Supporting the Health of Mothers and Their Babies in the Context of Incarceration

Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin and Brenda Tole

When a friend told Ruth Elwood Martin that there was a need for a part-time family physician to work in a women’s correctional centre, her immediate thought was that there was no way she could work in a prison clinic. She perceived that it was the lowest kind of medical job, only for those doctors who were unable to find any other type of work.

Ruth is not sure what drew her to start practising medicine in a prison, but she did. On that first day in 1994, she felt like she was visiting another planet, passing through those gates, experiencing another world and learning from the people inside it. Ruth saw more pathology and more tragic medical diagnoses than she had seen in a year in her regular family practice in Vancouver’s West Side.

In the clinic, women told her about traumatic events they endured as children, young teenagers and women. Ruth would put down her pen, bearing witness to their lives, and listen to medical and social histories she could not imagine enduring. That first day in her new position changed Ruth’s life forever and she knew that prison health would become her calling. Ruth has often reflected that if she had been dealt the same childhood cards as the women she met, she might be sitting in their chairs.

In 2003, Brenda Tole was assigned to oversee the remodelling of an older facility that had housed provincially incarcerated men and to open it as the “Alouette Correctional Centre for Women” (ACCW), a medium-security facility to house provincially sentenced women. If you are a parent with school-aged children, you will have noticed how the school principal greatly influences the overall ethos of a school. In a similar manner, the warden of a prison influences the ethos of the institution, which in turn influences the overall health of the inmates.

From the day it opened in 2004, Brenda shaped the tone and ethos of ACCW. She maintained that if you expect both staff and incarcerated individuals to treat each other with respect, they will rise to meet those expectations, at least most of the time. That’s how she planned and that’s how she ran ACCW, not on the basis that 1% of the population may breach those expectations.

Brenda knew that the more she gave people opportunities, the more they valued the opportunities and responded positively. The more she gave responsibility to the women for doing things themselves, and the more she talked with the staff about her plans, the better the situation would be for everyone.

During a meeting of key health care players planning for health care delivery at the new ACCW, Brenda met Sarah Payne, the director of Fir Square at BC Women’s Hospital, a maternity unit for substance-using mothers. Babies who remained with moms at Fir Square had positive health outcomes compared with the health of babies that were taken away from their moms at birth.((Ronald R. Abrahams et al., “Rooming-in Compared with Standard Care for Newborns of Mothers Using Methadone or Heroin,” Canadian Family Physician 53:10 (October 2007), http://bit.ly/2k4K29I.)) Sarah asked Brenda to consider the possibility that babies born to incarcerated mothers who came to the BC Women’s Hospital for their delivery might return with their mothers to ACCW, in order to foster breastfeeding, attachment and nurturing.

Separation through incarceration negatively affects the health of new mothers and their infants

With peer-reviewed academic literature growing on the subject, Brenda had good reason to consider this proposal. Evidence shows that one of the most compelling motivators for incarcerated women is pregnancy and their children. International correctional practices that promote contact between women and their children have shown benefits for both. Positive results have been seen in visits, email, tapes, telephone calls and letters. Children of incarcerated women are negatively impacted if the contact with their mother is limited or absent. Although it is accepted around the world that nursing infants and/or small children benefit from remaining with their incarcerated mothers, this was rarely seen in Canada at that time.

Many incarcerated women have dependent children. Worldwide, an estimated 6% of incarcerated women are pregnant while serving prison time.((Marian Knight and Emma Plugge, “The Outcomes of Pregnancy Among Imprisoned Women: A Systematic Review,” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 112:11 (December 2005), doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2005.00749.x.)) An estimated 20,000 children each year are affected by the incarceration of their mothers in Canada,((Alison Cunningham and Linda Baker, Waiting for Mommy: Giving a Voice to the Hidden Victims of Imprisonment. London, ON: Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System, 2003.)) where women tend to be held in correctional centres that are large distances from their children and families due to the limited number of correctional facilities for women across the country.

The provision of mother–child units to women in prison who have given birth to their infants while incarcerated is considered normal practice in most countries in the world. Published reports of such units exist for 22 countries, including England, Wales, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, some US states, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, Egypt, Mexico, India and Chile.((Helen Fair, “International Profile of Women’s Prisons,” World Prison Brief (February 7, 2008), http://bit.ly/2knx0BM.))((Kiran Bedi, It’s Always Possible: Transforming One of the Largest Prisons in the World. New Delhi: Stirling Paperbacks, 2006.))((Women’s Prison Association, “Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community-Based Alternatives,” Institute on Women & Criminal Justice (May 2009), http://bit.ly/2hwPK0L.))

One of the reasons for keeping incarcerated mothers with their newborn babies is that it facilitates breastfeeding, which the World Health Organization reports has health benefits for the infant and new mother.((World Health Organization, “Infant and Young Child Feeding,” Fact Sheet (September 2016), http://bit.ly/1o6MEg8.)) According to international health experts, babies should be exclusively breastfed until they are six months old if possible, and then continue to be breastfed on demand until they are two years of age. Babies who are not breastfed may be at increased risk for diabetes, allergies and gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.((Health Canada, “Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Birth to Six Months,” A joint statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada (2013), http://bit.ly/LTH03C.))

In addition to the well-known health and nutritional benefits, some research has shown that breastfeeding can contribute to psychosocial development((Grace S. Marquis, “Breastfeeding and Its Impact on Child Psychosocial and Emotional Development,” Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development (March 2008), http://bit.ly/1cESBkC.)) – the associated physical contact, eye contact and the quality of feeding promote mother–child attachment. However, establishing and maintaining breastfeeding on demand is not possible unless mothers and babies can be housed together with 24-hour contact.

Typically, mothers who return to prison without their babies after giving birth are prescribed milk-binding pills and are often prescribed antidepressants. In this situation, many mothers experience profound grief and debilitating guilt, despair and hopelessness. Many resort to substance use as a coping strategy. 

Mother–child unit developed to support well-being of incarcerated mothers and their babies

In 2005, Brenda asked Ruth, “As the prison physician, what is your opinion about the idea of incarcerated women who deliver babies in hospital being able to return here with their babies?” Ruth felt it was the most sensible idea she had heard in years, and she then expanded her prison medical practice to perform new roles, such as newborn examinations, breastfeeding coaching and addressing medical questions about newborns.

Through collaboration and partnership with several other ministries and community agencies, a mother–child unit was developed at ACCW based on the best interests of the child. With the support of Corrections Branch Headquarters, the ACCW health care team, correctional staff (both managers and frontline staff) and other provincial ministry personnel, it was decided ACCW could facilitate the return of mothers and babies to ACCW when recommended by BC Women’s Hospital and agreed to by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), who had final authority over the placement of the child.

The decisions to place the mother and child together at the correctional facility were made by an interdisciplinary team consisting of the key staff from BC Women’s Hospital, ACCW health care, ACCW administration and the MCFD. If the mother was Indigenous, the pertinent Indigenous communities were consulted, when applicable. The mother and her family were included in all stages of this process. The support and services that Fir Square offered the mother before and after the birth fostered the mother’s confidence in parenting and in participating in the planning of her future and that of her baby. All checks and balances were put in place to ensure that ACCW was a safe and positive environment for the mothers and babies, with the cooperation of the mothers, other incarcerated women and correctional staff.

Incarcerated women who gave birth and who were deemed by MCFD able and willing to provide appropriate parental care were allowed to keep their infants in their care while in prison. During the initiative’s duration (2005–2007), 13 babies were born to incarcerated mothers, nine of whom lived in prison with their mothers and stayed there until their mother’s release. Eight babies were breastfed for the duration of their mother’s prison stay. Fifteen months was the longest stay of any infant in prison. The babies’ health and development was monitored by the community public health nurses, ACCW health care providers and MCFD social workers.

Release planning for the majority of the mothers and babies included placement at a residential supportive residence for women with substance use histories of the Fraser Health Authority, which took mothers and their young infants. The residential placement staff aimed to facilitate the transition of these women into the community.

Being involved in the initiative with BC Women’s Hospital had a profound positive effect on the women directly involved, the correctional staff and other incarcerated women, and the ministries and community agencies who partnered with ACCW.

Mother–child unit facilitates maternal involvement

Initially, other agencies and ministries were surprised and cautious regarding the proposal of the newborn babies returning to the facility with their mothers. The team at ACCW and BC Women’s Hospital took the time and facilitated many discussions and held meetings for all stakeholders to contribute to the program’s success.

Initially, the rights of the infant to be with the mother for attachment, bonding and breastfeeding was overshadowed for some by the feeling that this “privilege” should not be afforded to incarcerated mothers. As the initiative continued, the attitudes of many began to shift from cautious and guarded to comfortable and supportive. Community agencies were willing to provide supportive services to the children and mothers within the correctional facility. The collaboration reduced the need for ACCW to develop programs and services specific to the incarcerated population.

The mothers involved expressed great joy and were grateful that they could continue to breastfeed and nurture their babies at the correctional facility. They participated in parenting classes provided by a community agency through visits by the public health nurses and the MCFD worker. They also participated in health examinations by the ACCW physician to ensure the safety and health of their babies. Several of the mothers were permitted to go out into the community on escorted passes, both before and after the birth of their babies, to participate in various programs offered by community agencies that welcomed their participation.

