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Stories of Grand-Families in Prince Edward Island (Families, Mobility, and Work)

Summary of a chapter on grandparents raising grandchildren in PEI

November 16, 2022

Don Avery and Gaby Novoa’s chapter “A Hidden Chapter in Life We Did Not Expect or Foresee: Sharing the Stories of Grand-Families in Prince Edward Island” focuses on Avery’s personal experiences that led him and his wife to take responsibility for caring for their grandchildren, and on his journey in becoming involved with organizations that aim to strengthen support for and raise awareness about grand-families.

This chapter is one of many contributions included in Families, Mobility, and Work,  a compilation of articles and other knowledge products based on research from the On the Move Partnership. Published in September 2022 by Memorial University Press, this book is now available in print, as an eBook, and as a free open-access volume available in full on the Memorial University website.

“Of the dozen or so families Don has connected with through his community, he estimates that the formation of nearly half of the associated grand-families were linked to their adult children’s experiences of working out of province and, in some cases, permanently moving for work in Alberta. Parental absence for employment and rotational work schedules led to grandparents stepping in to provide care and create a home environment that was stable, reliable, and consistent.” – Don Avery and Gaby Novoa

Access Families, Mobility, and Work

Chapter abstract

Over 200 children on Prince Edward Island (PEI) live in grand-families where they are being raised by one or both grandparents. Many pathways lead to the formation of grand-families. This chapter captures Don Avery’s conversation with Gaby Novoa about how his family became a grand-family, about the links between mobile work and grand-families in his life and that of others on PEI, and about how these grandparents are organizing to increase grand-family supports in PEI. As an engaged member of his community, with his own family connection to work mobility, and as founder of PEI organizations such as Central East Grandparents Initiative and Building GRAND-Families Inc., Don has observed many of the challenges and commonalities in experiences of these PEI families, family involvement with the mobile workforce, and the grand-family configurations that can result.

About the authors

Don Avery Founder of the Central Eastern Grandparents Initiative (CEGI) and Building GRAND-Families Inc., Don Avery is a dedicated advocate for raising awareness about and fostering support for grandparents and great-grandparents raising their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He has been a grandfather since 1990 and a great-grandfather since 2015. Don has over 40 years of experience in human resources and management. He has also provided foster care for approximately 35 teenagers over the span of 15 years.

Don has also been working in partnership with the Vanier Institute of the Family and Dr. Christina Murray, BA, PhD, RN, Associate Professor, Faculty of Nursing, University of Prince Edward Island, on a two-year collaborative research project examining the strengths, challenges, and opportunities facing grand-families on PEI. The collaboration seeks to increase our collective understanding of grand-families and optimize their well-being—in PEI and across Canada.

Gaby Novoa As a writer and researcher with the Vanier Institute of the Family from 2017 to 2022, Gaby Novoa fostered greater public understanding of the diversity of families and family life in Canada. She has authored and co-authored numerous articles, interviews, and research recaps related to themes that cover LGBTQ+ experiences, death and dying, family well-being, and more. Gaby holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Communication and Cultural Studies with a minor in Diversity and the Contemporary World.


Mothers’ Experiences with Fly-In, Fly-Out Work (Families, Mobility, and Work)

Summary of a chapter on the impact of “fly-in, fly-out” work on mothers

November 9, 2022

In their chapter “A Juggling Act: Mothering While FIFO,” authors Griffin Kelly, Maria Fernanda Mosquera Garcia, and Dr. Sara Dorow provide a window into the realities and resiliencies of “mothering while FIFO.”  They explore the experiences of mothering among women working under FIFO conditions in western Canada (Alberta and British Columbia). As illustrated by the four stories, these conditions create a variety of challenges for becoming and being a mother across different stages of the life course.

This chapter is one of many contributions included in Families, Mobility, and Work,  a compilation of articles and other knowledge products based on research from the On the Move Partnership. Published in September 2022 by Memorial University Press, this book is now available in print, as an eBook, and as a free open-access volume available in full on the Memorial University website.

