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Indigenous child care workforce development snapshot

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Public Policy Forum
Publication Date: 
6 May 2023


Indigenous children are gifts from the creator. They come into this world to be nurtured, encouraged and supported. Children choose their parents and in return, their parents have an inherent responsibility to help them find their gifts so that they may flourish.

Historically, parents and extended family were the primary caregivers for all Indigenous children and the child’s first teachers. This way of living positions Indigenous parents as best suited to provide their children with knowledge of their histories, languages, customs, stories, ceremonies and rituals. This is the premise for quality child care for Indigenous children.

Past and current economic pressures have significantly changed the historical approach to Indigenous child care. Parents and extended family members are increasingly pressured to secure employment outside the home to provide for their children and families. While family and friends continue to be an option for child care, with increasing frequency Indigenous families have had to rely on child care options outside the family unit and, in some cases, outside of the community of residence.

As Indigenous communities make concerted efforts to address community needs in early learning and child care, they are not able to escape challenges similar to those they encounter dealing with elementary, secondary and post-secondary education that are due to Canada’s historic underfunding of Indigenous education.

This report examines the child care system that exists for Indigenous children in Canada. It also explores the workforce, workforce needs and opportunities to strengthen and enhance child care for Indigenous children and their families.

In closing

The inherent responsibility of Indigenous Peoples to provide the best possible care will continue to fuel their desire to control the design, development and delivery of early learning and child care programs and services to support Indigenous children.

Indigenous worldviews, the impacts of colonialism and the legacies of Indian Residential Schools will, for generations to come, define the unique needs for programs and delivery from community to community and region to region. To address the breadth and quality of programming, and as a natural progression, would it make sense to broaden collaboration with Indigenous organizations involved in education?

A system of Indigenous early learning and child care in Canada requires sufficient and sustainable funding under a unique funding model that takes into consideration the histories and the linguistic, cultural, social, spiritual, educational and economic realities and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous worldviews are the foundation to educate and train a workforce to address the unique needs of Indigenous children, their families and communities. Building a system for Indigenous populations cannot be a mirror image of what exists in provincial mainstream populations.

Indigenous Peoples need to be the driving force at all levels of government where decisions are being made, from consultation and policy design and development to determining funding models, implementation, system supports, education and training, data and research. Ultimately, the design of an early learning and child care system for Indigenous children and families could include — but must not be limited to — the following components:

  • Formal and informal child care options;
  • Staff designated to child development assessments;
  • Indigenous language programming;
  • Curriculum and policy development specialists;
  • Access to speech and language pathologists and audiologists;
  • Access to medical supports;
  • Parental programming (holistic approach to child development);
  • Ongoing professional development for early learning and child care staff;
  • Transportation support;
  • Administrative, human resources and financial support;
  • Partnerships with the local school/school board for shared support services; and
  • Partnerships with community support organizations.

Considerable work is needed to conceptualize the existence of an accessible, affordable, responsive, culturally relevant early learning and child care system that is designed to embrace the aspirations of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. To what extent will the federal commitment support the creation of a responsive Indigenous early learning and child care system, one that addresses the needs now and for seven generations into the future?