Child Care Industry Statistics: Toronto & Ontario
Services offered by licensed child care providers in Ontario and Toronto are a combination of licensed child care centres and licensed home child care. In addition, there is also a market for unregulated home child care services commonly known as informal or unlicensed child care.
Trend in the Number of Licensed Child Care Centres in Toronto
The number of licensed child care centres, licensed Home Child Care Agencies, and the different types of child care programs available is critically important information for families, service providers and policy makers.
As of June 2023, Toronto’s licensed child care system had approximately 1,046 centers (See Figure 2) providing early learning and care for children up to 12 years of age. Figure 2[v] shows that the number of licensed child care centres in Toronto have grown substantially over the past ten years. In June 2023 there were 14% more child care centres in Toronto compared to the same period in 2013.
As of July 2023, 66% of child care providers (686 centres) in Toronto were operated by a Non-Profit Agency, 30% were operated by a Commercial Agency (320 centres) and the rest 4% (39 centres) were City of Toronto Operated Agencies. Between 2022-2023, 25 new licensed child care centres were added into the child care system and 68% of this expansion came from commercial agencies.
Number of Licensed Child Care Spaces in Toronto is Increasing
In December 2023, a total number of 82,119 licensed spaces (centre based) were available in Toronto.
Figure 3 shows that the number of spaces in the licensed child care system has grown over the years where the total number of licensed child care spaces in June 2023 in Toronto saw a 44.7% increase when compared to the same period in 2013.
Table 4: Child Care Availability by Types of Programs, City of Toronto
Source: Toronto Children’s Services, Factsheets
Child care services and programs are typically designed and offered based on age categories: Infants (0m-18m), Toddlers (18m-2.5years), Preschool-aged children (2.5+ years until the child goes to school), and School-aged children. Child care services can also be offered based on other options like full-time versus part-time care, irregular care, or care during non-standard hours (i.e., evenings, weekends, and overnight services).
Table 4 compares the availability of child care by types of programs in Toronto for the years 2013 and 2022. Between 2013 and 2022, there was a 12% increase in the number of licensed child care centre spaces for the following programs- infant, toddler, and preschool. However, in June 2013, the proportion of licensed child care spaces that belonged to the categories (infant, toddler, preschool) were 64.5% of the total spaces. In June 2022, this share declined to 51.4%. In other words, between 2013 and 2022, the proportion of spaces for infant, toddlers and preschool children declined from nearly two-thirds of licensed spaces to just over half.
During this period, the number of children[vi] in the age group 0-4 years declined by 10.7%. Given a reduction of 10.7% in the number of children in the 0-4 age group, the 12% increase in spaces for this age group means that the ratio of children to spaces declined marginally (from 3.2 per space to 2.6). According to a CBC News report, the goal of Ontario is to have a ratio of one affordable child care space for every 2.7 children under the age of five.
On the other hand, in Toronto, from 2013-2022, there has been a 4.6% decline in the population estimates of the age category 5-9 years old but a 95% increase in the number of licensed child care spaces (before and after school program) that belong to that same category (kindergarten and school age). The proportion of child care space in this category increased from 35.4% in 2013 to 49% in 2022. The near doubling in the number of spaces means that the ratio of children to spaces has been halved (from 8.3 children per space to just 4).
Between 2016 to 2021, most neighbourhoods in Toronto on average saw a decrease[vii] in the child population by 2.2%. Over the 10-year period between 2011 and 2021, the number of children 4 and under has continuously dropped from 140,510 in 2011 to 136,000 in 2016, and to 123,505 in 2021.
Availability of Licensed Child Care Centres in Toronto: Are Communities Served Well Enough?
The City of Toronto’s licensed child care growth strategy adopted in 2017 with a 10-year vision, sets out to create 30,000 additional licensed spaces (for a total of 70,000 spaces) to serve 50 percent of children aged 0-4 in Toronto by 2026. As per the latest report by the City of Toronto, by 2026, the city is expected to fall short of its target by more than 7,000 spaces due to funding challenges. According to the same report, the areas with the greatest need for new child care spaces are also among the poorest led by Scarborough—Rouge Park and Humber River—Black Creek. Both of those wards’ licenced child care spaces can serve less than 20 per cent of the children in the area, compared to Toronto—St. Paul’s and University-Rosedale, which have space for more than half the children in those areas.
Using a heat map, the report provides a visual representation of the distribution of licensed child care centres in Toronto neighbourhoods. The heat map was generated using the City of Toronto’s licensed child care and a before-after school program locator for Toronto. The map has built in filters that allow the viewer to explore the presence of licensed centres based on the different types of programs offered. It appears that the availability of licensed child care centre spaces roughly correlates to low-income neighbourhoods.
In a nutshell, licensed child care centre spaces in Toronto have increased for all types of programs (infant, toddler, preschool, kindergarten, and school age). However, this increase has been disproportionately seen in the before and after school programs (kindergarten and school age) than in the infant, toddler and preschool categories. It is an observation that the system is responding more to the need for the before and after school care programs compared to the infant, toddler, and preschool program. These findings are consistent with the latest report on child care coverage titled “Not Done Yet”. The coverage rate for infants in Toronto was 16%.
When compared to other regions and municipalities in Ontario, Toronto at face value, would appear to be preforming reasonably well in terms of child care availability. However, access to child care can be described as uneven at best. An informal examination of the distribution of the licensed child care centres against Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIA), indicates that Toronto has a number of day care “deserts”, and these deserts appear to correlate with NIA. These areas have structural inequity, including high rates of working poor, low-income families, and transit poverty. This is particularly noticeable in the Rexdale, Morningside, and Scarborough Town Centre areas of the city.
