The Child Care Transition: a league of early childhood education and care in economically advanced countries

Report by UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2008.
Reviewed in February 2009 Research Update

This report card, the eighth in a series of reports and indicators on children’s well-being in rich countries, compares the performance of 25 OECD countries in providing high quality, universal, and accessible early childhood care.

As our economy and society continue to evolve and change, more and more young children are becoming reliant upon out-of-home early childhood education and care. The evidence is unequivocal – high quality services for young children are hugely beneficial and reach well into their later years. It is in this context that the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre set out to compare services and standards across 25 economically advanced countries.

Ten benchmarks are outlined in the report, a set of internationally applicable minimum standards – directed, for the most part, towards actions that governments can take to improve early childhood education and care within their country. The benchmarks are, in short:

  • A minimum entitlement to paid parental leave of one year at least 50% of salary, and at least 2 weeks specifically reserved for fathers.
  • A national plan with priority for disadvantaged children that would include, at the very least, a national plan for the organization and financing of early childhood services.
  • A minimum level of child care provision – subsidized and regulated child care services available to at least 25% of children under three.
  • A minimum level of access for four year olds, defined as the participation in 15 hrs per week (or more) of publicly subsidized and accredited early education services by at least 80% of four year olds.
  • At least 80% of staff have completed at least an induction course; pay and working conditions should begin to move towards those of the wider teaching and social care sectors.
  • At least 50% of staff have completed at least 3 years of tertiary education with a recognized credential in early childhood studies or a related field.
  • Minimum staff-to children ratios – for preschool children, this should be no less than 1:15.
  • A minimum level of public funding, 1% of GDP, for early childhood education and care.
  • A low level of child poverty, which should be less than 10%.
  • Universal outreach to ensure that disadvantaged families reap the benefits of early childhood education and care. Benchmarks used to evaluate this include the rate of infant mortality, rate of low birth weight babies, and the immunization rate for 12 to 23 month olds for preventable childhood diseases.

Unfortunately, Canada lags behind most other OECD countries; most of the 25 countries compared have met 5 or more benchmarks. Canada ranks last (tied with Ireland) and has only met 1 benchmark: at least 50% of staff have a recognized tertiary education. We have a long way to go to ensuring the best possible start for young Canadians. The report puts it well, “it is clear that if the movement towards out-of-home child care is to fulfil its potential for benefit rather than harm, then the level of debate and investment in availability, quality and equity will have to be increased not marginally but substantially”.

For child care advocates and those working with youth and children, this report will be most useful. Not only does it demonstrate how and why early childhood services and care work, but it clearly illustrates that our current government response to the needs of children is lacking when compared to the efforts in our peer countries.

Let’s continue to work together to encourage them to do better!

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