Other women who did not have the opportunity to be with their children had to deal with the reminder of the pain they suffered as a result of being away from their own children. Seeing the babies at ACCW triggered feelings of loss, but a general feeling of hope permeated the entire population and the atmosphere at the facility was more positive in many ways. Incarcerated women wrote about their experiences as part of a prison participatory health research project, and their writing was later published in a book titled Arresting Hope.((Ruth Elwood Martin, Mo Korchinski, Lyn Fels and Carl Leggo, eds., Arresting Hope: Women Taking Action in Prison Health Inside Out. Inanna Publications, 2014.))

Seeing other ministries and agencies support this initiative had an impact on many of the incarcerated women. Most had very little trust in government agencies due to previous negative interactions. Seeing the agencies working together to ensure the babies stay with their mothers gave them a different perspective from which to view these groups. Some voiced a new interest to work with agencies to initiate contact with their own children with whom they had lost contact, or to work to improve their own lives to make a better life for their children.

For many, seeing the mothers and babies thrive at the facility and be released into the community together continued to reinforce the feeling that this initiative was not only the child’s right but also the right thing to do for the child.

Mother–child unit upheld by BC Supreme Court

In 2008, Brenda retired from ACCW and the BC Corrections Branch Headquarters shut down the prison mother–child unit. Amanda Inglis and Patricia Block, whose babies were born after the unit had closed, became appellants in a five-year legal case that led to a BC Supreme Court hearing in May 2013. During the women’s compelling testimony, Patricia told the court that there were as many as five different people caring for her daughter while they were separated. She tried to continue to breastfeed her baby while in prison, she said, but had difficulties in doing so.

At one point, her daughter’s foster mother stopped using the breast milk that Patricia had pumped because she worried it “wasn’t good milk.” Patricia had to inform the MCFD, who then ordered the foster mother to provide the breast milk to her baby. Patricia said that pumping milk in her prison cell for her newborn baby, who was then staying with relatives, gave new meaning to the phrase “crying over spilt milk.”

In December 2013, Honourable Judge Carol Ross ruled in Inglis v. British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety) that the cancellation of the mother–child unit infringed the Charter right to security of the person (section 7) of the mothers and babies affected by the decision, and that the infringements were not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice. The ruling also held that the cancellation constituted discrimination and violated section 15(1) of the Charter, the right to equality of the members of the affected groups, namely provincially incarcerated mothers who wished to have their baby remain with them while they serve their sentence and the babies of those mothers.

The judge directed the government of British Columbia to administer the Correction Act Regulation in relation to this issue in a manner consistent with the requirements of sections 7 and 15(1), and she gave six months to provide an opportunity for the government to correct the unconstitutionality of the present situation and comply with the Court’s direction.((Inglis v. British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety), 2013 BCSC 2309 (SC), H.M.J. Ross, http://bit.ly/2jiUVk0.))

Guidelines developed to facilitate program adoption across Canada

The Collaborating Centre for Prison Health and Education (CCPHE) hosted a two-day working meeting in March 2014 at the University of British Columbia to generate best practice evidence-based guidelines to inform the implementation of mother–child units across Canada. Experts were invited to present during four panel discussions entitled “The Rights of the Child,” “The Correctional Context,” “Pathways and Programs” and “Evaluation.”

Thirty stakeholder organizations were invited to contribute to the writing of the guidelines by selecting delegate representative(s) to participate in the working meeting. Delegates included those from BC Corrections Branch, Correctional Service Canada, New Zealand Corrections and Women in2 Healing (formerly incarcerated mothers).

The CCPHE contracted Sarah Payne to write an initial guideline framework based on her analysis of the meeting proceedings. A “content analysis” method was used to ensure that all themes developing from the meeting data were captured in the emergent guidelines. As a final stage, international resources and research publications, which had been presented by experts as evidence during the working meeting, were reviewed.

The resulting Guidelines describe 16 guiding principles and best practices required for optimal child and maternal health inside a correctional facility, including the correctional context, pregnancy, birth, education, correctional and medical care, discharge planning and community partner engagement. Delegates from BC Corrections Branch and Correctional Service Canada, who attended the writing meeting, incorporated the Guidelines’ principles and best practices into their respective organizations’ policies and procedures.

Follow-up evaluations of the mother–child unit currently under way

The ACCW mother–child unit was established on the principle that babies should accompany their mothers back to the ACCW, which was supported by the 2013 BC Supreme Court ruling that deemed it unconstitutional to separate the two. Currently, the “new” BC provincial program and the federal program (as well as programs in the U.S.) are based on the principle that it is a privilege for the incarcerated mother rather than a right: incarcerated pregnant women have to submit an application and go through a difficult, stressful and protracted approval process.

Some infants now currently reside with their mothers in federal women’s correctional facilities across Canada. However, bringing babies to live with their mothers inside provincial correctional facilities has been slow, even though a refurbished mother–child unit opened in July 2014 at ACCW. More education and understanding about the cultural, epigenetic, legal and permanent health impacts of a decision to remove a baby at birth can help support maternal and infant health in prisons across Canada.

A 10-year follow-up evaluation of the ACCW mother–child unit that ran from 2005 to 2007 is currently under way. Through in-depth interviews with mothers whose infants lived at ACCW, this evaluation is exploring their experiences and the current health and social development of their children.

Each of the mothers interviewed to date have reported that the decision to have her baby live with her in prison transformed her life. Each woman attributed the quality and quantity of time that she spent with her baby in ACCW to making a positive long-term impact on the mother–child relationship, and each reported that she now has an exceptionally close relationship with her child. Each woman also spoke very affectionately about her child’s attributes, with kindness and a caring nature as foremost.

 


Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin is a Clinical Professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and recipient of the 2015 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.

Brenda Tole is the former warden at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women from the time it opened in 2004 until her retirement in 2008.

Published on February 7, 2017




Circuits of Care: Mobility, Work and Managing Family Relationships

Dr. Sara Dorow and Shingirai Mandizadza, PhDc

Fort McMurray and the oil sands industry of northern Alberta have become a quintessential destination for long-distance labour commuters: workers who regularly travel from and to a distant home base on rotational work schedules, usually of a week or more, and who more often than not stay in work camps located near bitumen extraction and processing projects. They come from as far away as Halifax and Detroit to work at jobs ranging from safety coordination to pipe maintenance to camp catering. In 2015, the more than 100 work camps in the area had the capacity to house some 70,000 workers.((Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, “The Municipal Census 2015 Report” (2015), http://bit.ly/2h5ZukE.))

Such “mobile work” involves some fairly complex dynamics of support, as workers and their families care for each other at home and then across distances; as camp staff provide for the food, sleep and leisure needs of workers; and as camp staff and oil workers (both of whom are “mobile”) devise forms of self-care within and across all of these spaces. Interviews with more than 75 mobile workers in four work camps in the region have revealed a nexus of care involving relationships that are stretched out across the distances of the labour commute while simultaneously intensified on each end of the commute, at home and in camp.

Communication helps to ease emotional challenges of being away from family

How do workers manage familial networks while away from home on their work rotations? Staying connected through phone calls, texts or video chats is, of course, a key feature of the practices that help to sustain the worker and maintain family relations. First and foremost, these communications help to ease the emotional challenges of being in camp and away from family, and they contribute to making time in between shifts bearable. A camp housekeeper told us that she talked to her son and daughter every day “to try to stay sane,” while a trades worker from Eastern Canada used a more colourful description: trying not to go “shack wacky.”

 

Staying connected through phone calls, texts or video chats is … a key feature of the practices that help to sustain the worker and maintain family relations.

 

Communications were thus, in many ways, about managing the time away from home. Sometimes this involved counting down the rotation together. As one male camp cook put it, “What I do with my wife is, for instance,

[each day when we talk] we will count down the days till I’m coming back.” For some workers, schedules for making contact are followed rigorously, at the same time every day. A construction worker named Derek called his wife four times a day. And for Phyllis, a camp housekeeper, the fact that she could regularly call her husband and “see” her grandchildren made everything “all good.”

One young trades worker from Eastern Canada, when asked as he sat alone eating dinner if he would be interested in a short interview, glanced at his phone and said he wouldn’t have much time: this was the only window of time during the day – after his shift in Alberta and right before her bedtime in Newfoundland – when he and his girlfriend were both free to talk. Sure enough, two minutes later his phone rang.

Talk of time also included planning together how it would be spent when workers returned home on their days off. Tim, who talked about “pushing through” his seven days, said that when talking to friends and family on the phone, “We try to line up some stuff to do for that week off, so I’ll have something to look forward to when I go home.”

Communication facilitates remote parenting and alleviates “FOMO”

A second and related facet of long-distance communication is the quest to keep current on what is happening in the lives of family and friends far away, often driven by FOMO (fear of missing out).

One seasoned housekeeper pointed to the crucial rhythms of keeping information flowing with her adult children and grandchildren: “I might go two to three days without talking to them, you know, which is not a big deal. They know mom’s fine and everything else, but, I mean, after the third day, something’s gotta be new, you know? Like, the other day, they went for a bike ride, so they got to tell me everything about the bike ride they went on – my daughter and my granddaughter – so, she was just, you know, excited. Something new to tell me.”

For those with children, communicating across the distance served yet a third purpose: remote parenting. An ironworker in a joint custody arrangement described the series of activities across space and time that were enfolding around his teenage daughter’s tendency to skip school. A phone call from the school led to a phone conversation with his daughter, which paved the way for the conversation they would have face to face when he returned. With a mortgage, a truck, and a daughter and ex-wife to support, mobile work in the oil sands seemed his only option, and this, in turn, brought practical ways of stretching out and intensifying relations of care while away and at home.

