Child care for First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children, and Inuit children
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by Leanne C. Findlay and Dafna E. Kohen
What you should know about this study
Child care options
Approximately half of First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children and Inuit children participate in child care
Daycare centres are the most common type of child care arrangement
The majority of child care for Inuit children includes Inuit culture and language
Child care use is associated with child and family factors
Aboriginal culture and traditions in child care have a positive influence on Inuit and off-reserve First Nations children
Over the past several decades, child care has become increasingly common in Canada, and, by 2003, an estimated 54% of Canadian children were in some type of non-parental care.1
Previous research has shown that child care has an impact on children's social and developmental outcomes. This research has shown that the quantity, quality, and type of care,2 as well as regulatory status,3 influence children's well-being, in particular behavioural characteristics such as hyperactivity and positive peer involvement (also known as pro-social behaviour). For instance, participation in child care that is regulated (i.e., licensed) and high-quality (e.g., high in caregiver praise, with trained caregivers) is associated with fewer behavioural problems and more positive peer involvement. In a study of Canadian children, children in high-quality child care arrangements were reported to exhibit greater pro-social behaviours.4
Although factors such as type of child care, hours in child care and stability of child care are relevant to the Aboriginal population, it is also important, when examining the impact of child care on the Aboriginal population, to consider culturally relevant factors which may impact healthy child development. For example, important indicators of Aboriginal child care may include aspects specific to cultural stimulation in the care environment,5,6 including the availability of culturally relevant activities. However, very little is known about the conditions and usage of child care for Aboriginal children in Canada. Moreover, because children represent a larger than average proportion of the Aboriginal population, child care is a particularly relevant issue for Aboriginal people.7
Using data from the 2006 Aboriginal Children's Survey, this study describes child care8 for First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children, and Inuit children in Canada, including the cultural aspects in the care environment. As a first step, a sample of First Nations children living off reserve, Métis, and Inuit children aged 2 to 5 years and not attending school who participated in child care were compared to a similar sample of children not in child care. For those children in care, aspects of child care of interest included: type of care, regulatory status, total hours in care, and number of care arrangements (i.e., stability). Next, sociodemographic characteristics such as the age and sex of the child, household income, family structure, parental education, parental work status and place of residence were examined in relation to both patterns of child care use and to child outcomes. Finally, cultural activities and Aboriginal language use in child care were investigated to determine associations with child outcomes. For the current study, the effect of child care on hyperactivity and pro-social behaviour were of particular interest as existing research suggests a relationship between child care and both of these outcomes.
The Aboriginal Children's Survey (ACS) was developed by Statistics Canada and Aboriginal advisors from across the country to assess the early development of Aboriginal children (ages 0 to 5 years) and the social and living conditions in which they are learning and growing. The survey was conducted jointly by Statistics Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada in 2006. The ACS target population was First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children, and Inuit children living in the provinces as well as all Aboriginal children living in the three territories. The sample was selected from 2006 Census of Canada respondents who reported Aboriginal ancestry; and/or identified as North American Indian1 and/or Métis and/or Inuit; and/or had treaty or registered Indian status; and/or had Indian Band membership. In the current study, those individuals who reported Aboriginal identity were included. Children with both single and multiple identities were included. For example, Inuit children were those who had Inuit identity and those who had Inuit identity combined with First Nations or Métis identity. In addition, children who were attending school were excluded, and the dependent variables of interest were only collected for children aged 2 to 5 years. Thus, the total sample size for the current study was 4,666 children (2,216 First Nations children living off reserve, 1,630 Métis children and 863 Inuit children, non-independent samples due to multiple identity groups).
Some limitations should be noted. First, parent-reported child care as described here represents the main type of care only; this may conceal any other child care arrangements in which the child spends less time. However, in this study, the majority of children were reported to participate in only one type of care arrangement (79% of First Nations children living off reserve, 81% of Métis, and 87% of Inuit). Second, although Aboriginal Head Start was included on the ACS as a type of child care, some parents may not perceive Head Start as their main type of care or may not describe Head Start as a child care setting (but rather as a cultural or educational program), which might underestimate its frequency in the ACS.2
One of the most important aspects of the child care environment—quality of care—is not included in this study. In studies of non-Aboriginal children, quality of care (assessed in terms of developmentally appropriate stimulating activities delivered by people with training in early childhood education) has been shown to be one of the strongest predictors of positive child outcomes. While the Aboriginal Children's Survey did not collect such information, this may be an area for future work. Another caveat is that the statistical associations reported in this study are correlational (taken at one point in time) and thus causal conclusions cannot be made between participation in child care and Aboriginal children's outcomes. In addition, both hyperactivity and pro-social behaviour were reported by the parent; future research might consider the inclusion of other outcomes, including those reported by caregivers, teachers, or others.