“Managing camp and home ‘selves’ is crucial to keeping one’s sanity as a [fly-in, fly-out] worker; but the demands of motherhood bring clashes and conflicts to these selves, including trying to imagine a future self beyond ‘work’ and ‘mother.’ […] these stresses and adjustments across disparate times and spaces, and across the realities of boom-and-bust cycles, further extend gendered chains of care, quite often to FIFO mothers’ own mothers.” – Griffin Kelly, Maria Fernanda Mosquera Garcia, and Sara Dorow, PhD

Access Families, Mobility, and Work

Chapter abstract

Very little research exists on tradeswomen’s experiences of mobile work, let alone on how mobile work shapes their family lives (Nagy and Teixeira, 2020, is one recent exception). In the context of FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) work, attention to women, family, and motherhood has focused on the spouses of FIFO workers (Kaczmarek and Sibbel, 2008; Swenson and Zvonkovic, 2016) and to some degree on women employed in FIFO professional or camp jobs. Our paper combines findings from two current studies of tradeswomen, predominantly in the oil sands of Alberta, to convey experiences of “mothering while FIFO.” We offer four narrative vignettes that illustrate and humanize the challenges and exclusions faced by FIFO tradeswomen engaged in resource extraction work in western Canada at different stages of mothering: when pregnant on the job, while raising children, and during custody disputes. These stories demonstrate the need for examination of the policies and practices of FIFO-based employers that create barriers to work for mothers.

About the authors

Griffin Kelly is a graduate of the MA thesis program of the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta, where she completed a thesis on tradeswomen’s experiences of gendered harassment in the oil sands of Alberta.

Maria Fernanda Mosquera Garcia is an MA student in Sociology at the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on Latin Americans’ forced displacement and settlement experiences in Canada. She provides research assistantship for the Mobile Work and Mental Health Project, and has participated in the University of Alberta Prison Project as a research assistant.

Sara Dorow, PhD, MA, BA, is Professor and Chair in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta. Her research and teaching are in the areas of mobility, migration, family, work, and gender, using an intersectional, qualitative approach. She was Alberta Team Lead for the On the Move Partnership as part of her long-standing study of the social facets of the oil sands region. Previously she studied issues of family, race, and gender in transnational adoption.


From Toddlers to Teens – Examining Mobile Work and Its Impact on Family Evolution: Amber’s Story (Families, Mobility, and Work)

Summary of a chapter on the impacts of work-related mobility on family relationships

November 8, 2022

The chapter “From Toddlers to Teens – Examining Mobile Work and Its Impact on Family Evolution: Amber’s Story” is based on a life narrative distilled from multiple conversational interviews with a woman living in rural PEI. Her story describes the evolution of her personal  and family life during 12 years of her husband’s out-of-province rotational work and as her children grew from “tots to teens.” The chapter talks about entry into rotational work, its prolongation and challenges, and the strategies the family developed to overcome those challenges.

This chapter is one of many rich contributions included in Families, Mobility, and Work, a compilation of articles and other knowledge products based on research from the On the Move Partnership. Published in September 2022 by Memorial University Press, this book is now available in print, as an eBook, and as a free-open access volume available in full on the Memorial University website.

“Amber’s narrative provides key insights into the experiences and reflections of women as they adjust and adapt to their diverse roles as parents and partners as these are repeatedly negotiated and dependent on whether a loved one is coming or going for mobile work. These insights relate to time, place, and relationship, and show that Eddie’s participation in mobile work shaped all aspects of Amber’s life as a parent and partner, as well as the evolution of their family lives.” – Christina Murray, PhD, Hannah Skelding, and Sylvia Barton, PhD

Access Families, Mobility, and Work

Chapter abstract

Central to this chapter is a narrative representation of six conversational interviews conducted over seven weeks with one individual, Amber, as part of author Christina Murray’s doctoral research in rural Prince Edward Island. That research consisted of similar interviews with four women whose husbands had been working in other provinces over a period of several years. The contribution opens with a brief description of the research objectives and methods that informed the larger research. This is followed by “Amber’s Story,” where one of the study participants reflects on the evolution of her marriage and family over the 12 years during which her husband, Eddie, had been travelling for work from rural PEI to northern Alberta. He originally left when their children were two and four and was only gone in the winter. Shortly after that, he began working away year-round. At the time of the conversations, the children were 14 and 17 and the son had just spent his first summer working in Alberta with his dad. The story provides an understanding of how labour migration came to permeate Amber’s personal and family life. It touches on pivotal research themes such as specific roles and responsibilities, family evolution and transitions, communication and belonging, and marriage and community relations. The contribution concludes with some recommendations arising from the doctoral research for better support for women and families who have loved ones travelling long distances for employment and information on programming implemented in direct response to these recommendations.