“Too much” communication can be distracting

However, managing and maintaining one’s mental health and well-being in camp can also mean keeping long-distance family and social relations “in their place.” For a portion of these workers, and more commonly for men in the trades, family life was a distraction that needed to be held at bay if one was to stay in work mode. Sometimes it was the heartache of being too regularly reminded of distance from family that was distracting.((Christopher Jones and Chris Southcott, “Mobile Miners: Work, Home, and Hazards in the Yukon’s Mining Industry,” The Northern Review 41 (June 15, 2015) http://bit.ly/2hTXytu.))

Ricky, a day labourer from Eastern Canada who often stayed in camp for months on end, described how painfully bittersweet it was to watch families enjoying time together when he drove into the city of Fort McMurray on weekends. And for others, it was the headache of dealing with ongoing family matters at a distance that was distracting. Omar, a camp custodial worker, described how stressful things could be in his home and family life. Drawing his hands up alongside each side of his head to mimic blinders, Omar said that when he was on rotation, “It’s just about work.”

Community “back home” helps workers manage family responsibilities

Mobile workers sometimes dealt with the problem of distance through forms of reciprocity and exchange with friends, neighbours or extended family back home. For male long-distance commuters with families, these arrangements helped to ease concern about how family back home would cope while they were away for weeks at a time. One trades worker described how a male friend back home helped his wife with chores such as yard work during his two-week rotation; he then reciprocated by carrying out maintenance and home repairs for the friend after he returned home from rotation.

 

Mobile workers sometimes dealt with the problem of distance through forms of reciprocity and exchange with friends, neighbours or extended family back home.

 

In some instances, it was spatial rearrangements of care work back home that accommodated mobile work. Marco, a construction manager, relocated his young family to the Caribbean to take advantage of the favourable weather and the cheaper childcare. Together, these factors made life easier for his wife during his long absences and easier for him on his return home.

While there are not many women with young or school-age children participating in mobile work in the oil sands, it was often the care of grandparents and especially grandmothers that made mobile work a viable option. A housekeeper named Martha felt that being away for three weeks at a time from her two school-age children back in Nova Scotia was “worth it because I’m making more money here than back home.” It was also doable because her parents, who lived nearby, actually moved into her home with the children while she was away.

Flexible circuits of care help accommodate employee mobility

These circuits of care help us see that a big part of managing and surviving camp life is about maintaining long-distance familial and social networks. It’s these relationships of care and support that help oil sands workers to manage their multiple responsibilities.

Our research thus addresses some of the existing research on long-distance labour commuting and family in ways that we hope open up further inquiry. First, we start from the perspective of mobile workers while they are away from home. Second, we include both resource sector workers and service sector workers, thus broadening the gendered scope of analysis and complicating the normative imagery of mobile work (man on the move, wife and children back home). And finally, we do not assume that mobility has only or mostly negative impacts on care or family relations. Such arrangements can have both advantages and disadvantages for workers and their families((Mark Shrimpton and Keith J. Storey, The Effects of Offshore Employment in the Petroleum Industry: A Cross-National Perspective (Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Environmental Studies Program, 2001).)) and entail a mix of transformations and entrenchments of gender and family arrangements of care.((Brenda S. A. Yeoh and Kamalini Ramdas, “Gender, Migration, Mobility and Transnationalism,” Journal of Applied Statistics 21:10 (November 2014) http://bit.ly/2gk1DIa.))

A team of research assistants contributed to this project. We especially acknowledge and thank Marcella Cassiano (PhDc) for conducting many of the interviews in work camps.

 


About the On the Move Partnership

The On the Move Partnership is a research initiative that includes the Vanier Institute of the Family and 40 researchers from across Canada and around the world. This project is investigating how employment-related geographic mobility (E-RGM) affects households and communities, and how it influences and impacts prosperity across Canada. To learn more about the On the Move Partnership, visit our project page.

 

Dr. Sara Dorow is Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Alberta, where she teaches and conducts research in the areas of globalization, race and culture, gender and family, qualitative methods and the idea of community. She currently heads the Alberta team for the On the Move Partnership.  

Shingirai Mandizadza is a Sociology PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. She currently works with Dr. Dorow in the On the Move Partnership on a project that explores the gendering of work-related mobility in the oil sands of northeast Alberta.

Published on January 10, 2017




House and Home: To Keep or Not to Keep the Living Room and Dining Room

Avi Friedman

Speculative builders refer to houses as product, whereas homebuyers see their lives unfolding in residences surrounded with life and living. Builders have a near horizon; buyers, a long-term view. Builders have to create inventory, sell product quickly and move on to the next project; handing over the keys to a buyer is their ultimate goal. A model home – the showcase of a new development – must be inviting and inspirational. It ought to draw a “wow,” making an unsure or timid buyer fall in love at first sight and edge out the competition. A hotel-sized kitchen, beautifully lit with stainless steel appliances, will be an anchor; a spacious marble-tiled bathroom with trendy fixtures and a Jacuzzi will be an attention grabber. It’s all about first impressions.

To many of us, living rooms and dining rooms are the primary settings where family life plays out, communal places where family meals and gatherings take place. As families and family life evolves, so too does the family home. Our living spaces shape, and are shaped by, changing social, economic, cultural and environmental trends.

The months of January and February are traditionally the busy season in the home-building business, since people tend to buy houses for summer occupancy. The number of sales during these months determines the year’s overall activity. So designs are rushed, finalized, and made ready for buyers to see and purchase.

 

The use of space at home has also become gradually more decentralized. Do we really need, then, to retain a separate room for an occasion that may occur only once or twice a year?

 

After a recent conversation with a builder who suggested we eliminate the living room and dining room from a design I was working on, I reflected on the suggestion. In contemporary family life, is there still a place for living and dining rooms in family homes? New lifestyle trends have shifted traditional family schedules, and for many people today, it’s hard to find time for a formal meal in the dining room on a weeknight. Setting up the table, carrying the food there, taking time to discuss the day’s events, cleaning up, and moving to the living room for coffee and dessert while listening to music – that all seems like an evening from a long-gone era. The use of space at home has also become gradually more decentralized. Do we really need, then, to retain a separate room for an occasion that may occur only once or twice a year? Shouldn’t the new trends dictate a new priority list in how homes are used?

In his book History of Domestic Space, Peter Ward points out that the living room, which was also called a parlour, salon, sitting room, or front room, was once the place where the family met acquaintances and presented itself to the outside world. It was the home’s most public space. When North Americans made their transition from the colonist’s one-room house to a home with several rooms, the parlour was added. It could be found even in relatively small homes at the turn of the century. Unlike European homes in the Victorian era, whose parlour was clearly a formal space, on this continent, and mostly in modest residences, the living room had a touch of informality.

Sitting in the living room circa 1900

Sitting in the living room circa 1900

This was also the room in which a family would display their material accomplishments and treasured mementos. Paintings, family heirlooms, silverware, and photos were hung on walls and put in glass cases. A piano, according to Ward, was also common in middle-class homes in both Europe and North America. It was a mark of culture and a signal of wealth. Women’s musical and vocal talents were highly valued, and playing for guests was part of formal hospitality.

Another key feature in the living room was the fireplace, or hearth, which had several roles. Since it was ornate and expensive to construct, it represented wealth. It also provided warmth and served as a visual focal point, just as the television would in later years. Extended family members or visitors would gather after dinner to chat, play cards, and listen to music played on the piano.

The dining room likewise served a formal function. Its seating arrangements signified the family’s hierarchy; the two heads of table had more comfortable chairs than the ones alongside. In Victorian England and later in North America, the well-to-do could afford a cook and a butler who served meals in well-appointed rooms that boasted elaborate ceiling edges, expensive furnishings, china cabinets, and chandeliers hanging over a large table.

The transition to a less formal arrangement took place half a century ago in small post-war homes. Instead of a dining room, builders created a dining space, an area adjacent to the kitchen that was a step up from eating in the kitchen itself. Formality was reinstituted in the 1960s when the overall area of homes increased and a separate dining room started showing up in new houses destined for middle-income homebuyers. This evolution was supported by demographic trends. By the 1960s, the early baby boomers had grown up to become adolescents. Family dinners provided an important social function: creating a formal setting for family exchange, reflection on the day’s events, socialization of children and a forum for a get-together. More than a room to house the table and chairs, the dining room became a bonding place. Families would discuss, often debate (this being the sixties), important matters before Dad handed over the car keys to a teenager of driving age after dessert. In large family gatherings, guests would continue to sit long after dinner ended to talk, giggle over photos, or simply catch up with the events of each other’s lives.

The mid-1980s saw families and lifestyles transform. Households became smaller and children grew up. Some migrated to follow job opportunities. It became hard to fill up all the empty chairs around the table, and thus the dining room’s decline began. Its former glory was restored only a few times a year, its charm being revisited on holidays and special occasions.

In many homes today, the dining room has taken on new roles: kids use the large table surface to do homework; Mom or Dad sets up a computer in a corner to run a freelance business out of the home; receipts and bills litter the table at tax time. With the increase in the number and nature of tasks that a modern family has to perform, the dining room often becomes, at least temporarily, a substitute for a study.

Combined kitchen, dining and living areas

Combined kitchen, dining and living areas

The living room experienced a similar fate with the rise of informality. A regular weekday or weekend visit by extended family or acquaintances became a rarity. As the price of sound systems and televisions went down, they appeared in several rooms and no longer did the family need to gather in the living room for entertainment. Central heating eliminated the need for the warmth of fireplaces.

