Childcare is a vital piece of any economy, but one that many communities lack. The good news? Leaders and parents in communities that need childcare spaces can create their own — by starting a childcare co-operative.

And there are funds available to do this. In 2021, the Government of Canada invested $27 billion over five years to build a Canada-wide early learning and child care system with provinces. This initiative aims to create $10/day childcare across Canada by 2025/26. By creating a childcare co-op, you’re eligible to access these funds.

But where to start? Here are the first three steps to starting a childcare co-op.

1. Gather a group

As with any co-operative, you need a group of people. This steering committee can consist of parents, community members, economic development professionals, and municipal and elected leaders.

In the region of Maple Creek, SK, representatives from the Town, Rural Municipality, and First Nation came together to create a childcare co-op. This is a very effective way to get a childcare centre started without parents doing it on their own.

According to our Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Cathy Edwards, engaging a cross-section of community members is important.

“When it’s just a parent-run board, there’s a lot of transition as kids age out of the facility,” she said in our childcare co-op webinar. “But having it as a community-based facility allows for that longevity and stability that the provincial funders are looking for.”

Whoever you choose, make sure you find a group of like-minded folks who believe in the importance of providing childcare and the impact it can have on your economy.

2. Do some research

Once you have a steering committee, the next step is to assess your community needs and assets. How many families need childcare? Do most parents require full-time or part-time childcare (or a mix of both)? Do any buildings or facilities exist that could be used as a childcare centre, or would you need to build something new?

A great way to do this is with a community survey (like this one, from the Government of Saskatchewan). You can tailor it to ask the questions you need for your project. As Cathy points out, it’s important to know the age breakdown of the children who need childcare to help you determine staffing levels and facility specifications. Also, knowing if your centre will serve new Canadians, Indigenous populations, or vulnerable sectors will influence your funding application.

Doing this research is also a great way to inform your community and get them engaged in supporting the development and, eventually, operation of the co-op.

3. Incorporate your co-op

So now you have a group and you’re armed with information. Great! The next step is to incorporate your co-operative. This makes your business a legal entity and will allow you to start fundraising, finding members, doing a business plan, and looking for space. Importantly, once your co-op is incorporated, you can start applying for the grants and subsidies available from your provincial government.

This step involves filling out and submitting official documents that outline what your co-op is, what it will do, and who its board of directors will be. Not sure how to do this? Don’t worry.

How we can help  

Co-operatives First is the expert in starting childcare co-operatives, and we can’t wait to help address this need across the prairies. To find out more about childcare co-ops you can visit our childcare resource page and – if you want to get one started — reach out to us for support. We can guide you through the start-up process and help you secure government funding. Get in touch!