Finally, for First Nations children, the ACS collected data from those living off reserve only. However, the findings can be compared with results from the Assembly of First Nation's Regional Health Survey (RHS) which included those living on reserve.3 The RHS found that 44% of First Nations children under age 6 living on reserve were in some type of child care arrangement, with more than half being cared for by a relative (59%), 31% being cared for in a formal setting (e.g., a daycare centre), and 5% in a home setting by a non-relative. The RHS also found that First Nations children living on reserve whose parents had higher education were more likely to be in child care. Some of the differences in the type of child care use between the ACS and the RHS may be due to a time lag between years in which the data were collected (RHS in 2002/2003, ACS in 2006) or may reflect differences in the circumstances of First Nations children living on and off-reserve.
Definitions of terms and concepts
Sociodemographic characteristics: The person most knowledgeable of the child (a biological parent for 90% of First Nations children living off reserve, 94% of Métis children, and 81% of Inuit children) reported the child's gender, age (in months), and the child's Aboriginal identity (First Nations, Métis, or Inuit). Children's living arrangements were classified as dual parent if they were living with two biological, adoptive, or step-parents; single-parent status included biological or non-biological mother or father. Total household income was obtained from the 2006 Census of Canada. Parental education was categorized as less than high school diploma, high school diploma, or postsecondary education. For parental employment, the parent reported whether they were working, and if so, if the employment was full-time, full-time seasonal, part-time, or part-time seasonal. Two variables were created to reflect full-time (includes seasonal) or part-time employment.
Child care: Aspects of child care included: main type of care, regulatory status (licensed/not licensed), number of hours in the main type of care, and the total number of care arrangements (one, two, three or more). Parents were asked "At which type of child care does (child) spend the most hours per week?" This question was asked for all children who were reported to be in child care, regardless of the reasons for care (i.e., not necessarily because the parent was working or at school). Response options for main type of care included: daycare centre; nursery school/preschool; Aboriginal Head Start program; non-Aboriginal Head Start program; own home, non-relative; own home, relative; other home, non-relative; other home, relative. These categories were combined to create seven possible arrangements: daycare centre; nursery school, preschool or Head Start (Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal)4; relative (own home or other home), non-relative (own home or other home); or other. Daycare centre was used as the reference category in the regression analyses.
The parent was also asked to report on some of the cultural aspects of their child's care arrangement. In particular, the parent reported whether or not the child's main child care arrangement promoted First Nations, Métis or Inuit traditional and cultural values and customs (yes/no). In addition, they were asked to report all of the languages spoken in the main child care arrangement, including English, French, Inuktitut, Cree, and Ojibway. Due to small sample sizes for some of the languages by group, information was collapsed to reflect whether or not the child was spoken to in any Aboriginal language while in care (versus none).
Child behaviour: Information on children's behavioural outcomes was collected using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). The original SDQ was designed to assess children's social and emotional behaviour.5 The child's parent or guardian responded to 25 questions about the child's behaviour and emotions on a three-point Likert scale using the responses "not true," "somewhat true" or "certainly true." Previous work with the ACS has shown that an alternative factor structure of the SDQ items on the ACS demonstrated validity for First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children, and Inuit children.6 Two subscales were considered: hyperactivity and pro-social behaviour. Sample items of the hyperactivity scale include: easily distracted, concentration wanders, and constantly fidgeting or squirming. For the pro-social scale, sample items include: considerate of other people's feelings, shares readily with other children, and helpful if someone is hurt, upset or feeling ill.
As a first step, descriptive analyses were performed to provide information on the study sample and aspects of child care. Subsequently, significance tests were performed to determine any differences in sociodemographic factors between children who were in child care versus those who were not in care. Logistic regressions were also performed to determine independent predictors of child care use among those who were in child care (for the three Aboriginal groups separately). The predictors included: child sex and age, family structure, parental education, full- and part-time employment, and household income. Finally, in order to determine the individual factors that were significantly associated with parental-reported child functioning (hyperactivity and pro-social behaviour), linear regressions were performed to determine the association with aspects of child care, including opportunities for traditional and cultural values and customs, and Aboriginal language use in care, on hyperactivity and pro-social behaviours (both unadjusted and adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics and for other aspects of child care including type of care, hours in care, and number of care arrangements). Normalized sampling weights were applied to render the analyses representative of each of the three Aboriginal groups in Canada. Bootstrap weights were applied to account for the underestimation of standard errors due to the complex survey design.7 Statistical significance was accepted at the p < 0.05 level.