Internationally, with present and expected future growth in apartment living and the shrinkage of the average household size, small will dominate. The introduction of micro-units (less than 50 square metres or 500 square feet) in cities such as New York, London and Vancouver marked the disappearance of the dining room and the slashing of the living space. Some projects offer shared living and dining room, which residents need to reserve. In addition, coffee houses styled to look like a living room with sofas and fireplaces have become the meeting place of choice for younger apartment dwellers.

Christmas gathering, 254 Olivier Ave., Westmount, Quebec, 1899

Christmas gathering, 254 Olivier Ave., Westmount, Quebec, 1899

The dining room represents such a space. Whether it’s once a week or several times a year, eating there can put people into a festive mood. Wearing our Sunday best and eating comfort food off the “good” dishes in a formal setting constitute a ritual that many cherish. On special occasions and holidays, it’s the room where relatives from near and far congregate. Like the best suits we don for special occasions and jewellery we wear once or twice a year, the dining room is a special place. And even when it’s not being used, the formal setting, with the table in the middle and chairs all around, sends a clear message about the institution of family. Yet, living and dining rooms still play an important role in the lives of families. They always have been and are as much social and cultural icons as they are functional spaces. The social perception of and economic justification for a formal living or dining space is undergoing a re-evaluation. But as current lifestyle trends result in greater family seclusion, it’s important to have uniting symbols.

The living room should continue to play a similar role. After-dinner conversations in a relaxed setting, sitting on an armchair or a sofa while listening to quiet background music, is a sign of civility we seem to have lost. Both living and dining rooms can be gathering places for small or even extended families. The spaces could be transformed, perhaps, with their original purpose remaining intact: comfortable rooms that provide a transition between the world outside and within.

 


Avi Friedman is an architect, professor, author and social observer. The essay is an excerpt from his recently published book A View from the Porch: Rethinking Home and Community Design, Véhicule Press. He can be reached at avi.friedman@mcgill.ca

Published on December 13, 2016




The Canadian Debate on Spanking and Violence Against Children

Kathy Lynn

Just as families have evolved across generations, so too have our ideas about parenting, children and the social norms regarding discipline. While there is always diversity in what people feel is appropriate, there has been a significant shift across generations away from authoritarian parenting styles toward a more compassionate view that treats children as rights-bearing individuals rather than property.

Despite this societal shift, the use of corporal punishment in the form of “spanking”((The term “spanking” is used in this article to include corporal punishment and the use of “corrective” physical force against children.)) is legally protected under section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code, also known as the “spanking law.” Section 43 reads as follows:

Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances. R.S.C., 1985, c. C-4

This defence first appeared in the Criminal Code in 1892 and has changed little since.((Laura Barnett, “The ‘Spanking’ Law: Section 43 of the Criminal Code,” Parliamentary Information and Research Service (June 20, 2008), http://bit.ly/2d3ZvWi.)) Discussions about what to do with section 43 have an interesting and active history stretching back to the 1970s and earlier, but it is still on the books today.

“Spanking” in the Courts

Section 43 has been challenged a number of times over the past 30 years. In 1998, the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law started a rights-based legal action in the Ontario Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of section 43 of the Criminal Code on the basis that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The challenge was dismissed by the Ontario Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal. Despite the dismissal, the government argued that physical force should be discouraged as a normative technique of correction. The case then moved on to the Supreme Court of Canada, but, in its January 2004 decision, the Supreme Court held that section 43 did not infringe on the Charter. It did, however, set out a series of judicial limitations (which do not appear in the Criminal Code) on corporal punishment:

  • Only parents may use reasonable force solely for purposes of correction.
  • Teachers may use reasonable force only to “remove a child from a classroom or secure compliance with instructions, but not merely as corporal punishment.”
  • Corporal punishment cannot be administered to children under two or to teenagers.
  • The use of force on children of any age “incapable of learning from
    [it] because of disability or some other contextual factor” is not protected.
  • Discipline by the use of objects or blows or slaps to the head is unreasonable.
  • Degrading, inhuman or harmful conduct is not protected, including conduct that raises a reasonable prospect of harm.
  • Only minor corrective force of a transitory and trifling nature may be used.
  • The physical punishment must be “corrective, which rules out conduct stemming from the caregiver’s frustration, loss of temper or abusive personality.”
  • The gravity of the precipitating event is not relevant.
  • The question of what is “reasonable under the circumstances” requires an objective test and must be considered in context and in light of all the circumstances of the case.((“What’s the Law?” Corrine’s Quest, accessed September 27, 2016, http://bit.ly/2dwYIJ2.))

The current legal context has led to confusion and conflict due to contradictions between the definitions of assault outlined in criminal law and definitions of child abuse found in provincial and territorial law, as outlined by the Ontario Public Health Association:

“… a provincial or territorial child welfare authority may investigate a report of parental physical abuse of a child, conclude that she is at risk in her family and apprehend her. When this happens, police may lay a charge of assault. However, section 43 provides parents with a legal defence against such a charge. This has led to situations which seem to defy logic, in which the definition of “a child in need of protection” in provincial and territorial law leads to the child’s apprehension, but the protection afforded to parents under section 43 of the Criminal Code leads to their being acquitted of assault.”

There have been many legislative attempts to have section 43 repealed or amended, with 17 private member’s bills being tabled in Parliament since 1994, though none have succeeded. Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette has introduced numerous bills; however, to date, all have died at various stages of reading due to elections and prorogations of Parliament.((Coalition on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth, “Physical Punishment Update #16,” Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth (March 2016), accessed September 27, 2016, http://bit.ly/1WJKWEN.))

Pressure to repeal section 43 has also mounted from the international stage since Canada signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 2 of the Convention states that signatories “take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.”((United Nations, “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Treaty Series (November 20, 1989), http://bit.ly/1fGCcXV.))

In response to reports from Canada regarding the action it has taken to meet the requirements of the Convention, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that physical punishment of children in schools and families be prohibited and that section 43 be removed from the Criminal Code. However, no action was taken and the law remains on the books. To date, 51 countries have banned the physical punishment of children in all settings.

Most recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended repealing section 43 as the sixth of its final report’s 94 calls to action. “The Commission believes that corporal punishment is a relic of a discredited past,” it reads, “and has no place in Canadian schools or homes.”((Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “Canada’s Residential Schools: The Legacy,” The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (December 2015).)) The federal government has since committed to accepting all calls to action outlined in the TRC report.

“…corporal punishment is a relic of a discredited past, and has no place in Canadian schools or homes.”

– Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

 

 

“Spanking” research

A most compelling body of research has been developed around the question of physical punishment of children. In June 2016, Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan, published a literature review that includes a wide range of studies on corporal punishment of children. They found that the research has been consistent. Spanking is at best ineffective and at worst harmful to children.((Elizabeth Gershoff and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, “Spanking and Child Outcomes: Old Controversies and New Meta-Analyses,” Journal of Family Psychology, 30:4 (June 2016), doi:10.1037/fam0000191.))

A series of meta-analyses have demonstrated that in addition to increases in aggressive behaviour in children, spanking has been associated with increases in mental health problems into adulthood, impaired parent–child relationships, delinquent behaviour and criminal behaviour in adulthood.((Elizabeth Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review,” Psychological Bulletin, 128:4 (July 2002), doi:10.1037//0033-2909.128.4.539.)) There is also research showing that a risk that initial “corrective” spanking can progress to child abuse.((Joan Durrant et al., “Punitive Violence Against Children in Canada,” Centre of Excellence for Child Welfare (March 31, 2006), http://bit.ly/2czf1mO.))

The research shows that hitting children is ineffective – instead of teaching children the reasons their behaviour needs to change, it simply causes the child pain and engenders fear. Studies have shown that children need to internalize reasons for behaving in appropriate ways.((Elizabeth Gershoff, “Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now to Stop Hitting Our Children,” Child Development Perspectives 7:3 (July 10, 2013), doi:10.1111/cdep.12038.)) Spanking teaches them to behave in order to avoid physical punishment. When the threat of physical punishment is gone, children find no reason to behave appropriately. Spanking can lead to some children considering violence toward others as a problem-solver. A violent attitude can also work to reduce family cohesion.

The future of “spanking” in Canada

Evidence shows that children do not learn appropriate behaviour from being physically hurt. While children need to be accountable for their behaviour, modelling positive behaviours and teaching them to self-regulate, communicate their feelings and ask for help are more effective. Parents play an important role in socializing children, teaching how certain actions and behaviours are not acceptable and providing opportunities to develop the skills to function well in society.

For teaching children to grow and mature into responsible, capable and contributing adults, spanking is not the way. Violence against children should be against the law, not defined by it. We know there are more compassionate and effective ways to raise children to be capable young adults.

 

Corinne Robertshaw: A Committed Advocate

Corinne Robertshaw was a lawyer with the federal government in the 1970s. She became concerned about injuries and deaths of children caused by parents. She determined that section 43, which provides legal defence for assault against children, was a factor contributing to these injuries and deaths. She produced a study on child deaths caused by physical punishment (Discussion Paper on Child Protection In Canada, February 1981).

In 1990, she retired and dedicated the rest of her life to seeing the repeal of section 43. She created a national, multidisciplinary committee to mobilize Canadians interested in the issue and to continue to develop evidence and arguments in favour of repeal. She died in January 2013 and Corinne’s Quest: End Physical Punishment of Children was formed to continue her work and honour her legacy.

