FREDERICTON (GNB) – The provincial and federal governments are investing $20.8 million to improve the quality and accessibility of early learning and child-care services.

“Early childhood is a very important time in a child’s development,” said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Bill Hogan. “These investments will help our operators maintain the viability of their businesses, provide good wages for our educators, and maintain and improve quality learning for our children – all at no extra cost to families of preschool-aged children who attend designated facilities.”

Hogan said New Brunswick has been building on the success of its designation program to implement the Canada-New Brunswick Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement. The program provides designated facilities with funding in exchange for committing to higher quality standards and maintaining a low-fee model for families.

Operating grants will be increased and aligned for both designated early learning child-care centres and homes. Grants will increase to $15 a day per occupied infant space. This is meant to improve availability for these spaces after families and stakeholders identified finding infant care as a significant obstacle to workforce participation, particularly for women. Grants for preschool spaces will increase to $3 a day per occupied space.

Additionally, effective April 1, the market fee threshold – which guides operators in setting daily fees – will increase by eight per cent to reflect the 2022 consumer price index.

Operators receive funding from the government to offset the low-fee policy for families. Out-of-pocket fees paid by families, which were reduced by an average of 50 per cent in June 2022, will not be affected by this increase.

“Inflation has had a significant impact on the sustainability of operations, particularly those who are part of the designation program and are required to maintain reduced parent fees,” said Hogan. “This increase recognizes those challenges and provides operators with funding they need to keep pace with operational realities.”

The provincial government will also update the early childhood educator wage grid to reflect the April 1 update to the minimum wage. Educator wages will increase by one dollar per hour. Hogan said wages are a key factor in the recruitment and retention of early childhood educators; in 2022, turnover across the sector decreased to 26.7 per cent, down from 50.1 per cent in 2021.

To meet its obligations under the Canada-New Brunswick Canada-Wide Child Care Agreement, the provincial government aims to create 3,400 designated preschool early learning and child-care spaces by 2026.

“We want the best possible start in life for all children in Canada,” said federal Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould. “This funding will help ensure child-care providers can continue to provide access to high-quality, affordable, flexible and inclusive early learning and child care across New Brunswick, with no change to parent fees.”

Since September 2021, there has been a net increase of 843 designated spaces in the province, bringing the total number of designated and non-designated preschool spaces to 16,999 as of March 1. This represents a six per cent increase.

The five-year federal-provincial funding agreement involves the federal government providing nearly $492 million and the provincial government contributing $53 million.