Children’s Services in the City of Toronto noted that in accordance with Ontario regulation, school boards are required to ensure the provision of before and after school programs for every elementary school serving students in primary and or/junior division where there is sufficient demand and or viability. Each year school boards assess demand and determine where new programs are needed. These programs also operate in shared spaces in schools and do not require capital funding to open. Certainly, in cooperation with the government of Ontario, non-profit agencies, school boards and the private sector in Toronto have come a long way in terms of child care availability but more work needs to be done as their efforts have been constrained by the shortage of child care workers.
Home Child Care Agencies in Toronto
Currently there are a total of 26 licensed Home Child Care Agencies operated by the City of Toronto that have contracts with independent providers who offer early learning and child care in their private homes.
Figure 4 highlights that post-pandemic, there has been a jump in the number of licensed Home Child Care Agencies[viii]. During a one-on-one interview with a Home Child Care Agency, we were told that recently some unregulated Home Child Care Providers have been making inquiries to enter the licensed home child care service as independent contractors. This is good news for the child care industry as that can lead to an increased supply of licensed spots. It was suggested by the interviewee that more unlicensed child care providers need to be encouraged to join the licensed system.
Figure 5 indicates the child day-care service establishments in Toronto, CMA, and the City of Toronto by employee size in June 2023. According to Canadian Business Counts (Statistics Canada), as of June 2023 there were a total of 1,963 child day-care service establishments in Toronto CMA with employees. Of these, 40% (789 businesses) were in the City of Toronto. Child Day-Care Services in both Toronto, CMA (35%) and the City of Toronto (39.5%) were mostly medium sized business establishments that operated with an employee size ranging between 10-19 staff.
Child Care Industry Trends in Ontario: Licensed Child Care Centres and Home Child Care Agencies
Ontario saw a sustained increase in the number of licensed child care centres every year except during the pandemic when government mandated safety regulations forced many centres to close their doors.
Source: Ontario’s Early Years and Child Care Annual Report 2022
Both Figure 6 and Figure 7 reports the annual trend in the number of licensed child care centres and spaces in Ontario over the last decade. According to Figure 7, the number of spaces in these centres increased by 61% over the last ten years. In other words, between 2012-13 and 2021-22, the province of Ontario added 178,507 spots in licensed child care centres. These numbers are very much unlike what anecdotal evidence suggest about centres closing and operators reducing capacity.
Figure 8 and Figure 9 illustrate that over the past five years, the number of licensed Home Child Care agencies as well as the number of homes approved by these agencies have shown an upward trend in Ontario. While an increase in the supply of licensed child care providers is good news for all families interested in using the service, it can be even more beneficial to families employed in occupations that demand non-standard work hours. This is because Home Child Care Providers are more likely to offer flexible hours of service compared to licensed child care centres.
Unlicensed Child Care in Ontario
According to the Canadian Survey on the Provision of Child Care Services in 2022, Ontario had the following type of child care services available: Center based child care services (4,384); Licensed home-based child care (2,282) and unlicensed child care (6,763). The government of Ontario uses the term “unlicensed child care” to define informal or unregulated child care in the province.
Figure 10 shows that in 2022, 75% of all home-based child care services in Ontario were unregulated. The Canadian Survey on the Provision of Child Care surveyed providers in this informal sector asking why they remained unregulated. Several reasons were given, and respondents were asked to select all that applied.
Table 5: Reasons Why Some Child Care Services Decided to Remain Unlicensed
|Want control over own business
|Do not see any benefit in getting licensed
|Feels there are too many requirements
|Don’t plan on providing care long enough to make it worthwhile
|Unaware of the licensing system
|Finds the cost associated with licensing requirements too high
|Do not consider licensing necessary
Source: Statistics Canada. Table 42-10-0047-01 Child care businesses by service type, Ontario, 2022
Table 5 summarizes the reasons why some child care providers in Ontario decided to stay unlicensed. Note that respondents were allowed to choose multiple reasons. The top three reasons given were: wanting full control over their own business (49%), not considering licensing a necessity (39%) and not seeing any or enough benefits to getting licensed (36%).
The authors of the report spoke to the College of Early Childhood Educators, and they underscored the importance of parental awareness of the dualism of licensed and unlicensed centers and the similarities/differences between them. Daycare centres are licensed, while home-based daycares can either be licensed or unlicensed. Although licensed providers are subject to oversight, it does not necessarily guarantee better care than in an unlicensed daycare. The demand for unlicensed child care persists partly because for some families, it can be culturally comforting to send their child(ren) to a care provider sharing common cultural and religious beliefs or a model of community care. In any community, parents should be given that choice. Several research studies also highlight the following factors influencing some families’ demand for unlicensed child care: variable work hours (e.g., night shifts, shift work), cost and convenience (e.g., in the same apartment, building or street) and familiarity.
However, when considering an unlicensed home daycare, parents are encouraged to inquire about the provider’s credentials, certifications, and the standards the provider maintains. There must also be some shared goals between the government and unlicensed child care providers of wanting to improve the quality of service or care. The College of Early Childhood Educators suggested that the child care system can consider some transition mechanism to merge the unregulated child care services into licensed home child care. Until then, the government can continue to communicate with caregivers in the unregulated sector and support them with information to enhance program quality, health, and safety.