Examining Nova Scotia’s 2023-2026 Child Care Action Plan

Earlier this month, the Government of Canada and the Province released a new Action Plan to continue implementation of the Canada-Nova Scotia Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement across the province.

Action Plans set priorities and direction for the roll out of child care, and are required by the federal government in order to receive funding towards developing a child care system—and the priorities it lays out are certainly promising.

Emphasizing affordability, access, quality, and inclusion as key pillars of its system, this latest Action Plan presents a strong new direction for the roll out of child care across the province, and pillars families and advocates across Nova Scotia can hold their government to as the plan is implemented across the province. And, at first glance, there’s room for improvement to realize these principles in practice.

We’ve identified three areas where the Action Plan falls short—and recommendations to address them, to build a strong child care system for all children and families across Nova Scotia.

Early Childhood Educators

Well-educated and compensated ECEs are essential to building a high-quality child care system in Nova Scotia—and the Province knows it.

Child Care Now NS celebrates the actions the Province has taken to support its child care workforce—including the implementation of a landmark pension and health benefits plan for early childhood educators (ECEs). That said, pensions are only as strong as the contributions made to it.

As Morna Ballantyne, Executive Director of Child Care Now said in their response to the announcement, Nova Scotia’s implementation of a pension and benefit plan for child care workers presents “a model to be followed by other jurisdictions, but child care advocates would also like to see steady improvements in wages over the next two years because the current wage rates are still too low.”

Nova Scotia’s current wage grid still does not offer workers a living wage, ultimately allowing these workers to only invest a modest portion of their income into their future retirement. The establishment of a defined benefit and pension plan has come too late for many ECE’s nearing retirement. Throughout their career ongoing contributions overtime to pension plans have not been possible and those ECE’s will be critically impacted, and still face retiring in poverty

Child Care Now Nova Scotia calls on the Province to not only increase its wage grid for all workers—which would also strengthen the pension and benefits plan—but moreover support older ECEs who have historically provided care to children across the province, and whose leadership remains critical to building a strong system of early learning and child care moving forward.

In the new Action Plan, the Province says it will explore a new ECE certification model. Though the details of this are vague, they shouldn’t be—we know ECEs working on the ground with children with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide all children inclusive, high-quality care. This means ensuring new workers who enter the workforce receive training on inclusion in their degrees to support children of diverse needs, backgrounds, and abilities as part of their education, and those already in the field have opportunities to take part in ongoing training and certification that are paid, and not folded into already busy work days.

The Nova Scotia government is intending to increase the number of classified ECEs working in the sector to at least 70% by 2025-2026 and to introduce a redesigned quality improvement program. Child Care Now, and our provincial chapter Child Care Now Nova Scotia, will be monitoring closely the impact of these initiatives on retention and recruitment.

Expansion

The Action Plan earmarks an investment of $52 million towards creating 9,500 new regulated child care spaces by March 2026. Ensuring more families have access to child care spaces for their children is critical to the successful rollout of the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan in Nova Scotia, and across the country—and to ensure that spaces created provide high-quality early learning opportunities to children, and are staffed by qualified ECEs to provide learning and care. And, in Nova Scotia, that’s not the case.

Spaces from the Province’s pre-existing Before and After School Program are included in Nova Scotia’s 9,500-space target. Though providing critical wrap-around care for families of school-aged children, spaces in this program are not licensed—meaning they do not have standards ensuring spaces are staffed by early childhood educators. There are no parameters to ensure staff-to-child ratio are maintained, and those programs do not provide care during summer months. This means parents whose work doesn’t align with the school year need to find alternate arrangements for their children during the summertime, often juggling family support with sporadic summer camps—and it means child care workers are out of a job for months. And ECEs are only eligible to pay into pension and benefits if they are working in licensed centres—so those working in the Before and After School Program miss out. Child Care Now Nova Scotia calls on the province to address these issues by either creating additional licensed spaces beyond the Before and After School Program, or ensuring it provides licensed care.

We’re glad to see the Province creating new partnerships with public sector actors in its expansion efforts. Although leveraging these partnerships presents opportunity to increase the availability of child care centres, to build new child care centres and expand existing ones. The success of such expansion relies upon these public entities—such as municipalities and public education sectors—to be properly resourced, provided with operational funding to be able to support expansion while also maintaining program quality and staffing.

Central Agency

We were disappointed to see that, in the new Action Plan, the Province went back on its word to a build a central agency

This was a unique element of Nova Scotia’s bilateral agreement—not seen in other agreements between the federal government and other provincial and territorial governments—presented a crucial mechanism to ensure transparency, accountability, and the effective expansion and administration of child care across the province, and set this precedent across the country.

A central agency—made up of experts, educators, researchers, and other stakeholders—would not only provide accountability and oversight to ensure that the substantial public funds invested in child care are expended towards the most crucial aspect of system-building to provide high-quality care across the province. It could also provide critical support to non-profit operators as they navigate increasing demand and rapid expansion.

As many non-profit child care centres are small, they may not have the infrastructure in place to expand to meet increasing demand, nor take on additional administrative work. A centralized agency could relieve non-profit centres of administrative burdens, allowing them to focus their attention not on bureaucracy, but the most important aspect of this work: delivering high-quality care and early learning opportunities to the children in their centres.

A central agency could also provide direct support to parents navigating trying to find child care for their children, who juggle keeping track of multiple waitlists as they await a space. A centralized waitlist that could efficiently connect families to child care spaces would take this burden off parents.

Child Care Now Nova Scotia calls on the Province to go back to its original plan by following through on its commitment to create a central public agency, which is key to planning and implementation of a strong child care system.

Moving Forward

Nova Scotia is the second province/territory to publish its 2023-2026 Action Plan. As the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care system progresses, it is essential to monitor the implementation of Action Plans to ensure public accountability. The release of Nova Scotia’s Action Plan sets the stage for building a strong child care system that meets the needs of children and families across the province, emphasizing affordability, access, quality, and inclusion as key pillars of the child care system. But, to make it happen, the Action Plan needs to be put into action—supporting children, parents, ECEs, and centres to ensure child care is rolled out in the best way possible.