System-based planning is grounded in research and evidence-based best practice. Data collection, research and analysis, and ongoing evaluation drive continuous improvement in the delivery of early learning and child care programs and services. The result is better outcomes for children.
Effective plans must be strategic. They must incorporate legislation and well-developed policy. And they must connect early learning and care with health care, the education system and other components of Alberta’s social infrastructure.
Policy determines the components of a child care system and how they will be delivered. Plans and policies must be developed from a system-wide perspective because changing or neglecting one part of the system affects every other part. For example, the lack of public funding keeps wages low. Low wages make it difficult for programs to recruit and retain qualified staff. Low wages also make it difficult for staff to advance their education. This affects their ability to keep up with best practices and deliver top-quality care.
System-wide planning and policy development facilitates adaptability and speedy, coordinated responses to crises. Susan Prentice—a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives—notes that, when COVID-19 struck, Toronto’s integrated, city-wide early learning and child care system made it possible to coordinate a timely, city-wide response. The current policy structure of Alberta’s early learning and child care sector makes such system-wide coordination difficult.
In a quality early learning and child care system, plans, policies, program delivery standards and regulations are coordinated by one lead department. But they are developed in partnership with parents and the community. The community includes early childhood educators, legislators, government administrators, businesses, non-profit agencies, parents and the public—because quality early learning and child care affects everyone, in every sector of society.