 


Kathy Lynn is a parenting speaker, author and chair of Corinne’s Quest.

This article was reviewed by Rina Arseneault, C.M., Associate Director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research (MMFC) at the University of New Brunswick.

Published on November 15, 2016




Modern Fathers Reshaping the Work–Family Relationship

Nathan Battams

Canada’s “family landscape” is constantly evolving, with social, economic, cultural and environmental forces shaping and redefining family roles and relationships. Fatherhood is no exception, and today’s increasingly diverse 8.6 million dads in Canada are now taking a much greater role in family life than in previous generations.((Caryn Pearson, “The Impact of Mental Health Problems on Family Members,” Health at a Glance (October 7, 2015), Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-624-X, http://bit.ly/1Lio1HL.)) Many are moving away from the “traditional” breadwinning father figure to embrace a more caring role and are assuming more household management responsibilities. In doing so, modern dads are renegotiating and reshaping the relationship between fatherhood and work.

Men are “breadwinning” less while more women are taking on more paid work

As the participation of mothers in the paid labour market increased over the past 50 years along with a rise in dual-earner families, the share of “breadwinning dads” has fallen significantly. According to Statistics Canada, in 1976, 36% of families in Canada with at least one child age 16 and under had two earners in the paid labour force. By 2014, this accounted for 69% of these families. Another Statistics Canada study found that, in the same period, the proportion of single-earner families with the father as the sole earner dropped from 51% to only 17%.

Some fathers in couple families are stepping out of the paid labour market altogether to become the lead or primary parent, more commonly known as “stay-at-home” dads, either on a temporary basis while taking care of young children or permanently. Approximately 1% of fathers in single-earner families reported being stay-at-home dads 40 years ago – a rate that has since risen to 11%.

Canada is not alone in this regard. Data from a 2015 report from Pew Research Center suggests a similar trend in the United States, with 7% of US dads with children in the household reporting in 2012 that they “do not work outside the home,” up from 4% in 1989. Among these fathers, the share who said they are staying home to care for family more than quadrupled in this period to 21% (up from 5% in 1989).

Family relationships benefit from dads increasing involvement at home

Alongside these trends, data from the General Social Survey on time use suggests that modern fathers are devoting more time to family. Men report spending more time with family, increasing from 360 minutes per day in 1986 to 379 minutes in 2010. The average number of days fathers of preschool children miss from work for personal or family responsibilities rose from 1.8 days throughout 1997 to 2.0 days in 2015. The gender gap in housework has also been found to have declined in recent generations, with men reporting spending more time on these tasks than 30 years ago.

While only 3% of recent fathers across Canada took time off to receive paid parental leave benefits in 2000, more than one-quarter (27%) reported their intention to do so in 2014. This rate is significantly higher in Quebec (78%), where paternity benefits are offered to new dads in addition to parental benefits under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP). Quebec is currently the only province to offer paternity benefits, although the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour recently expressed interest in setting aside time for dads by making paternity leave a part of the proposed changes to Canada’s parental benefits program.

Greater father involvement can have an impact on family life and family relationships. In a study comparing parental leave in Quebec with the rest of Canada, author Ankita Patnaik found a “large and persistent impact” on gender dynamics in the three-year period following a father’s use of paternity leave. According to her study, fathers who took leave remained more likely to do housework, while mothers were more likely to engage in paid work. Under QPIP, Quebec dads also spent an average half-hour more per day at the family home than those outside of Quebec.

With all this evolution under way across North America, it is perhaps no wonder that many people feel as though their fathers are more involved than in the past. The Pew report mentioned earlier also found that nearly half (46%) of surveyed American fathers say they personally spend more time with their children than their fathers spent with them. In Canada, a Today’s Parent poll found that three-quarters (75%) of surveyed men said that they are more involved with their children than their fathers had been with them.

Children may also be feeling the effect of greater father involvement. According to international HBSC surveys conducted by the World Health Organization in 1993–94 and 2013–14, a growing share of 11-year-old children say they “find it easy” to talk to their fathers about things that really bother them – from 56% to 66% among girls, and from 72% to 75% for boys.

Work–life balance on modern fathers’ minds

As most fathers today are still working while also taking on a greater role in the family home, work–life balance has naturally become a growing part of the discussion about modern fatherhood. Recent data from Statistics Canada shows that most fathers – nearly eight in 10 (78%) – report being satisfied with their work–life balance. Family is central to the “life” in the work–life equation: among parents who said that they were not satisfied, the main cited reason for their dissatisfaction was “not having enough time for family life.”

Through their work–life policies and practices, employers play a significant role in enhancing and supporting the work–life quality of fathers. The same Statistics Canada study found that the share of fathers who report being satisfied with their work–life balance was consistently higher among those who have a flexible schedule (81%, vs. 76% for those without), who can take advantage of a flexible work schedule without a negative impact on their career (83%, vs. 74% for those who cannot), who have the possibility of taking leave without pay to care for their children (79%, vs. 71% for those who do not), and for those who have the possibility of taking leave without pay to provide care to a spouse, partner or other family member (81%, vs. 72% for those who do not).

“The share of fathers who report being satisfied with their work–life balance is higher for those with flexible work environments and with the option to take unpaid leave to care for their children and families.”

What’s good for the family is good for the workplace

Flexibility and work–life balance satisfaction go hand in hand, which means organizations with flexible, family/father-friendly policies are more likely to attract and retain top talent who are (or plan to become) fathers. Conversely, those that do not practise flex may drive away and/or fail to attract dads – in fact, half (49%) of surveyed fathers in Canada said they would consider making a job change if a potential employer offered more family-friendly options than their current employer, according to a Harris/Decima poll.

Modern fathers aren’t caring more, they’re just providing care differently

While fathers have always cared for their families, today’s generation is becoming increasingly involved in family caring roles – a shift that brings with it benefits for family life and family relationships. While dads from previous generations provided their care through a greater emphasis on paid work and financial stability, today’s fathers are more directly involved in their children’s early years, are spending more time with family, and are seeking workplaces that support their evolving role in family life. By taking on these new roles, they are redefining what fatherhood means to families, workplaces and their communities.

 


Nathan Battams is responsible for publications and social media at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 

Suggested Reading

Supporting Dads: Paternity Leave and Benefits in Canada by Sara MacNaull

Dads Play a Greater Role at Home: Family Life Benefits by Nathan Battams

Families and Work in Canada by Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams

Modern Fatherhood: Paternal Involvement and Family Relationships by Ian DeGeer, Humberto Carolo and Todd Minerson

 




Building Inclusive Communities for Canada’s Military and Veteran Families

Col (ret’d) Russell Mann

A few decades ago, military families in Canada lived apart from the rest of society. They went to military schools. They practised their faith behind the barbed wire fences of military installations. In many ways, they were a mystery to most Canadians.

But all of that has changed. Whereas 20 years ago, 80% of military families lived on a base, today 85% live off base. Military and Veteran children now attend schools, practise their faith and go shopping alongside civilian families in Canada. They seek health care from the same doctors, family health teams, clinics and hospitals.

For most Canadians, the transition among military and Veteran families from bases to civilian communities has gone largely unnoticed. Now living in civilian communities, these families are neither in the enclave they once knew, nor fully included in the rest of society. Professionals who study, serve and/or support them sometimes fail to understand the impact that mobility, separation and risk have on military and Veteran families.

The transition from military bases to civilian communities is a significant shift for military and Veteran families. It means that the people now serving and supporting them need to be versed in military literacy; it also requires a thorough understanding of their unique lifestyle, perspectives and needs in order to provide these families with effective and equitable programs and services.

Communities rallying to support military and Veteran families

In 2015, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Vanier Institute of the Family partnered to bring government, business and community leaders together to form the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle. The Leadership Circle is unique, and its members are prominent and diverse, including organizations such as the Canadian Child Care Federation, Autism Speaks Canada, Environics Communications, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Accenture and many more.

This collaboration has a single purpose: to strengthen the community of support for Canada’s military and Veteran families through knowledge mobilization, relationship-building and the coordination of existing and emerging projects and services. By leveraging the skills, talents and expertise of key community leaders, the Leadership Circle is building awareness, capacity, competency and community regarding military and Veteran families in Canada.

“The Leadership Circle has a single purpose: to strengthen the community of support for Canada’s military and Veteran families through knowledge mobilization, relationship-building and the coordination of existing and emerging projects and services.”

The Leadership Circle’s inaugural, first-of-its-kind meeting was held in 2015 to develop a strategy for collaboration, cooperation and communication across the many organizations interested in enhancing programs and services for military and Veteran families, and to develop a shared strategic plan for implementation over the next two to five years.

Discussion at the inaugural meeting focused on sharing individual and collective plans and priorities, goals and objectives, strengths and capabilities, and tools and resources. By the end of that first meeting, participants had a clear understanding of the unique activities and approaches being taken to support military and Veteran families, how they could leverage their collective resources to maximize the outcomes of each individual effort, and how they planned to communicate their progress as the initiative progresses.

During its second annual meeting in 2016, Leadership Circle members committed to creating Military and Veteran Families in Canada: Collaborations and Partnerships – a perpetual, bilingual and free resource that profiles initiatives from diverse organizations across the country. This compendium informs organizations about partnerships and projects, inspires engagement, facilitates resource-sharing and helps coordinate activities to strengthen support for military and Veteran families.

“Organizations profiled in the compendium have incorporated military literacy into their environments, programs and services that serve military and Veteran families.”

