CHAPTER 3: A Step Up For All

ECE Helps Kids, Families, and Communities Thrive

Children flourish in environments where they are loved, nurtured, and stimulated. While most parents strive to provide the best environment for their children, many Canadians families living in poverty struggle to meet even the most basic needs. Hunger, inadequate housing, and violence undermine a child’s development and life prospects. Early childhood education can alter their life chances by improving cognitive abilities as well as social and academic outcomes. When organized to facilitate parents’ work, ECE helps lift families out of poverty by creating a ‘double dividend’ that simultaneously supports a child’s development and their parents' workforce participation.  

The Dangerous Impact of Inequality in Canada

Inequality among families is impacted by several things including parental employment, health and education, marital status, family size, race, immigration status, and community. Despite its wealth, inequality in Canada is growing and pervasive. In a 2017 UNICEF report, Canada rated only 17th out of 29 wealthy countries for the percentage of children living in poverty. Over the past decade, wealthy Canadians saw their incomes grow while the lowest 10% of earners saw their incomes fall. Inequalities are perpetuated early in life when affluent families can buy their children educational experiences that others can’t, and this leads to cycles of poverty that can extend through generations.

Women are Especially Vulnerable to Inequality

Caregiving restricts women’s access to reliable work and the younger the child, the less likely it is that their mother is employed. Stay-at-home moms tend to have lower levels of education, more children, and are younger than most working mothers. Single parents (4 out of 5 are women) face higher levels of unemployment than those in two-parent families. And, compared to other workers, mothers/women are more likely to be employed in contract, temporary, or part-time jobs that earn less. Groups most affected by precarious work are newcomers to Canada, women with disabilities, and Indigenous and racialized women. All of these factors contribute to gender inequality while hindering children’s development and chance of long-term success.

ECE Gets Mothers Back to Work

Low-cost child care helps women get into the workforce, makes them less dependent on government assistance, and boosts their socio-economic status. Unfortunately, the lack of access to affordable child care across most of Canada has made this a challenge. Cities like Toronto and Vancouver with the highest child care costs also have the largest gender employment gap. Whereas Quebec, where child care is highly subsidized, has more working mothers and a much lower gap rate.

A Child care tale of two cities

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Did You Know?

An analysis of Quebec’s low-cost child care system found that an additional 70,000 mothers entered the workforce as a result of the program. Their work generated enough new taxes and reduced expenditures on social benefits to pay for the entire cost of the program.

Quality ECE Can Help Lift Families Out of Poverty

Families that have fewer opportunities and resources often find it difficult to set their children up for success. As a result, poverty is passed on. Quality early childhood education it can help break this cycle. ECE complements the development of children living in advantaged homes and compensates children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Quality ECE reduces the need for special education placements and grade repetition. These benefits extend to secondary school and include improved cognitive abilities, self-regulation skills, better language and math scores, higher graduation rates, greater earnings, and more successful relationships as adults.

ECE Addresses SEN

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ECE Promotes a Healthy Family Environment

Families can teach children about unconditional love, to understand right from wrong, empathy, and mutual respect. These qualities help children engage positively in school, at work and in society. However, when parents are struggling financially, with family breakdown, or domestic and neighbourhood violence, they can find it difficult to meet their children’s emotional needs. This can result in health, learning, or behaviour challenges. In times of chaos, early childhood education can provide a haven for young children and provide parents with time to attend to their own needs.

Universal ECE Results in Double Dividends

Early childhood education helps set both children and parents up for success. Children benefit by doing better in school and going on to make economic and social contributions. When ECE is organized to support today’s workforce, it also enhances opportunities for parents to work, reducing poverty and boosting equity.

Did You Know?

According to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, increasing early childhood education enrolment rates to reach top-performing OECD levels would allow 76,000 women to enter the workforce lifting an estimated 23,000 Canadian families - many of them single parents - out of poverty.

Frequently Asked


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a group of 34 democratic countries that discuss and develop economic and social policy. Its stated goals include fostering economic development and cooperation, fighting poverty, and ensuring the environmental impact of growth and social development is always considered. Over the years, it has dealt with a range of issues, including raising the standard of living in member countries, contributing to the expansion of world trade, and promoting economic stability.

Some think universal ECE is too expensive, however the benefits far outweigh the costs. A Conference Board of Canada finds that every $1 spent on expanding ECE enrolment for preschool children would yield close to $6 in economic benefits. When it comes to reducing poverty and closing the equity gap in Canada, the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of ECE.