Early Childhood Development Policies

It is clear that a child’s early experiences and development establish a foundation that will impact school readiness, educational achievement and high school completion which ultimately contribute to employment, income security and health.

Early Childhood Development and Care is an excellent investment for government.One study shows a 10-fold return on every dollar invested in 0 to 3 year olds. In the Canadian context it is estimated that one dollar invested in early childhood development generates two for the economy.[i]

There is a shortage of spaces in childcare centres. Seventy percent of Canadian mothers work in the labour-force.[ii] Yet, in BC, there are spaces for only 5% of children under three years and for just over 30% of children between the ages of three and five.[iii]

Quality childcare programs also deliver positive impacts to the family through reduced stress and increased opportunities to pursue employment or education and training, thereby increasing the resilience of the family.

BCHLA recommends the following policy options:

  • Extend parental leave benefits to cover the period of birth to 18 months to enable both mothers and fathers to be with infants during their earliest period of development and encourage employers to provide top-ups to the current benefits available under Employment Insurance.
  • Provide comprehensive, quality and affordable early childhood development, parenting, pre-natal health and family wellness services and programs ensuring that priority is given to those neighbourhoods and communities with the highest numbers of vulnerable children.
    • Universal childcare delivered by early childhood educators should be considered as the ultimate goal.
    • Employ the Early Development Instrument – that has been used in school districts across BC to assess the state of children’s development at Kindergarten – to identify priority neighbourhoods for phasing in programs and areas for further expansion in successive waves.
    • Prorate charges according to family income ensuring that fees are very small or waived for low income families.
  • Provide affordable pre- and afterschool programs for all children from the age of four with appropriate hours to meet the needs of working parents.
  • The Federal and Provincial Governments continue to support Aboriginal Head Start programs in BC for Aboriginal children from birth to six years of age.
  • Coordinate the identification of learning and developmental disorders utilizing an integrated approach involving primary care and public health professionals as well as childcare providers and other community resources.
  • Reinvest in childcare capital and operation funding to provide incentives for the creation of more quality childcare spaces.
  • Increase training spaces and remuneration for early child educators and childcare workers, providing incentives for people to pursue, stay and value these careers and reduce turn-over.

More on Early Childhood Development Policy

With emotional, social and cognitive aptitudes,come the skills for securing material resources and the conditions for a healthier life. Longitudinal studies have demonstrated that disadvantaged children who participate in quality early childhood development programs have significantly better outcomes.[iv]

A 2005 study of the costs and benefits of universal preschool in California noted that for disadvantaged children, quality childcare can lead to the participants staying in school longer, earning higher wages later in life and committing fewer crimes.[v]

The call for a comprehensive early childhood education and care system comes from a broad range of sectors including business leaders, economists, academics, as well as educators and provincial, federal and international organizations. [vi], [vii], [viii]

Dr Clyde Hertzman, formerly UBC Professor and Director of the Human Early Learning Partnership and Team Leader of the World Health Organization’s Global Knowledge Hub on Early Child Development, argued that because the majority of vulnerable children live in middle class neighbourhoods, a strategy to provide universal access is favourable over targeted approaches.

According to UNICEF, Canada has achieved only one benchmark out of ten for minimum standards in early childhood education and care. UNICEF’s benchmarks, based on international research, include a requirement for parental leave at 50% of salary for at least one year, parental leave for the self employed and a portion specifically reserved for fathers.

Seventy percent of Canadian mothers work in the labour-force and yet until children reach Kindergarten there are few quality childcare education and care spaces available.[ix] UNICEF suggests that there should be subsidized, regulated childcare spaces for 25% of children under three and subsidized, accredited early education services for 80% of four year olds.

Universal childcare is not impossible or even beyond our means to deliver; Quebec provides quality daycare to families for $7.00 a day, achieving six out of ten of the benchmarks set by UNICEF.

British Columbia should explore a similar model of high quality, affordable early education and care for families. This should also include professional training, wages and benefits for early childhood educators and childcare workers to ensure career development and sustainability in this field.

“Positive conditions during childhood not only support child health but have long lasting effects on health and the development of disease during adulthood. Healthy child development is influenced [and in turn influences] other determinants of health such as income, housing and food security.” [x] If British Columbia focuses its energies on children today, there is hope that this generation of children may actualize their full health and developmental potential as adults.


[i] Heckman, James J. “Policies To Foster Human Capital,” Research in Economics, 2000, v54(1,Mar), 3-56 http://www.ounceofprevention.org/includes/tiny_mce/plugins/filemanager/files/Fostering%20Human%20Capital.pdf Accessed April 4, 2008.

[ii] UNICEF. The childcare transition: A league table of early childhood education and care in economically advanced countries. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence. 2008. http://action.web.ca/home/crru/rsrcs_crru_full.shtml?x=122901&AA_EX_Session=157208f61218b226f5db378b835b818f

[iii]< Human Early Learning Partnership. 2008. 2008 Annual Conference of the Early Childhood Educators of BC and the Canadian Child Care Federation, An Overview of Childcare in BC – Highlights. http://www.earlylearning.ubc.ca/documents/2008/ECEBC_May_2008_Child_Care_Overview_Highlights.ppt

[iv] Lifetime effects: The High/Scope Perry preschool Study Through Age 40 (2005) http://www. Highscope.org/Content.asp?ContentID=219 Accessed April 4, 2008.

[v] Karoly L, Bigelow J. The Economics of Investing in Universal Preschool in California, RAND: 2005.

[vi] The Vancouver Board of Trade. Investing In Our Children Is Good Public Policy http://www.boardoftrade.com/vbot_page.asp?pageid=162. 1999. Accessed April, 2008.

[vii] Dodge, D. Human Capital, Early Childhood Development, and Economic Growth: An Economist’s Perspective. http://www.sparrowlake.org/news/SparrowLakeAlliance-speech-2May03-smallprint.pdf 2003. Accessed April 4, 2008.

[viii] The World Bank www.worldbank.org/children Accessed April 7, 2008.

[ix] UNICEF. The childcare transition: A league table of early childhood education and care in economically advanced countries. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence. 2008. http://action.web.ca/home/crru/rsrcs_crru_full.shtml?x=122901&AA_EX_Session=157208f61218b226f5db378b835b818f

[x] < Raphael D. and Bryant T. “Maintaining population health in a period of welfare state decline: political economy as the missing dimension in health promotion theory and practice.” Promotion and Education, 13:236–242, 2006.