Young children live, play, learn and develop in communities. Community resources are the opportunities and supports that are available to children and youth within their local communities, including early childhood education programs and child care, child and family supports, leisure and cultural activities, greenspace and parks and recreation. Communities can provide safe and secure environments for young children and their families.
There are many benefits to healthy child development associated with children’s access to nature and greenspace. The majority of Canadians live close to parks or greenspace – but this is less likely for those living with low income than those with higher incomes.
It is widely accepted that participation in recreational activities enables children to achieve better physical and emotional health, develop psychosocial skills and improve their self-esteem. The majority (over 60%) of young children 3 to 5 years of age take part in unorganized sports or physical activities regularly; almost half take part in sports with a coach or instructor; one-third take lessons in other activities such as dance, gymnastics or martial arts; and fewer, less than 20%, participate in music, art or other non-sport activity or clubs/groups. Participation in organized sports with a coach or instructor; in dance, gymnastics or martial arts; and in music, art or other non-sport activity has increased in recent years.
However, not all children participate equally. Young children who are members of visible minority groups, recent immigrants and living in low income are less likely to participate in organized sports with a coach or instructor, and in music, arts or other non-sport activities.
Research shows that all children benefit from high-quality, early childhood care and education services. Experts in early childhood development agree that Canada needs a holistic, coherent system of care for children, one that supports child development and provides support for parents while they work, train or study.
Over half (54%) of young children (1 to 5) whose parents are working or studying are in some form of non-parental child care. Children in higher income families, with parents who have higher education, and who are not immigrants are more likely to use non-parental care. About one-third of children under 4 years of age are in home-based child care and another third in child care centres. Just over one-quarter (28%) are in private care. These arrangements vary across the country.
The cost of child care varies considerably across the country – and for the most part is very expensive. The median monthly child care fees for infants varied from $164 in some cities in Québec to $1,649 in Toronto.
The requirements for education of staff in full-time child care centres varies across Canada – and in many cases the requirements do not meet recognized standards. In addition, children under 6 in full-day child care that is centre based will find themselves in different group sizes, with varying numbers of staff depending on their province or territory – again not always meeting recommendations.
The availability of child care in Canada still does not meet the need. While the percentage of young children under 6 for whom there is a regulated full- or part-time centre-based space available has increased – there are still only spaces for 24% of children under 6.
Children and families count on their communities to be safe and secure. The rate of crime in Canadian communities is decreasing – as is the severity of the crimes. However, the crime rates and severity of these crimes vary between the provinces/territories.
A small proportion (6%) of Canadian children under 6 live in neighbourhoods that their parents felt have low levels of neighbourhood safety. This proportion varies between provinces and territories. However, not all children benefit equally from safe communities. Children living in rural communities and in low income households are more likely to live in neighbourhoods that their parents consider to be unsafe.
Social support is well documented as an important determinant of healthy child development and adult well-being. Only 11% of children under 6 have parents who say they have low levels of social support. However, children living in urban communities, who are from a visible minority group, are recent immigrants, and are living in low income are more likely to live in situations of low social support.