- Children were identified as "North American Indian"; however, the term "First Nations" is used throughout this report.
- Information on the proportion of Aboriginal children living off reserve served by the Head Start program from the literature was not located.
- Assembly of First Nations. 2007. First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey (02/03). Ottawa, Ontario. Assembly of First Nations/First Information Governance Committee.
- Due to small sample size and difficulties with collection, Head Start could not be examined as a separate type of child care setting.
- Goodman, Robert. 1997. "The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: A research note". Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Vol. 38, no. 5 p. 581-586.
- Oliver, Lisa, Leanne C. Findlay, Cameron McIntosh, and Dafna E. Kohen. 2009. Aboriginal Children's Survey, 2006: Evaluation of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 89-634-X2009008.
- Rust, K. F. and J.N.K. Rao. 1996. "Variance estimation for complex surveys using replication techniques". Statistical Methods in Medical Research. Vol. 5, no. 3. p. 281-310.
Across Canada, child care is generally provincially regulated with variability in the number and types of spaces available. Family characteristics, such as income and parental education, may influence the choices and/or availability of child care for children. Moreover, family characteristics have been shown to have significant associations with child outcomes.9 For example, results from the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) study of early child care suggested that family risk factors such as poor socioeconomic conditions were significantly associated with children's behaviour problems and pro-social behaviours.10 While there is little information on the association between family circumstances and child care availability or participation for Aboriginal children specifically, similar factors may be important. There are several federally funded initiatives to assist and support early child care programs for Aboriginal people including the First Nations/Inuit Child Care initiative, funded by Human Resources and Social Development Canada and the Aboriginal Head Start program, supported by Health Canada.
An emerging interest in Aboriginal child care programs which are culturally focused and designed in partnership with community partners has developed.11 For example, the "Generative Curriculum Model" described by Ball and Pence12 is a unique approach to child-care training wherein mainstream child care practices are downplayed and a culturally grounded approach to child care is encouraged (e.g., elder involvement in caregiver training and a focus on community-based learning). The result is a community driven, culturally appropriate child care curriculum that can be implemented by trained Aboriginal child-care providers. In addition, programs such as Aboriginal Head Start have specific goals of encouraging Aboriginal culture and language, promoting positive self-image, and fostering early school readiness. Thus, a focus on cultural activities is particularly relevant when studying Aboriginal child care in Canada.
Approximately half of First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children and Inuit children participate in child care
Overall, 52% of First Nations children living off reserve, 54% of Métis children, and 43% of Inuit children were in some type of child care arrangement in 2006 (Chart 1). These results are similar to national data which found that 54% of children in Canada were in some type of childcare arrangement in 2002-2003.13 For all three Aboriginal groups, children who lived with a single parent, lived in households with a higher income, had a parent who was working and/or had a parent with higher education were more likely to be in child care. Conversely, First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children and Inuit children who had a parent who was not working or a parent with less than a high school education were less likely to be in child care (Table 1). In addition, Métis children in care were, on average, older than Métis children not in care.
There were also differences related to the province or region of residence for each of the Aboriginal groups. Among First Nations children living off reserve, those living in Quebec and British Columbia were more likely to participate in child care than not; those living in Manitoba and Alberta were less likely to participate. These provincial differences would be expected due to differences in provincial funding for early child care in Quebec as well as various child care initiatives in British Columbia.14 Métis children living in Quebec and the territories were more often in child care while Métis children living in Alberta and the Atlantic Provinces were less often in care. Finally, a higher proportion of Inuit children living in Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, and outside Inuit Nunangat were in child care while a lower proportion of those living in Nunavut were in care.
The most common type of child care arrangement15 for all three groups of Aboriginal children was a daycare centre—46% of First Nations children living off reserve, 44% of Métis children and 59% of Inuit children in care attended a daycare centre (Chart 2). This was followed by care by a non-relative (18% for First Nations children living off reserve, 22% for Métis, 12% of Inuit children) and care by a relative (17% for all three groups). Seventeen percent of off-reserve First Nations children, 16% of Métis, and 11% of Inuit children were in a nursery school, a preschool, or a Head Start program as their main child care arrangement.16 Parents of 69% of First Nations children living off reserve, 68% of Métis children, and 72% of Inuit children attending child care reported that it was licensed care. The majority of children in licensed child care were in a daycare centre, a nursery school, a preschool, or a Head Start program.17
The care arrangements for the majority of First Nations children living off reserve, Métis, and Inuit children were relatively stable. Most—4 out of 5—children had been in a single type of child care arrangement in the year preceding the survey. The average amount of time in any type of care arrangement was approximately 27 hours per week, which was similar for all three groups.
