Trends in Child Care/early Childhood Education/early Childhood Development Policy in Canada and the United States
White, Linda A., American Review of Canadian Studies
"Social Development Minister Ken Dryden is expected to deliver big things on early childhood education in 2005. Why are you focusing on nationwide daycare rather than just helping parents, no matter how they choose to raise their young kids?" "First of all, this is not daycare, this is early learning and child care. We want to make sure that children are ready to excel as soon as they go to formal school, regardless of income." --Prime Minister Paul Martin in a Macleans.ca year-end interview, 17 December 2004
The ability of the Prime Minister to fend off attacks against a national child care program by switching the label to "early learning and child care" demonstrates the remarkable power of language to frame people's thinking about and responses to controversial public policy programs. Child care policies and programs have been on the public agenda since women began to enter the labor force in large numbers in the 1960s, yet strong debates have occurred as to whether government should be involved in the delivery of those services and how extensive that involvement should be. Many critics of any role for government have argued that child care is a private familial responsibility. In this view, governments' primary role should be to provide tax breaks to families so that one parent can afford to stay home. (1) If families need to be relieved or mothers need to return to work, then they should be able to rely on a variety of informal care arrangements (grandparents, neighbors, unlicensed family child care providers), or the market of commercial and not-for-profit child care centers. (2) Governments need only be involved in the funding and delivery of child care to families and communities that are "at risk" because of poverty or pathology. Under this view, child care performs a child welfare function, rather than support for working families or early learning and development.
In contrast, the government's role in the funding and delivery of elementary and secondary school education has been widely established in both countries for more than a century. Government's role in education has only become controversial in the past few decades, much more so in the United States than in Canada, as critics have claimed governments have failed to deliver effective and efficient education programs. Yet while charter schools, private schools, and home schooling has grown tremendously in the United States especially, (3) approximately 89 percent of children in the United States still attend a public school rather than a private school (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003), and approximately 94 percent attend in Canada (OECD, 2003).
Thus, it is of great interest to observe a parallel trend emerging in both the United States and Canada in the past five years or so that sees a uniting of these two policy streams at both the rhetorical and programmatic levels in government and in society. In media reports, in public discourse, and in government documents, actors involved in the child care policy area no longer talk only about "child care" but also child care's explicit connection to early childhood development or early childhood education. New terminology has emerged such as "early childhood education and care" (ECEC), or "early learning and child care," or even "educare" and has been more explicitly adopted by both government policy-makers and advocacy groups. (4)
While these parallel language shifts have occurred, differences have emerged in both rhetorical and programmatic emphasis in the two countries. Canadian governments have tended to emphasize the early childhood development aspects of programmatic change, whereas U.S. governments have focused more on the cognitive educational aspects, for reasons which will be explained below.
The purpose of this paper is to briefly (5) document the changes in language observed in both countries, and the differences in language used. …