One of the goals of the Leadership Circle and the compendium is to enhance military literacy in Canada – awareness of the experiences of military and Veteran families and the unique life stressors (such as mobility, separation and risk) that have an impact on their family life. Organizations profiled in the compendium have incorporated military literacy into their environments, programs and services that serve military and Veteran families exclusively, majorly or occasionally.

Thinking across boundaries facilitates strong networks of support

The Leadership Circle and compendium initiatives have shown us that we can accomplish more and extend our reach by working together. Thinking across organizations and institutional boundaries allows us to see the bigger picture and to mobilize community support across the country. Leadership Circle members are passionate and diverse, and we will continue to discover interconnections and interdependency among stakeholders, service providers and family members; it’s about relationships, and we look forward to helping these relationships grow.

 

Download Military and Veteran Families in Canada: Collaborations and Partnerships Compendium 1.0.

 


Colonel (ret’d) Russell Mann is a former director of Military Family Services. Though recently retired, he continues to champion military and Veteran families.


 

Suggested Reading

Supporting Canada’s Military and Veteran Families

The Current State of Military Family Research by Heidi Cramm, Deborah Norris, Linna Tam-Seto, Maya Eichler and Kimberley Smith-Evans

Work–Family Conflict Among Single Parents in the Canadian Armed Forces by Alla Skomorovsky, Ph.D.




What’s in a Name? Defining Family in a Diverse Society

Alan Mirabelli

For more than 50 years, the Vanier Institute of the Family has served as a national resource dedicated to exploring and understanding Canada’s diverse families. During this time, the Institute has sought to enhance and mobilize knowledge through research that documents the richness and complexity of families, family life, and family experiences, expectations and aspirations. A central component of this research has been the functional definition of family used by the Institute since the late 1980s.

The Institute defines a family as any combination of two or more persons who are bound together over time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement, and who together assume responsibilities for variant combinations of some of the following: physical maintenance and care of group members; addition of new members through procreation, adoption or placement; socialization of children; social control of members; production, consumption, distribution of goods and services; and affective nurturance (i.e. love).

The Institute needed a definition that allowed people to have a discussion rather than an argument over what constituted a “family.” Inclusiveness was the key to achieving this; the definition needed to apply to everyone’s experience of family, regardless of their history, nationality, socio-economic status, ethno-racial background, sexual orientation or family type. But the definitions being used by organizations and individuals at the time tended to reflect the personal family of whoever was providing the definition. They were projecting their own experience of family into a public policy sphere or into a sociological or community discussion.

The Institute needed a definition that allowed people to have a discussion rather than an argument over what constituted a “family.” Inclusiveness was the key to achieving this.

This is understandable, as people’s perceptions of social institutions are shaped by their own upbringing and surroundings. But since families aren’t homogeneous (even in the Institute’s early years, when there was less diversity in the structure and composition of families than today), this approach to defining families left many out of the discourse, such as sole-support families, blended families and families with LGBTTQ parents. Rather than focusing on what families look like, the Institute instead decided to create a definition based on what families do, regardless of the particular structure of the family or who performs roles within.

The deliberate broadness of the Institute’s definition of family sparked some controversy at first. After some of the Institute’s early documents were released, one of the first questions asked by members of the media was whether it included families with LGBTTQ parents – and the answer was, without hesitation, yes. Yes, because the definition is about people who engage in the task of raising the next generation, regardless of who they are. This initial controversy may have been inevitable, but it was necessary if the Institute was going to take an inclusive approach.

The Institute’s definition is not about the status of the adults looking after the child. It’s a family if there is a set of relationships over time with individuals looking after the needs of another. It’s not about a marriage per se, but rather the commitment made – it could be common-law, sole-support or any number of family structures. The definition doesn’t require children, but it does require at least one relationship between an adult and another person – a relationship over time, which signifies that a commitment has been made. How it’s made and what specific form it takes is independent of the definition.

Rather than focusing on what families look like, the Institute instead decided to create a definition based on what families do.

It was in the years leading up to the 1994 International Year of the Family, as governments were searching for definitions of family for use in public policies that involved or affected families, that the value of the functional definition became clear. Up until this point, people were still trying to justify either a nuclear family or one that reflected their own familial experience, rather than trying to find a general approach that captures a better picture of all families. The Institute’s definition then started showing up in textbooks in the mid-1990s and has since become one of the most commonly cited definitions used in family research nationally.

The definition leads to interesting discussion when one realizes that all families (even if they happen to look alike) do the same things, we may just do them differently. One hundred years ago, people fed their families first by growing the food, then canning or preserving it, then cooking it and then finally serving it to other family members. In later generations, people fed their families by going to the store, buying the food, cooking it and then putting it on the table in front of family members. Now, we may also go to restaurants to buy prepared food and then eat it with our families. Today’s grocery stores, which are selling as much prepared food as raw ingredients, are the next iteration of how we’re feeding our families in a modern context. This shows that families can fulfill the same basic function of providing nourishment while doing so in different ways. It’s all just another way of saying that families are dynamic, constantly performing the same functions but adapting how they do so in response to ever-changing social, economic and cultural contexts.

This definition was also meant to show that the relationship between families and society is a two-way street. Families are shaped by and react to social, economic and cultural factors, but they have an impact on these same forces as well. They create changes at the micro level by making decisions about family aspirations, labour market participation (or the lack thereof) and the consumption of goods and services. Collectively, these changes over time create change at the macro level, as institutions and organizations react to patterns of behaviour among families. Families are not simply the recipient of policies, whether it’s government policies or employment policies – they engage, resist and/or modify them based on their immediate and personal needs. So there’s a constant negotiation and renegotiation between family and culture. They are agents of change, but at the same time they are compliant to the norms of culture to some extent.

“The Vanier Institute must be thoroughly in touch with family life of all kinds, not the ideal of the family but the reality of the family as people live it.”
– Beryl Plumptre (former Vanier Institute president), 1972

The Institute’s definition demonstrates that, throughout time, there is consistency in terms of what families do to the benefit of their members and to the benefit of society, which has an expectation that families are preparing young people for the economy and the society that they are going to encounter. Society benefits through the future contributions of children, who grow to become the next generation of employees, taxpayers and community members.

Due to its recognition that families are diverse, complex and dynamic, the Institute’s definition facilitates discussion about families and family life without pitting the interests of one family against another. This was a problem we regularly experienced before this definition was created – there were judgments being made about one type of family versus another due to their structure or composition, which was hurtful to the families being talked about and hurtful to our culture. As Dr. Elise Boulding once said, there isn’t enough love in the world for us to reject loving relationships, whatever their form. So, by looking at what families do, it’s easier to take an appreciative stance rather than a critical one, and it’s a reminder to the culture that when families and parents begin, the culture continues.

In a sense, all of those points in the definition don’t just describe family but also the community that surrounds the family. They have a role in every one of those functions because they pick up where the family leaves off. It’s a very inclusive definition for a reason – it’s a way of saying we all have a responsibility and it’s shared. We are creating not just individuals but also a culture through an agglomeration of families who are performing these tasks on behalf of the society.

 


Alan Mirabelli is former Executive Director of Administration at the Vanier Institute of the Family and is currently a member of the Institute’s Alumni Network.

 

See also:

Infographic: Family Diversity in Canada 2016

 

 




Language, Labels and “Lone Parents”

Victoria Bailey

Lone parent, single parent, one-parent family, independent parent, non-married parent, alone parent, autonomous parent: the words or terms used to identify, or self-identify, adults who parent independently are diverse and subjective, and they have evolved over the years. While our choice of labels may seem trivial, language is powerful and loaded – it shapes how we see the world and the people in it. These familial terms, and the respective ideas they aim to convey, are at best blurry. What can seem like a valid category to one person may be considered a stereotype by another, and these labels can carry stigma with them that has an impact on family well-being and identity – particularly for single mothers,1 who account for 8 in 10 single parents in Canada.

Many labels are used to categorize “lone parents”

Statistics Canada uses the term lone parent to identify “Mothers or fathers, with no married spouse or common-law partner present, living in a dwelling with one or more children.” They are not alone in this choice of terminology: the UK’s Office for National Statistics also utilizes the term lone parent/lone parent family, as does the UK government’s statistics website. The Australia Bureau of Statistics, meanwhile, uses the term one-parent family and Statistics New Zealand lists the term sole parent in its definitions of census family classifications but tends to defer to the same terminology as Australia in census information-related texts.

The United States Census Bureau uses a number of different terms in their definitions and reports; phrases including female householder, no husband present, single parent and lone parent are used to describe different family and/or household structures. In Engendering Motherhood, sociologist Martha McMahon frequently uses the term “unwed mother”; however, this text is now 20 years old and, once a commonly used term, “unwed mother” is now infrequently applied in either dialogue or in media content. To many people, the phrase may now seem dated, archaic and even tied to (and measured more by) religious doctrine.

In a sense, none of the terms commonly used to identify single mothers are satisfactory in their ability to capture family experiences, because they use deficit language. Lone mothers and sole mothers could suggest to some that these parents are “on their own,” without supports, while many of these parents may have rich networks of support that include family, friends, community organizations and even former partners. One-parent families suggests a similar isolation, whereas the child(ren) in these families may have two parents, even if the parents have ended their relationship. Whereas single parent/s, as with “unwed mother,” suggests a deviation from a married-parent norm, it is rare for a determining label of “married parent/s” to be used in conversation or in text unless focusing specifically on the topics of parenting and marriage.