Just over one-quarter (26%) of parents of off-reserve First Nations children reported that the child care arrangement promoted traditional and cultural values and customs, compared to 17% of parents of Métis children, and 67% of parents of Inuit children. Care that included either the exclusive use of Aboriginal language or a mix of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal languages was reported for 16% of First Nations children living off reserve and 6% of Métis children. The majority (66%) of Inuit children were in care where an Inuit language was used. It was also observed that most child care arrangements for Inuit children that included the Inuit language also included traditional and cultural values and customs (88%), as compared to arrangements that did not include the Inuit language (for which only 27% included traditional and cultural values and customs).
Among the First Nations and Métis groups, the proportion of children participating in traditional and cultural values and customs in their child care environment was highest for children attending a nursery school, a preschool, or a Head Start program (Table 2). This was followed by being cared for by a relative (own home or other home). The pattern was similar for Aboriginal language use in care. For Inuit children in child care, the proportion participating in traditional and cultural values and customs was highest for children cared for by a relative, followed by a daycare centre.
An examination of the factors associated with the use of child care for First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children, and Inuit children showed that family structure, parental education and employment, and household income were significant, independent factors for all three Aboriginal groups (Table 3). Specifically, living with a single parent (versus two), living with a parent who was working (either full- or part-time) and living in a household with a higher income were all associated with being in child care.
For First Nations children living off reserve, children living with a parent with less than a high school education were less likely to be in care, whereas children living with a parent with more than a high school education were more likely to be in child care. Parental education was also important for Métis and Inuit children; Métis children whose parent had more than a high school education had greater odds of being in child care, and Inuit children with a parent with less than a high school education were less likely to be in child care. In addition, for Métis children only, older child age was associated with increased odds of being in child care. Inuit boys were found to be less likely than girls to attend child care. Similar child and family predictors such as parental education and household income were found to be associated with specific types of care including daycare centres or licensed care (versus no care, data not shown).
Aboriginal culture and traditions in child care have a positive influence on Inuit and off-reserve First Nations children
Research has shown that there are positive impacts for Aboriginal children who learn about, or take part in, cultural activities.18 In the context of child care, it was of interest to examine whether cultural aspects of child care were associated with First Nations children living off reserve, Métis, and Inuit children's parent-reported outcomes, in particular, hyperactivity and pro-social behaviours. Results indicate that being in any type of child care was significantly associated with greater pro-social behaviour for First Nations children living off reserve; however, this association was not significant after the control variables, including the child's sex and age, family structure, parent work status and education, and household income, were taken into consideration (data not shown). For Métis or Inuit children who participated in care, their hyperactive or pro-social behaviours did not differ from Métis or Inuit children who did not participate.
In models examining the effects of traditional and cultural values and customs and Aboriginal language use in child care, participation in traditional activities was positively associated with pro-social behaviours for First Nations children living off reserve. That is, First Nations children living off reserve who engaged in traditional and cultural activities and customs in child care arrangements were rated by their parents as being more pro-social than children whose child care arrangements did not include traditional activities. This effect remained significant after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., parental education and employment, household income) and other aspects of child care previously shown to be associated with child functioning, including the type of child care, total hours in care, and the total number of care arrangements.19 For Métis children, although those who were in child care environments that included traditional and cultural values and customs were found to be more hyperactive, this effect did not remain once family sociodemographic characteristics and other aspects of child care were considered. This suggests that for Métis children, traditional activities are not significantly related to hyperactivity in the context of family income and other care factors. For Inuit children, speaking the Inuit language in child care was associated with greater pro-social behaviour, which remained significant in the model that was adjusted for family sociodemographic factors and child care factors (data not shown).
In 2006, approximately one-half of First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children, and Inuit children aged 2 to 5 and not in school were in some type of child care, with the most common type of child care arrangement being a daycare centre. Interestingly, approximately 2 out of 3 children were reported by parents to be in regulated (licensed) care compared to approximately one-third of non-Aboriginal Canadian children.20 Differences in Aboriginal child care use were found based on family structure, parental education, parental work status, and household income for all three Aboriginal groups. It is likely that factors such as family structure, education, and income impact both the availability and affordability of child care options for Aboriginal families and employment situations may necessitate the use of child care.
