Baby Care

Child Care in Canada: Types, Cost & 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 this article:

Child care options in Canada

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 Regulatory overview
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) Unlicensed programs are permitted in Saskatchewan and Yukon.
School-age child care programs 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. 
Full-day child care centres Family/home child care centres
Province Infant Toddler Preschool Infant Toddler Preschool
Alberta 1,055 – 1,435 975 – 1,295 850 – 1,198 815 – 1,000 790 – 900 715 – 900
British Columbia 950 – 1,350 870 – 1050 836 – 1,300 800 – 1,190
Manitoba 651 451 451 651 451 451
Newfoundland and Labrador 955 716 651 955 716 651
New Brunswick 835 – 868 716 690 – 716 738 – 825 738 – 760 682 – 716
Northwest Territories 1,015 910 838 1,085 1,042 1,085
Nova Scotia 996 879 879 868 814 760
Nunavut 1,302 1,215 1,411 1,411
Ontario 998 – 1,986 868 – 1,710 781 – 1,299 868 – 1,253 857 – 1,153 738 – 1,194
Prince Edward Island 738 608 586 738 608 586
Quebec 181 181 181 181 181 181
Saskatchewan 852 – 995 675 – 810 625 – 750 775 – 850 700 – 800 650 – 720
Yukon 925 850 830 900 750 700

Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2021
Note: All estimates provided are median costs per child and numbers vary depending on cities in respective provinces.

Key highlights for child care costs in Canada

  • 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

Calculate the cost of living in Canada

  • 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. 

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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.

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