Overall, the use of a variety of terms does seem like a more sensitive, considerate and inclusive approach that is more appreciative of complex family forms and provides options for identifying families. Whether intended or not, what the differing US Census Bureau terms and more modern, emerging phrases such as autonomous parent and independent parent do signify is that terminology related to being a single parent seems to be evolving and progressing in a way that attributes power to the parent’s choice of familial circumstance.

Terms have changed over time, as have family experiences and realities

The use of single-parent synonyms and their attributed meanings have developed over time, reflecting ever-changing family realities. According to Statistics Canada, the proportion of lone parents in our nation is not drastically different from what it was 100 years ago, and it was nearly as high in 1931 (11.9%) as it was in 1981 (12.7%). But what does differ, is the reason behind those numbers, that is, a modern-day choice of relationship status versus a latter-day result of circumstance, often related to mortality rates. As highlighted in the Statistics Canada report Enduring Diversity: Living Arrangements of Children in Canada over 100 Years of the Census:

… diverse family living arrangements were in many cases a result of the death of one or more family members. Death within the family – of siblings, of mothers during or following complications from childbirth, of fathers serving in war, for example – was a much more common experience for young children in the early 20th century than today. In 1921, about 1 in 11 (8.9%) children aged 15 and under had experienced the death of at least one parent, while 4.1% had experienced the death of both parents.

The researchers go on to point out, “In comparison, in 2011, less than 1% of children aged 0 to 14 lived in a lone-parent family in which the parent was widowed.”

Throughout Canada’s history, there have been diverse paths to parenting independently, such as through adoption, sperm/egg donation, surrogacy, in vitro fertilization (IVF) or through separation, divorce from, or death of, a partner – or there never having been a partner in terms of a relationship to begin with. To avoid reinforcing stereotypes, it is important in any discussion about single parents to acknowledge this diversity and avoid generalization or homogenization.

Family labels can have an impact on identities

The language and terms we use to identify family forms matter, as they can carry negative connotations and meaning. An example of this can be found in the 2011 Census definition of family, in which Statistics Canada included stepfamilies for the first time:

A couple family with children may be further classified as either an intact family in which all children are the biological and/or adopted children of both married spouses or of both common-law partners or a stepfamily with at least one biological or adopted child of only one married spouse or common-law partner and whose birth or adoption preceded the current relationship.

While counting stepfamilies is a positive step toward capturing diverse family forms, the decision to contrast this with the label “intact family” could suggest, to some, that families deviating from this status are not intact, that is, not whole or complete due to lack of a partner living under the same roof as a parent and their child.

Labels such as single mother or single parent may also not be terms some people feel comfortable with. For example, in an online article entitled “Single Mother Was Not a Title I Wanted to Own. A Year Later It Still Isn’t,” blogger Mavis King writes how both she, and other mothers, do not want to be labelled as “single mothers”:

The problem with being a “single mum”… is the negative connotations it can conjure. At their worst single mums are associated with welfare, dole-bludging, unkempt and unruly kids. The single mother is just keeping it together, just scraping by. She’s not a heroine, no she’s responsible for her plight. She should have known better, should have never married him, shouldn’t have had children. And what about the kids? She’s selfish, the kids won’t do well at school, they’re worse off than their friends.

However, some parents proudly take ownership of wording that communicates their self-sufficiency. On the Wealthy Single Mommy blog, for example, Emma Johnson writes, “I feel totally fine calling myself a single mom: I float my family financially and am the primary caretaker of my kids.”

Stigma related to “lone motherhood” can affect family well-being

Negative stereotypes about single mothers such as those described by King, that is, assumptions that single mothers are struggling and irresponsible, or that their children are worse off than others, are often fuelled and reinforced in the media. A recent post-graduate study I completed focused on the representation of single mothers in Canadian news media found that coverage typically followed three main trends: a negatively biased dichotomy of representation, homogenization of single mothers and application of the term “single mother” being connected to gender-related identification of familial status rather than relevance to article information.

These depictions bolster stereotypes that can have measurable consequences. For example, in a 2011 study into rental discrimination, single mothers were found to be more than 14% less likely to be granted a positive reply to rental inquiries than a (heterosexual) couple. Similarly, women who participated in a qualitative focus group for my dissertation research reported that the stigma of being labelled a single mother had acted as a barrier that prevented them from leaving negative situations, including statements such as, “I was more scared of being a single mom than of staying in an abusive relationship.”

Family labels gloss over diverse experiences

While many texts claim that being raised in a home by single parents may predispose children to negative outcomes, some research challenges the causal relationship between growing up in a single-parent family and detrimental outcomes. As researchers Don Kerr and Roderic Beaujot point out, “Studies that do not take into account the pre-existing difficulties of children and their families have a tendency to overstate the effect of growing up in a single-parent family.” There are many circumstances in which mothers have created healthier environments for themselves and their children precisely because they ended a negative relationship to become single mothers.

Often, it seems that resources, such as money, time and community supports (i.e. extended family, friends and other community members) have a more significant impact on child and parent experience and/or outcome than a parent’s relationship status. As Jon Bernardes states in Family Studies: An Introduction, “Whilst Queen Victoria was a single parent for many years, she is not thought of as a ‘problem parent.’”

However, what is perhaps most important to note is that children tend not to care about how the census categorizes their parents, nor do they tend to repeatedly quantify any kind of relationship status distinction when speaking about their parents. While they may initially share their familial status with friends – for example, “It’s just me and my dad” or “My dad doesn’t live with us” – there’s most likely an informal, colloquial tone to this statement. It’s highly unlikely that, once this personal information is shared, any future descriptions of an event or issue linked to their parent/s includes determining terminology such as “my single father” or “my lone parent mother.” They most likely simply say “my mom” or “my dad” or “my whomever” with a sense of confident, unconditional, personal belonging and attachment marking the initial, and perhaps most crucial, signifier in that type of statement: “my.”

 

1 This article frequently uses the terms “single mothers” and “single parents” for consistency, but as it discusses, there are many recognized and preferred terms in use.


Victoria Bailey is a freelance writer and a student of women’s studies. She lives and works in Calgary, Alberta.

 

Suggested Reading

Lone Mothers and Their Families in Canada: Diverse, Resilient and Strong

 




Supporting Dads: Paternity Leave and Benefits in Canada

Sara MacNaull

When a new baby joins the family, family members often shift their focus from their multiple responsibilities to care for their children. Those first few days, weeks and months are a special time for the new parents and a critical formative period for the baby. However, taking a leave from work, activities, school and volunteer commitments requires flexibility and creative planning between family members and their employers.

Dads embracing paternity leave – where it’s offered

During the 2015 federal election, the newly elected federal government committed to extending parental benefits from 12 to 18 months. More recently, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour stated that she is particularly interested in setting aside time for dads, by making paternity leave a part of the changes to parental leave through the Employment Insurance (EI) program. At present time, paternity benefits are only available to dads residing in Quebec.

In Quebec, paternity benefits were first introduced in 2006 through the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP), which has encouraged fathers to take a leave from work to focus on caring for a newborn child. Under QPIP, which offers more parental and paternity benefits and a greater degree of flexibility, a growing share of fathers have taken leave, and the program currently has an overall participation rate of 86.6% for eligible fathers.

According to Statistics Canada, 27.1% of recent fathers claimed or intended to take parental leave in 2014. However, this number is greatly skewed by the differences between fathers in Quebec and those in the rest of Canada. For fathers in Quebec, 78.3% claimed or intended to claim parental leave (up from 27.8% in 2005 before QPIP was implemented), compared with 9.4% outside of Quebec.

Since fathers in Quebec have embraced parental and paternity leave, many families and policy makers in other provinces have been discussing the possibility of extending paternity benefits to dads across Canada. The exact details of the government’s commitments are in the planning stage, and families are wondering whether the new plans will take a similar form to those in Quebec.

In Quebec, eligible fathers have access to 3 weeks of benefits at 75% of average weekly insurable earnings or 5 weeks at 70% of average insurable weekly earnings, up to a yearly maximum of $71,500. Average weekly insurable earnings consist of an employee’s basic, regular pay before taxes, not including any bonuses, commissions or tips.

Research shows parental leave can have a significant impact on father involvement

In a recent study comparing parental leave in Quebec with the rest of Canada, author Ankita Patnaik found that when given the option, most men embrace paternity leave. She found that before QPIP, Quebec fathers took an average 2 weeks of leave. After the parental leave policy was reformed, the average Quebec father took the full five weeks available under the paternity leave program. Patnaik’s study also found that in Quebec, there was a “large and persistent impact” on gender dynamics in the 3-year period following parental leave. Fathers remained more likely to do housework, while mothers were more likely to engage in paid work.

In the rest of Canada, maternity and parental benefits are calculated at 55% of a parent’s average insurable earnings, up to a maximum of $50,800 as of January 1, 2016. Eligible fathers may access a portion of the parental benefits by sharing with their partner (either consecutively or concurrently), as benefits are not dad-specific. Parental leave consists of 35 weeks of benefits, which is available to eligible parents. The benefits can be taken by one parent exclusively or shared among both parents, in whatever combination makes sense for their family (e.g. 25 consecutive weeks for one parent and 10 consecutive weeks for the other).

Many employers also stepping up to support dads

From the employer’s point of view, the introduction of paternity benefits will likely mean that a growing share of new dads will take a leave following the birth or adoption of a child, and may be on leave for a longer period of time. Fathers may also chose to use accumulated vacation, take advantage of their organization’s paternity leave program or share parental benefits with their partners.

