Let’s not leave it to “luck”: Inclusive Child Care for All

by Oxfam Canada | May 15, 2024
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Let’s not leave it to “luck”: Inclusive Child Care for All

by Oxfam Canada | May 15, 2024
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Background media: Photo: Tatiana Syrikova | Pexels
Photo: Tatiana Syrikova | Pexels

Ever heard people say they were “lucky” to find child care? It's a familiar story, but access to child care really shouldn’t be left to chance. For many Canadian families, securing low-fee, high-quality, and inclusive early learning and child care (ELCC) has been an uphill battle. But here's the thing: change is happening, and our voices are more vital than ever in ensuring everyone has equal access to child care.

Addressing historical challenges

Canada’s approach to child care has long been fragmented, with factors like quality, availability, costs, and who could access it being determined by profit, not the best interests of children and families.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, the government and society woke up to child care's critical role in our economy, children’s well-being, and women’s rights. After all, it is proven that affordable and accessible child care directly impacts women’s participation in the labour force and for every dollar invested in child care the economy receives $1.50 and $2.80 (TD Economic Report 2023).

Coined a "she-cession," the pandemic shed light on how women were disproportionately affected by child care closures and rising costs. Essential workers, many of whom are racialized women, particularly struggled, as they rely heavily on child care to keep our communities running smoothly. Many were forced to choose between staying at home to look after their children or leaving their jobs entirely.

Canadian families demand equitable access to child care

In response, the federal government made a historic commitment in 2021 to establish a Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care system. By the end of 2022, provinces began subsidizing child care fees, with the goal of offering families $10-a-day child care. The impact has been life-changing for families like Violet Bonnyai's, who've experienced firsthand the difference accessible child care can make.

Accessing full-time daycare, thanks to the $10-a-day program, has been a miracle for my child, especially given signs of possible Autism Spectrum Disorder. The consistent support and one-on-one interaction have made a significant impact, providing him with the daily care and attention he needs. I feel fortunate and blessed that this wouldn't have been possible without the affordability offered by the program.
Violet Bonnyai Parent and Beneficiary of the $10-a-Day Child Care Program.

Our work is far from over

Despite these wins, there's still a long road ahead. The demand for child care, now that affordability is within sight, is far greater than supply. Early childhood educators are feeling the strain, too, with poverty wages and poor working conditions driving many away from the field. Efforts to expand child care spaces are underway, but with that comes the need for more child care workers, and that will require decent working conditions.


Children not yet in kindergarten live in a child care desert. This means that at least three kids compete for one licensed child care spot in a single postal code.


Of Indigenous parents report not using child care due to a shortage of spaces or long waiting lists, compared to 7.7% of all other parents.

The childcare shortage hits some communities harder than others, especially those in rural and remote areas, newcomers to Canada, Indigenous Peoples, people with disabilities, and low- and modest-income families. This inequity stems from Canada’s historical reliance on a profit-driven child care model that left disadvantaged groups behind.

Celebrating advocacy wins

While building a national child care system is not easy, we’ve been able to celebrate incredible wins. The child care advocacy movement has made tremendous strides in pushing governments at all levels to prioritize affordable and quality child care. In our work with Child Care Now and the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, we have been particularly focused on making child care more equitable and inclusive.

Events like the 2023 Inclusive Child Care for All Summit in Ottawa provided a platform for parents, advocates, and educators across Canada to share their lived experiences to shape policy discourse and advocacy initiatives.

 “Throughout the summit, I was able to acquire deep knowledge of childcare needs and gaps, explored policy solutions (…), and identified ways to ensure that childcare advocacy groups and networks address them in advocacy initiatives and campaigns”- Leisha Toory

child care

Recently, we also celebrated legislative victories, including Bill C-35 which enshrines early learning and child care commitments in federal law. In the 2024 Budget, the federal government announced increased public funding for the expansion of not-for-profit and public child care centres, while also providing support for early childhood educators.

Next Steps

As Martha Friendly, executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit says:

“Addressing unequal access and exclusion from high-quality child care for under-represented groups of women and their children begins — but does not end with — building a broad, affordable, equitable, universal child care system for all”.

Oxfam Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to advancing women’s rights and ending poverty and inequality. This includes advocating for essential social infrastructure like early learning and child care. We will continue to collaborate with partners to drive meaningful change and create a more inclusive society.

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