Child care in Canada: Types, cost, and tips for newcomers
Moving to Canada and starting a new life is exciting! If you’re a newcomer with kids, child care is probably at the top of your mind. The desire to balance cost, service quality, convenience, and availability can, at times, make finding an appropriate child care arrangement challenging, especially for newcomer parents.
In this article, we will explore the various child care options that are available in Canada, outline costs and subsidies to help you plan and budget better. We’ll also share some tips to help you find a suitable child care service.
In Canada, options for child care are varied and range from nannies, daycare centres, home daycares, and preschool programs, to before and after school services. Child care services may be regulated or unregulated.
Regulated child care services include centre-based full-day child care, home child care, school-aged child care, and in most provinces, nursery schools and preschools. These are monitored, licensed, and regulated by provincial and territorial authorities.
Unregulated child care services are provided either in a family child care home (a caregiver’s home) or in the child’s own home. If using this service, as a parent, it is your sole responsibility to assess the quality of child care provided, manage the relationship with the provider, and to find a new provider if there’s any issue with the arrangement.
Here’s a brief regulatory overview of some child care options in Canada:
Type of child care service
Full-day child care centres
Unlicensed centres are illegal in Canada. However, in some regions, private schools, religious schools or others that include very young children may be exempt from licensing.
Part-day child care programs (includes nursery and preschools)
Some before and after-school programs, summer and holiday programs/camps for young school-aged children are not required to be licensed (including some that operate in school premises).
Kindergarten – offered by provinces/territories
In most provinces, kindergarten is part of the public school system and therefore, regulated by the provincial government.
Regulated family child care (home child care – provided in caregiver’s home)
In several provinces, regulated family child care is “approved” rather than regulated. Most family child care is not regulated, monitored or approved. No province/territory requires all family child care homes to be regulated, so long as they don’t exceed the maximum number of children.
Unregulated family child care (home child care – provided in caregiver’s or child’s home and includes “nannies” or “sitters”)
Unregulated family child care providers do not need a license, aren’t inspected or monitored, and are not required to meet specified regulations for training, physical space or other features.
Note: When child care is provided in your own home, you will need to negotiate the terms of employment with the caregiver. If the caregiver is part of the Live-In Caregiver Program, there must be a written contract between the employer (yourself, the parent) and the employee (the caregiver). It must include: job duties, hours of work, wages, holiday and sick leave entitlements and termination and resignation terms.
Tip: You may want to consider a written contract with an unregulated family child care provider. A sample contract for the Live-In Caregiver Program may be useful for designing this contract.
Budgeting and planning for child care costs
In Canada, finding affordable child care can be a real challenge, primarily because of limited availability. Being aware of the costs and planning your finances accordingly is essential to settle in smoothly.
Infant: Children under two years of age.
Toddler: Children between 18 months to three years of age.
Preschool-age: Children between two-and-a-half years to kindergarten age (age four or five, depending on the province).
Is child care free in Canada?
Child care is considered to be expensive in Canada and varies by province. A couple of provinces such as Quebec and Manitoba have provincially-set fees and hence are more affordable than the others.
How much does child care cost in Canada?
Monthly costs for child care range from $181 to $1,986 CAD, depending on the province. The table below outlines detailed costs by province.
Child care monthly costs by province
(per child estimates based on 2020 data, all figures in Canadian dollars)
There are four provinces where at least half of the child care spaces are at a provincially-set fee: Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Infant, toddler, and preschool-age child care in Toronto is the most expensive, with a monthly median cost of $1,866, $1,578, and $1,250 CAD, respectively.
Markham, Mississauga, Oakville, Richmond Hill and Vaughan, all cities in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) follow with the highest median fees for infant care. The cities with the lowest fees for infant care are in Quebec (Gatineau, Laval, Montreal, Longueuil, and Quebec City), where the median fee is the provincially-set fee of $181 CAD a month.
Winnipeg is the next most affordable city – an infant space there is at a provincially-set fee of $651 CAD a month.
Child care waitlists and waitlist fees
In most cases, since the availability of child care spots is limited, many centres across the nation have a waitlist – which is usually very lengthy. Due to long waiting times, many families get on the waitlist even before the child is born. In many places, these waitlists may require parents to pay a fee (ranging between $50 to $200 CAD or higher) to have their child placed on the waitlist. Since each centre has its own list, parents may have to pay multiple waitlist fees while waiting for a spot to become available.
Tips for planning for child care costs
Budget your expenses: List your monthly costs and have a fair estimate of your expenses. Use the Arrive cost of living calculator to plan your finances and be prepared.
Apply for grants: For families with children, the federal government offers a grant called the Canada Child Benefit (CCB). This grant provides a tax-free monthly payment to all eligible families living in Canada to assist with the cost of raising children under age 18. There is an additional grant for children who qualify for the disability credit.
Consider subsidies: Each province has different criteria, limits, and care options for child care subsidies. Reach out to your nearest newcomer settlement centre, and they will be able to guide you.
Evaluate the cost of private care versus a full-time daycare: While both options are expensive, private care (e.g. hiring a nanny) may prove to be slightly more cost-effective if you have two or more kids.
How to find a child care option that works for your unique situation
Start with your city’s website and the province’s Ministry of Education website (search for Child Care Services). Both websites will provide a list of licensed centres in your neighbourhood. For informal, unlicensed daycares, check community centre bulletin boards or talk to other parents or community leaders.
Consider the location (close to your home, work, or school) and take into account the days and times when you’ll need child care. Inquire about the hours of operation.
Evaluate the environment – is it welcoming, safe, and child friendly?
Inquire about the number of children they care for.
Ask if the provider is licensed, regulated, and/or monitored by the government. Check their qualifications.
Check if the staff is trained in providing emergency first aid.
Confirm if they provide receipts for payments made.
Ask about fees.
Finding a child care option that works for your unique situation takes a lot of effort and demands financial readiness. Being aware of how the child care system works in Canada and educating yourself about the available options and their costs will ensure you are well-prepared to find an option that’s a good match for you and your kids.
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.
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