Thanks to Québec’s family policy, workers can take advantage of the Parental Insurance Plan and the revenue it affords them during their maternity and parental leaves, as well as access reasonably priced early childhood educational services. And the same can be said for lower income families having access to a family allowance.

Inspired in part by the report of the working group on youth Un Québec fou de ses enfants, this policy made the well-being and development of preschoolers a key government priority by setting three objectives: make it easier to balance parental and professional responsibilities, provide greater equality of opportunity for children and support greater equity among families.

Ground-breaking at the time and unique across North America, Québec’s family policy has often been cited as an example over the last 25 years.

How is this vision of early childhood and family in Québec faring nowadays? Over the past quarter century, the political context has changed. Successive governments have brought about reforms and new measures, diverting the original model over the years and opening the door to the development of daycare centres, whose numbers skyrocketed by 867% from 2009 to 2018. By comparison, early childhood centres (CPEs) and regulated and subsidized home childcare providers only grew by 9 and 4% respectively. Moreover, the staff of early childhood educational services is running out of steam, having long been underpaid and working in difficult conditions, which makes attracting new personnel and retaining existing staff challenging.

Better work-family balance

The implementation of the family policy has had a positive impact on the balance between parental and professional responsibilities for all workers. While only 16% of children were in educational childcare services in 1998, that number rose to 80% in 2018. The development of the early childhood educational network supported women’s access to the labour market. In fact, the rise in their employment rate has had a positive ripple effect on Québec’s economy.

Despite this progress, 51,000 parents are still waiting for a space for their child in an early childhood educational service. Access to a reduced-rate space or a space for children whose parents have an atypical schedule is difficult. Staff shortages throughout the network as well as the pandemic are not helping the situation.

51,000 PARENTS
are currently waiting for a space
for their child in an early childhood
educational service.

Greater equality of opportunity

Recognizing the importance of children’s development by considering services as “educational” rather than only “childcare” is one of the greatest achievements of the family policy.

Several studies have shown that attending a quality educational service contributes to a child’s educational success. It also has a protective effect for toddlers in vulnerable families.

And what about equity among families?

This is the most elusive goal of the family policy, partly because of the unrestrained development of private daycare centres which in turn has led to a two-tier system with different rates. The government unilaterally put an end to the universality principle in 2015 by implementing revenue-based childcare rates. Although this measure was not in place for very long, it did create inequities among Québec families. Many parents still don’t have access to a reduced-rate space.

What is more, unlike the education system where grants are given to schools based on the overall deprivation index, CPEs are not entitled to grants unless parents are on social assistance. Home childcare providers don’t even have access to that grant. Children of parents working at the minimum wage are not taken into consideration when determining the grant. In addition, children of refugees do not have access to subsidized spaces.

Getting back to basics

The family policy had an undeniably positive impact on children, parents, women and our economy. However, over time, certain political decisions have had an impact, not always favourable, on its early objectives.

Today, instead of offering families a universal, high-quality and entirely state-subsidized model, the government has moved toward a hybrid model where the private sector is certainly present.

Although the political and economic context is ever evolving, the development of children and the equality of opportunities must be key government priorities to remain faithful to the spirit of the family policy.