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Best Start Initiatives
In 2002, the Ontario Liberal Party released its election platform for education. The document included a number of proposals for early childhood education, including a long-term plan for providing full-day junior and senior kindergarten, an expansion of school-based child care for school-aged children, access to parenting programs, regulation of the informal child care sector, and establishment of a professional college of early childhood educators.
In 2003, the Liberals made an election commitment to increase provincial funding for child care by $300 million.
In November 2004, the government announced details of its Best Start Plan, to be implemented over a 10-year period. Best Start Initiatives
Launched in 2005, the government’s Best Start Initiatives were a welcome renewed commitment to early childhood education. Unfortunately the province’s plans for Best Start were cut almost in half following the federal Conservative government’s 2006 decision to cancel the federal-provincial/territorial child care funding agreements effective .
To help compensate for the shortfall in federal funding, and to implement the full Best Start plan, the provincial government would have to increase funding for child care by $600 million. This funding is needed to implement the full Best Start plan for kindergarten-aged children, and to ensure that programs for children aged three and under, and school-aged children requiring care outside of school hours, are available to those families who need them.
In spite of the election promise to eventually make full-day junior and senior kindergarten available, the Best Start Plan does not include this goal.
Expansion of Child Care
Beginning in the fall of 2005, the provincial government used its share of federal Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) Initiative funding to expand subsidies for licensed child care for kindergarten-aged children.
In July 2005, the government announced it would wave the municipal 20% share of child care spaces for all the new spaces created through the federal program.
In January 2007, the government announced that, in spite of the cut in support from the Federal government, almost 15,000 new licensed child care space had been created by municipalities. (Before the Federal government announced the end of the federal-provincial/territorial child care agreements as of March 31, 2007, Ontario had planned to create an additional 25,000 child care spaces.)
Development of Local Networks
Local municipal social service agencies have lead in developing local Best Start networks mandated to build partnerships among health, social service, and school boards that provide services for young children.
Three sites (Hamilton, Lambton-Kent, and Timiskaming) were chosen to pilot Best Start initiatives in 2005-06. The sites planned for:
The Ministry of Children and Youth (MCYS) has established three expert panels:
College of Early Childhood Educators
The Ministry of Children and Youth is establishing a professional college for early childhood educators.
Development of Service Hubs
The local networks are planning local service hubs to coordinate community-based children’s services. It is anticipated they will deliver integrated early learning and care, including child care, JK and SK, and parenting programs. Schools are designated as the preferred sites for the Best Start Hubs.
The local networks are planning other components of the Best Start Plan that will be part of the integrated service model beginning in 2008.
For more information about the Best Start plan, check the Ministry of Children and Youth Services website: www.children.gov.on.ca