development by age six is a powerful predictor of his or her future school performance and adult well-being.
Because most of the women in our region work outside the home, over 300,000 children under-twelve from all socio-economic backgrounds require some type of childcare. But available licensed childcare spaces satisfy just over 20 per cent of the demand. And the situation is worse for subsidized childcare: an estimated 20,000 children are currently on GTA waiting lists.
The federal government has recognized the importance of a comprehensive approach to early childhood development that includes early learning, positive parenting and licensed childcare. The federal government allocated $880 million over five years starting in 2000 through its Early Childhood Development Initiative (ECDI) to support early childhood development in Ontario. Federal investment in early childhood development was augmented with the recent federal budget announcement of $900 million nationally over five years, starting in 2003, for new, licensed childcare spaces.
But Ontario, unlike most other provinces, been very slow in taking up any of its federal ECDI funding for licensed childcare. After downloading responsibilities for childcare to municipalities in 1995, Ontario has also reduced its support for childcare. Funding province-wide has dropped $90 million since 1995. The City of Toronto lost 1600 subsidized childcare spaces in 2001 and is at risk of losing 700 more. The 2004 Ontario Budget announced the $58 million of ECDI funding allocated to Ontario will begin to flow to municipalities in order to stabilize the current system and to create 4000 new subsidized childcare spaces.
The province must recommit to the vision of “The Early Years Report” and ensure that current and new federal ECDI funding is combined with provincial funding to create sufficient new licensed and appropriately funded childcare spaces and ensure that its funding is allocated across the full spectrum of priority programs, including the creation of net new, licensed childcare spaces to address the critical need for quality childcare for Ontario’s families. ECDI funding should be distributed fairly, and the Toronto region should receive its requisite share. In addition, the Ontario government should use a portion of the funding that it receives under the federal Early Childhood Development Initiative (ECDI) to support ongoing assessment and reporting on the readiness to learn of children across the Toronto region.
In the last few months the federal government has placed new emphasis on the need for a national comprehensive child care system. There is more that must be done to help families help their children. In the Speech from the Throne in October, 2004, the federal government stated an intent to work with provincial and territorial governments to lay the foundation for a national childcare program with the following four key principles in mind: quality, universality, accessibility and development.