Many of the child care arrangements for First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children and Inuit children included some Aboriginal cultural content, be that through traditional and cultural values and customs or the use of an Aboriginal language in the child care environment. For example, the majority of Inuit children in care were reported to attend a child care arrangement that promoted traditional Inuit cultural values and customs (67%) and used an Inuit language (66%).
Although participation in child care was not found to be independently associated with hyperactivity or pro-social behaviours, this study demonstrates that traditional and cultural values and customs and Aboriginal language within the child care environment can have positive influences on young First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children's outcomes. In particular, for First Nations children living off reserve, participation in traditional and cultural values and customs in care was positively associated with pro-social behaviours even after family sociodemographic characteristics and other aspects of child were considered. For Inuit children, speaking the Inuit language in care was associated with greater pro-social behaviours, suggesting that language in care is particularly relevant for Inuit children's social behaviours.
Leanne C. Findlay is an analyst and Dafna E. Kohen is a senior analyst in the Health Analysis Division of Statistics Canada.
- Bushnik, Tracey. 2006. Child care in Canada, Children and Youth Research Paper Series. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 89-5999-MIE – no. 003.
- Bradley, Robert H. and Deborah Lowe Vandell. 2007. "Child care and the well-being of children." Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine.Vol. 161, no. 7. p. 669-676.
- National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) Early Child Care Research Network. 1999. "Child outcomes when child care center classes meet recommended standards for quality." American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 89, no. 7. p. 1072-1077.
- Romano, Elisa, Dafna E. Kohen and Leanne C. Findlay. 2010. "Associations among child care, family and behavior outcomes in a nation-wide sample of pre-school aged children." International Journal of Behavioral Development OnlineFirst. p. 1-14.
- Assembly of First Nations. 2005. First Nations Early Learning and Child Care Action Plan.
- Ball, Jessica. 2002. "The challenge of creating an optimal learning environment in child care: Cross-cultural perspectives." Enhancing Caregiver Language Facilitation in Child Care Settings. Toronto. Symposium of the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network.
- Beach, Jane, Martha Friendly, Carolyn Ferns, Nina Prabhu and Barry Forer. 2009. Early childhood education and care in Canada 2008. 8th edition. Childcare resource and research unit. 216 p.
- Child care arrangements refer to the care of a child by someone other than a parent, including daycare, nursery or preschool, Head Start, and care by a relative or other caregiver. These refer to regular arrangements that are used consistently rather than sporadically (e.g., babysitting). These data refer to the main child care arrangement, that is, the arrangement in which the child spends the most time.
- NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. 2001. "Nonmaternal care and family factors in early development: An overview of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care." Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Vol. 22, issue 5. p. 457-492.
- NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. 2000. "The interaction of child care and family risk in relation to child development at 24 and 36 months." Applied Developmental Science. Vol. 6, issue 3. p. 144-156.
- Doherty, Gillian, Martha Friendly and Jane Beach. 2009. OECD Thematic Review of Early Childhood Education and Care: Canadian background report.
- Ball, Jessica and Alan Pence. 2001. "A 'Generative Curriculum Model' for Supporting Child Care and Development Programs in First Nations Communities." Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. Vol. 25, no. 2. p. 114-124.
- Bushnik, Tracey. 2006.
- Beach et al. 2009.
- The most common child care arrangement refers to those children aged 2 and over, in non-parental child care and not in school.
- Due to small sample size and difficulties with collection, participation in Head Start programs could not be examined separately.
- Of First Nations children who attended licensed care, 64% reported being in a daycare centre and 23% in a nursery/preschool/Head Start program. For Métis children in licensed care, 60% were in a daycare centre and 23% in a nursery/preschool/Head Start program. Among Inuit children in licensed care, 81% were in a daycare centre and 13% in a nursery/preschool/Head Start program.
- Ball, Jessica. 2005. "Early childhood care and development programs as hook and hub for inter-sectoral service delivery in First Nations communities." Journal of Aboriginal Health. Vol. 2, issue 1. p. 36-53.
- For First Nations and Métis children, being cared for by a relative (own home, other home, respectively, as compared to a daycare centre) was associated with higher parent-reported hyperactivity. Being cared for by a non-relative was associated with greater pro-social behaviour for Métis. For Inuit, participating in any type of care (except own-home, relative) was associated with lower parent ratings of hyperactivity (as compared to a daycare centre).
- Romano et al. 2010.
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