Understanding the Structure of the Child Care Industry in Ontario
The child care industry is comprised of establishments primarily engaged in providing day-care services for infants or children. These establishments may also care for older children when they are not in school and may also offer pre-kindergarten educational programs. Each province, territory and even municipality have their own licensing and regulation processes and standards to adhere to in providing child care. Child care centres in Toronto can either be city operated, non-profit in nature or commercial.
The regulated child care services commonly known as “licensed child care,” is governed by a regulating body (i.e., the province). The unregulated child care service commonly known as “unlicensed child care” is where child care is likely to take place in a home environment and is not required to meet most provincial standards.
There are four types of child care services in Ontario:
- Licensed Child Care Centres: Are governed by a regulating body, the Province of Ontario, that sets the child-to-staff ratios, curriculum framework, minimum required educational training of providers (etc.). The Ministry of Education issues child care licences under the Child Care and Early Years Act (CCEYA) and is responsible for the enforcement of that legislation.
- Licensed Home Child Care: Home child care is also regulated. In Canada, there are two models of regulating home child care: a direct licensing model and an agency model. Ontario uses an agency model, whereby Home Child Care Agencies are directly licensed by the province, then agencies approve and manage individual homes. Home Child Care Agencies monitor to ensure that approved homes are following both the government’s rules and regulations and agency’s policies and procedures. Homes contracted with a Home Child Care Agency can display decals to identify them as licensed by the Government of Ontario. They provide professional development, support, and monitoring for Home Child Care Providers (HCCPs). One of the benefits of using licensed home child care is that they may be able to accommodate more flexible hours of care which may be required by shift workers.
- Before-School and After-School Care: Public School Boards that offer kindergarten to grade six must also offer before-and-after-school programs based on demand. These programs complement the regular school day with a mix of exploration, guided independent activities, quiet times, and outdoor play. School boards that operate before and after-school programs either enter directly into a third-party agreement with a licensed child care centre or with an authorized recreational and skill building program to operate the program.
- Unlicensed Child Care: There is little information on unregulated child care since it is difficult to locate or track. It is in a grey policy area, with government acknowledging that they exist without necessarily approving of the practice. In Ontario, an unlicensed child care provider can care for a maximum of five children under the age of 13 and no more than three children younger than two years old. The provider is required to count their own children if they are younger than four years old. Unlicensed child care providers must not operate in multiple locations and are required to inform their customers in writing that this child care program is not licensed by the Government of Ontario. There are no required health and safety standards, and no regular monitoring occurs in unlicensed child care programs in Ontario. Government inspection may occur but only following citizen complaints.
Differences in the type of care arrangement used by parents can be largely determined by the child’s age. For example, the 2022 Survey on Before and After School Care in Canada reported that parents of older children were less likely to use before and after- school care because their child could stay home alone or with a sibling. On the other hand, parents of younger children were more likely to use formal care arrangements when compared to parents of older children.