The Early Childhood Observatory compiles the first overview of public policies in Québec
Montréal, April 27, 2021 – This morning, the Early Childhood Observatory (Observatoire des tout-petits) released a first for Québec: a document entitled What is Québec doing to support young children and their families?, presenting the results of a collaboration with some 60 experts in early childhood. This portrait presents a review of the major municipal, provincial and federal public policies that could contribute to improving the development and living conditions of young children living in Québec.
“This new portrait from the Early Childhood Observatory reveals that there are several public policies in Québec that could have positive repercussions on the living conditions and development of young children, as well as on their families’ quality of life,” explains Fannie Dagenais, Director of the Early Childhood Observatory. “On the eve of the submission of the report from the Special Commission on the Rights of the Child and Youth Protection, it is important to remember that several risk factors for maltreatment that persist in Québec have been aggravated by the pandemic. It is therefore more crucial than ever that our current policies be not only maintained but optimally implemented and adapted to our new realities.”
Some of the policies that have been put into practice in Québec are aimed directly at improving children’s well-being or development, while others focus on supporting their parents or bettering families’ living conditions. Studies have clearly shown that certain policies have had tangible repercussions on the living conditions of families and young children. In 1995, for example, before the introduction of paternity leave, just 4.2% of fathers used a portion of their parental leave. In contrast, 80% of fathers took advantage of their parental leave in 2017, which gave them the opportunity to develop their parenting skills and to be present during the first year of their child’s life. In the mid-1990s, just 20% of children between the ages of 0 and 4 had access to a subsidized space in an educational childcare facility, but by 2019, that figure had risen to 60.5%. This was an extremely positive development, since we know that access to quality educational childcare during early childhood promotes equal opportunities and can reduce the gap in academic results between children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and their counterparts in the middle class. The expansion of the daycare network throughout Québec also led to an increase in women’s presence in the workforce, which in turn may have helped to decrease the proportion of very young children living in low-income families.
Individual public policies on their own are not enough, however. It is the sum of multiple cohesive policies based on a current, integrated vision that takes the child development continuum into account that has the best chance of ensuring equal opportunities for all young children living in Québec. The Portrait also brings to light the importance of collaboration among different levels of government and the involvement of actors other than decision-makers—such as employers, community organizations and not-for-profit organizations.
The Portrait also shows that challenges remain, particularly regarding the implementation of certain public policies. For example, some programs do not take sufficient account of the barriers to access that prevent vulnerable families from benefiting from the services that have been created for them. Barriers to services are a major issue particularly for families living with poverty, families in Indigenous communities, parents of children with special needs, and children whose parents are immigrants. For example, 40% of parents of children with a disability were obliged to turn to the private sector in order to obtain the professional report required to be eligible for the Allowance for Integrating a Disabled Child because they were unable to access services in the public network. In addition, of the 597,484 people on the waiting list for a family doctor in 2019, 185,237 were considered to be vulnerable—a category that includes pregnant women and children between 0 and 2 years of age.
We have also learned that we have little scientific knowledge on the implementation of public policies and their impact on early childhood development. If Québec society is to be in a position to accurately prioritize the most effective policies and optimize their execution, however, that is exactly the kind of knowledge we need to be able to rely on.
We can do more
In addition to providing a description of the current situation, the Portrait identifies examples of local and other initiatives that could be a source of inspiration, contributing to our reflection on policy improvement.
In Australia, for example, the Fair Work Act adopted in 2009 gives parents of young children the right to request flexible work arrangements, thus greatly reducing parental stress. In certain European countries, social housing is much more highly developed than here in Québec. In Denmark, for example, social housing accounts for 20% of the real estate market—the corresponding figure for Québec is 4%. Other countries, such as Austria, protect a large proportion of social housing from private interests. The city of Vienna is one of the rare European capitals that is not experiencing a major housing crisis. This is an interesting possibility to consider, since we know that unaffordable housing is associated with greater vulnerability in terms of child development in affected families.
What the Portrait essentially tells us is that, despite the many public policies in effect in Québec, there is ongoing inequality. For example, one family out of ten with at least one young child is still living with food insecurity, 13.6% of families live in unaffordable housing, and 12% live in housing of insufficient size. Moreover, in November 2019, 46,000 children were still waiting for a space in daycare. This inequality of opportunity is reflected in the results of the 2017 Québec Survey of Child Development in Kindergarten, which reported that a little over one in four children was vulnerable in at least one area of development upon entering kindergarten. This proportion rises to one child out of three in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
According to a recent Léger survey conducted in the summer of 2020, 90% of Quebecers support the idea of governments investing more in advancing the well-being and development of young children.
“During 2020, the COVID-19 crisis accentuated the precarity of many families’ situations, the effects of which risk being felt over the next several years,” adds Fannie Dagenais. “It is therefore crucial that Québec society focus on the most effective policies and optimize their implementation in order to help improve families’ living conditions and promote childhood development.”
About the Observatoire des tout-petits / Early Childhood Observatory (tout-petits.org)
The mission of the Early Childhood Observatory, a project of the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation, is to communicate the current state of knowledge in order to promote informed decision-making on the subject of early childhood in Québec. Our goal is to ensure that every young child living in the province has access to conditions that will enable them to develop their full potential, regardless of where they were born or where they are growing up.
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Source: Observatoire des tout-petits / Early Childhood Observatory
Morin Relations Publiques
 By “public policies,” we are referring to strategic actions taken by governments to address certain social issues (poverty, for example) or reinforce desirable behaviours (such as adopting healthy lifestyle habits).
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