Mr. Speaker,

I rise today to give an update on our governments direction for Early Childhood Development.

Mr. Speaker, our government believes early childhood development is a key investment for our provinces future. The period of early childhood affords us opportunities to offer key support for our labour force and provides cost avoidance in the justice system, social services, the health system and public safety. Intervening early in a system that is integrated and inclusive reinforces healthy development and provides greater supports for children and families.

Since coming to office in October 2010 the Alward government has consistently worked with families and stakeholders on building an early childhood development system that is accessible and affordable while delivering quality learning, care and support that is integrated and inclusive.

First, our government made the bold decision to join the Early Childhood Development Branch with the Department of Education to form a new department called Education and Early Childhood Development providing a continuum for child development and learning for children from ages 0 to 18. I am pleased to say the transition has been positive and has already provided great opportunities for children, families and agencies.

Our government believes in building stronger ties between the public education system and the early years. We have continued supporting four Early Childhood Development Pilot Sites based in public schools in partnership with the Wallace and Margaret McCain Foundation, which supports an additional five sites. Mr. Speaker, the initial results built on integration and bringing services closer to families are proving positive.

Our government has increased the budget for early childhood development programs by nearly $5 million this year. In a time of fiscal restraint this new investment demonstrates a real committment to our future.

Over the past year, the number of child care spaces has increased in the province. We supported the private sector in the opening of over 50 new licensed early learning centers adding over 11,00 spaces for children and 177 for infants. We are well on our way of meeting our target to increase the number of early learning and care spaces to total 30,000 by 2014.

Mr. Speaker, we have increased the amount of money invested to help low income families afford childcare services, and we have provided more money for wage enhancements to support trained early childhood educators.

Additionally, we have increased the budget by close to $2 Million to support the pre-school autism intervention program. The more intervention we can provide in the early years will make for a more successful transition to school and beyond.

Our government remains determined to work with parents, New Brunswick communities, and our various partners to improve early childhood services.

Mr. Speaker, last March, I announced the creation of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Childcare and Early Learning designed to develop an action plan based on our government’s platform committments on improving the quality and accessibility of services and ensure that they are more accessible, affordable and inclusive.

I am also pleased to be co-chair of GACEF, an action group that works towards the accomplishment of the dual mission of Acadian and francophone schools – academic success and identity building for children. GACEF has identified early childhood dvelopment as a key priority moving forward. We will continue to enhance Early Childhood Services as a key strategy to protect and improve language and culture in francophone communities.

I am convinced with the work of these committees and the results of the consultation on government renewal, we will be able to develop a system that meets the needs of our families and will result in a stronger province for the future.

As noted in the Speech from the Throne, the department has been consulting stakeholders about necessary changes to the unproclaimed Early Learning and Childcare Act passed in this legislature in April 2010. The Act, along with its Regulations, will be proclaimed and approved by government only once all our partners have been consulted and engaged.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, we are on the right track for creating a more integrated and uniform approach to providing New Brunswick families with the early childhood services they expect, deserve, and need in order for us to have a stronger province. We are doing more, and we are doing it together.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.