Ensuring Canadian families have access to child care is vital for achieving a range of public goals, including closing the gender wage gap in the economy, spurring economic growth, easing the burden on struggling parents and supporting healthy child development. High child care fees are an obvious obstacle for cash-strapped parents, as the CCPA has documented in other reports. But a lack of local licensed spaces will also limit the choices parents have when it comes to raising their children and re-entering the workforce.
This report attempts to map, for the first time in Canada, a complete list of licensed child care spaces across the country against the number of children in a given postal code. In doing so, a number of “child care deserts” are identified as postal codes where there are at least three children in potential competition for each licensed space.3 The concept of a “child care desert” is similar to that of a “food desert,” understood as a community without sufficient access to healthful and affordable food. Child care deserts are those parts of Canada without adequate access to child care, irrespective of fees. Both coverage rates and child care desert calculations only include licensed spaces at all points in this report.
Licensed child care coverage is highest in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) and many of the bigger cities in Quebec. These cities have an average coverage rate of 70% or better, meaning there are at least seven spaces for every 10 children not yet in school. These cities are also in provinces that set child care fees. The lowest average coverage is found in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and in Brampton and Kitchener, Ontario, where there is one space for every four to five children.
An estimated 776,000 children (44% of all non-school-aged children) in Canada live in child care deserts, communities that are parched for available child care.
Do you live in a child care desert? Visit our interactive map to see how child care coverage measures up across Canada.