7. Wisely investing in early childhood

These studies demonstrate the cost effectiveness of organizing early childhood programs so they stimulate children’s early development as they allow parents to work. When expanding access to early childhood programming, most provinces persist in maintaining the historic legislative and funding schism between educational programs such as kindergarten and child care, the latter which operates under social welfare. Leaving families to bridge the divide is not only frustrating for parents and children, but as the above studies quantify, it also denies taxpayers the full benefit of their investment.

Following the money confirms that effective early childhood programs are:

  • Universal: Reaching out to offer early childhood education to all children catches the substantial numbers of children across the socioeconomic spectrum displaying behavioural and learning vulnerabilities at school entry. Research shows difficulties become biologically embedded if supports are not timely and consistent. As escalating special education costs attest, later interventions are costly to both the child and the taxpayer.
  • Available and affordable: When spaces for children in preschool are available and parent fees do not create a barrier to participation, public program costs are recouped through the enhanced labour force participation of modest- and middleincome parents.
  • High-quality: Quality in early childhood programming is non-negotiable if the mid- and long-term benefits to children and society are to be realized. Educators well trained in early childhood development and adequately resourced to respond to the individual needs of the children are the prime determinants of quality. Such educators are able to work with families to change developmental trajectories for children. Adequately resourced means decent remuneration and working conditions, including low teacher-to-child ratios, facilities, equipment and supplies to organize effective programming, as well as ongoing professional development to incorporate the ever-evolving childhood development findings into the curriculum.
  • Systems funding and management: Integrating early education and care, both on-the-ground and at the systems level, avoids the added and wasteful expense of service duplications and gaps. Stable funding allows the planning for and building in of quality assurances. Effective management ensures equity of access by locating programs in low-income neighbourhoods, facilitating flexible enrollment and instituting fee schedules that acknowledge the financial constraints of some families. These measures help to remove work barriers for the most vulnerable families, and help ensure all children reach their full potential.

To receive maximum financial efficiencies and social benefits, provinces and territories are advised to organize and fund programs to meet these goals. The federal government also holds responsibility; it currently makes a very modest contribution to early childhood programming. Ongoing funds from residual federal programs now rolled into the Canada Social Transfer total $1.1 billion annually, compared to over $7.5 billion invested by the provinces and territories.

The economic analyses confirm the windfall the federal government derives from the investments provinces, territories and regional governments make in child care. Ottawa does “nothing,” to quote Fortin, but takes in a substantial portion of the increased tax revenue from working parents and benefits from the lower social payments it makes to families. The figures provide a sound rationale for increased federal investments in early childhood, or at the very least, form a strong case for provinces to demand reimbursement for a share of their early childhood investments that benefit federal coffers.

Figure 4.8

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