If paternity benefits are introduced, it may affect human resources policies with regards to leave and benefits. Some employers offer additional support to new parents in the form of top-up benefits – a predetermined percentage of the employee’s salary as a supplement to the 55% received by EI. Employers may offer employment to temporary staff to replace employees on leave and revise human resources policies to explicitly include “fathers.”

One of the organizations in Canada that has introduced support to new dads is multinational professional services firm Deloitte. They currently offer two options for new fathers: 3 weeks of paid time off at 100% of their salary or a 6-week top-up of their EI benefits to 100% of their salary. The Deloitte Dads Network is also planning a round table in 2016 to create a survival guide for use following the birth or adoption of a child – a time in which support from the employer and colleagues can be valuable and contribute to the success of the transition to and from leave.

Becoming a parent and bringing home a new baby is an unforgettable and life-changing event for any family. Planning for a leave and ensuring financial security requires an understanding of government benefits, employer top-ups and workplace policies and programs. This is an exciting and anxious time for any growing family. Eligible families who access benefits and supports ensure the new baby is surrounded by a parent’s love and attention from day one.

 


Sara MacNaull is the Program Director at the Vanier Institute of the Family and is currently working toward earning the Work–Life Certified Professional designation.

 

Suggested Reading

Dads Play a Greater Role at Home: Family Life Benefits

Families and Work in Canada by Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams

Modern Fatherhood: Paternal Involvement and Family Relationships by Ian DeGeer, Humberto Carolo and Todd Minerson

 




It’s Time to Care for Our (Young) Carers

Andrea Breen, Ph.D.

When I type the words “Millennials are” into Google, four options pop up: “Millennials are lazy,” “Millennials are useless,” “Millennials are entitled” and “Millennials are narcissistic.” What doesn’t pop up is a search term to suggest the reality that we increasingly rely on our young people to provide unpaid care for adults in our families and communities. Data from Statistics Canada’s 2012 General Social Survey indicate that 1.9 million Canadians between 15 and 29 (27% of those in this age group) are “young carers”: young people who provide unpaid care for others for reasons of illness, disability, addiction or injury.

The statistics are surprising: the amount of time young people aged 15–24 spend caring for others is similar to that of their counterparts in the 45- to 54-year-old age range.1 Like middle-aged adults, most young carers provide care for just a few hours or less per week, but approximately 5% of young carers spend more than 30 hours per week caring for others. Young carers most typically look after their grandparents (40%), parents (27%) friends and neighbours (14%) and siblings or extended family members (11%). Nearly one in five (19%) of young carers report caring for three or more people.2

Canada is behind the US, UK, Australia and Sub-Saharan Africa in public awareness and policy development related to young carers.3, 4 Many Canadians aren’t familiar with the term young carers; as such, their struggles and needs remain largely invisible. At the federal level, supports that have been developed for carers, such as the caregiver credit and Compassionate Care Benefit, are intended for working adults.5 While the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal prohibits family status as grounds for discrimination, we do not yet have precedent for young carers, nor do we have explicit policies for supporting and accommodating young carers in our schools and post-secondary institutions.

Most of what is known about young carers in Canada comes from the recent work of a few researchers and a small handful of forward-thinking community organizations. There are important questions that we have only begun to ask about caregiving and its impacts on young Canadians’ psychological and social development: How might caregiving responsibilities shape or constrain identity development, relationships, educational opportunities, career development, leisure pursuits and personal and financial trajectories? How does caregiving impact on young carers’ mental health and well-being? What kinds of policies and practices need to be in place in our schools, communities, workplaces and post-secondary institutions to support young carers?

Early research suggests that caregiving can be beneficial when caregivers are supported: providing care for others can enhance social and emotional development, build a sense of competence and self-efficacy, and nurture empathy and compassion.6 I’ve seen some of the benefits reflected in my university students who are young carers. I’ve had several students who have pursued careers in gerontology because they provide care for an ailing grandparent, students who are passionate about working with children who have special needs because of their experiences caring for a sibling and students who are dedicating their professional lives to careers in mental health because they care for a parent who struggles with mental illness. In cases such as these, early experiences with caregiving can shape young carers’ identities in positive ways and orient them to a future that is focused on making meaningful contributions to others’ lives.

But caregiving also takes a toll. Young carers are especially vulnerable to social isolation, mental health challenges and lower educational attainment.7 For the estimated 47% of young carers who attend school,8 chronic lateness, absenteeism, insufficient time for assignments, anxiety and problems focusing can make balancing school and caregiving a challenge.9 One teenager I know in Nunavut recently left school to care for her dying grandmother, a situation that is much more common than most of us realize. Nationwide, an estimated 7% of young carers leave school early10 and the situation may be especially urgent in Northern Canada; in 2006 an estimated 46% of youth in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut provided some form of unpaid care to others.11 I wonder how many teachers and administrators are aware of this reality in their students’ lives?

Supporting young carers is a complex undertaking. Young carers are a diverse group, with varied experiences and needs. There are subgroups of young carers who are likely to be especially vulnerable, including those who devote significant time to caregiving, those with few social supports as well as young carers from marginalized communities who may face intersecting vulnerabilities to isolation and invisibility. We also need to be concerned about our youngest caregivers – Statistics Canada collects data on caregivers over the age of 15 only, which means that we know almost nothing about children and young adolescents who provide care for others.

Several years ago, I worked with a 12-year-old boy who had been suspended from school for severe behaviour problems. Over time, we learned that this boy and his slightly older brother were providing care for their mother, who struggled with depression and alcoholism. The boys took care of household tasks, shopping and preparing meals, and were doing their best to find help for their mother. These boys faced the same struggles as many adult carers – exhaustion, constant worry for someone they love, a sense of helplessness in the face of illness, limited time for other activities, mental health issues and deepening poverty and isolation. But they were especially vulnerable because they were children. They lived in fear that their situation would be discovered and they would be removed from their home. They were worried for themselves and also for their mother, who they thought wouldn’t be able to survive without them.

This family’s situation is an example of the shortcomings of intervention approaches and funding models that target individuals – we could “treat” the boy’s behavioural issues in isolation, but until someone provided real, meaningful help for his family, the boy’s risks for mental health challenges, poor physical health, school failure, criminality and other potentially devastating outcomes would likely only increase over time. How many youth are there like this in our communities? How many children look after their parents and guardians who are too ill, injured or disabled to take care of themselves? So far, we don’t have the answers – because we haven’t really been looking.

I had first heard the term “young carers” in a CBC Ontario Today interview with Vanier Institute CEO Nora Spinks and I was eager to know where she thinks those of us who are researchers should be focusing our attention. Her answer? One important area of focus is caregivers who are under the age of 10. She is concerned that digital technologies may be increasing possibilities for really young caregivers to be hidden from society; she points out that it can be relatively easy to conceal when families are falling apart because so many of our interactions now occur online. We can bank online and order food online – as long as they have access to a credit card, no one sees that it is a 9-year-old who is taking care of these tasks.

Demographic trends including an aging population, smaller families, more skip-generation parenting and geographical dispersion mean that the number of young carers in Canada is rising.12, 13 We need to focus attention on young carers in order to move people into awareness and action. There is a great deal of work to be done to develop research, programs and policies that can help us recognize and nurture the caregivers we depend on. Most importantly, we all need to look more closely at the children, youth and young adults in our schools and communities to recognize the hidden challenges they face and the remarkable contributions that so many of them are making.

 


Andrea Breen is an Assistant Professor of Family Relations and Human Development at the University of Guelph. Her research focuses on storytelling and implications for well-being, resilience and social change; and the use of technology to enhance well-being in children, youth and families. Dr. Breen has extensive experience developing innovative educational programs in school, mental health and detention settings and she served as Chief Scientist for the parenting app, kidü. Dr. Breen completed her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology and Education at OISE/UT. She also holds a master’s degree in Risk and Prevention from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor of Education degree from McGill University.

 


SOURCES

Action Canada Task Force (2013), Who Cares About (Young) Carers? Raising Awareness for an Invisible Population.

Battams, Nathan (2013), “Young caregivers in Canada,” Fascinating Families 59, The Vanier Institute of the Family.

Bleakney, Amanda (2014), Young Canadians Providing Care, Statistics Canada.

Charles, Grant, and Tim Stainton and Sheila Marshall (2012), Young Carers in Canada: The Hidden Costs and Benefits of Young Caregiving, The Vanier Institute of the Family.

Stamatopoulos, Vivian (2015a), “Supporting young carers: A qualitative review of young carer services in Canada,” International Journal of Adolescence and Youth. 

Ibid. (2015b), “One million and counting: the hidden army of young carers in Canada,” Journal of Youth Studies.

 


NOTES

1 Battams (2013).

2 Bleakney (2014).

3 Becker (2007).

4 Stamatopolous (2015a).

5 Ibid.

6 Charles, Stainton, and Marshall (2002).

7 Charles et al. (2012).

8 Bleakney (2014).

9 Charles et al. (2012).

10 Bleakney (2014).

11 Stamatopoulos (2015b).

12 Stamatapoulos (2015a).

13 Stamatapoulos (2015b).

 


Further Reading

Programs and Networks:

Cowichan Family Caregivers Support Society Young Carers’ Network

Hospice Toronto Young Carers Program

Powerhouse Project: Young Carers Initiative

Young Carers Project of Waterloo Region