About the authors

Christina Murray, BA, RN, PhD, is an Associate Professor with the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Prince Edward Island. Her nursing practice has been grounded in public health and community development. Since 2015, Dr. Murray has been leading a program of interdisciplinary, collaborative narrative research focusing on labour migration and its impact on the health of individuals, families, and communities. She was the principal investigator on the Tale of Two Islands study and the Families, Work and Mobility community outreach project and is currently leading a project focused on grandparents raising their grandchildren on PEI. Dr.  Murray is also the recipient of the Vanier Institute’s 2018 Mirabelli-Glossop Award.

Hannah Skelding is passionate about exploring the relationships between social, economic, and environmental systems. Hannah attended McMaster University, where she graduated with a Combined Honours in Arts & Science and Environmental Science. She went on to complete her Master’s in Global Affairs through the University of Prince Edward Island and the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. During her time at UPEI Hannah met Dr. Christina Murray and was exposed to the implications of interprovincial labour mobility. Hannah is currently at the University of Alberta in the Department of Resource Extraction and Environmental Sociology.

Sylvia Barton, PhD, is Professor and Chair of the School of Nursing at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, British Columbia. Throughout her career, she has integrated professional practice, research, teaching, and leadership. Since coming to academia, the focus of this integration has been in three areas: researching health-specific stories and life narratives of human experience, particularly with Indigenous populations; developing innovative change in priority areas of health; and implementing inter-professional clinical teaching and learning models. As a result of her aspirations and goal-oriented stance, she has sought to exhibit excellence through partnership, relevancy, and inspiration.


Grandparents Supporting Families Affected by Mobile Labour (Families, Mobility, and Work)

Summary of a chapter on labour mobility and intergenerational relationships.

October 25, 2022

In Families, Mobility, and Work – a collection recently published by Memorial University Press that explores the intersection between family lives and work-related mobility – researchers Dr. Christina Murray, BA, RN, PhD; Dr. Doug Lionais, PhD; and Maddie Gallant, BScN, RN, share insights on intergenerational family experiences of labour migration in Atlantic Canada.

Their chapter, “‘Above Everything Else I Just Want to Be a Real Grandparent’: Examining the Experiences of Grandparents Supporting Families Impacted by Mobile Labour in Atlantic Canada,” highlights qualitative research findings on the challenges and opportunities experienced by grandparents who have stepped up to support their younger generations when one or both parents travel long distances and/or are separated from family for work.

This chapter is one of many rich contributions included in Families, Mobility, and Work – a compilation of articles and other knowledge products based on research from the On the Move Partnership. Published in September 2022 by Memorial University Press, this book is now available in print, as an eBook, and as a free open-access volume available in full on Memorial University website.

“All participating grandparents identified challenges related to three overarching themes: increased roles and responsibilities; a struggle between their idealized/anticipated vision of grandparenting and life after retirement and their lived reality; and challenges related to negotiating their relationships with other extended family members.” – Christina Murray, Doug Lionais, and Maddie Gallant

Access Families, Mobility, and Work

Chapter abstract

Until recently, research on interprovincial labour migration in Canada has paid limited attention to the experiences of the family members left behind. The Tale of Two Islands project was a multi-year narrative study that examined how long-distance commuting for work between Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island (PEI) and western Canada impacted intergenerational family members, including workers and their spouses and grandparents. As part of this study, conversational interviews were carried out with individual members of ten intergenerational families in PEI and Cape Breton including with thirteen grandparents. Three focus groups including one with grandmothers (N12) and another with grandfathers (N5) were carried out in PEI. This chapter explores the challenges and opportunities experienced by grandparents impacted by long-distance, interprovincial labour migration and their reflections on how this affects their daily lives. Key themes emerging from the interviews and focus groups involving grandparents included the multiple roles and responsibilities grandparents assume as they strive to support their adult children and grandchildren impacted by labour migration; the contrast between their ideal of grandparenting and their lived reality; and the familial and financial pressures they experience. Focus groups included multiple grandparents who have ended up caring for their grandchildren full-time due to parental mental health and addiction problems often linked to mobile work. Their challenges are highlighted, along with recommended steps to help address these challenges.

About the authors

Christina Murray, BA, RN, PhD, is an Associate Professor with the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Prince Edward Island. Her nursing practice has been grounded in public health and community development. Since 2015, Dr. Murray has been leading a program of interdisciplinary, collaborative narrative research focusing on labour migration and its impact on the health of individuals, families, and communities. She was the principal investigator on the Tale of Two Islands study and the Families, Work and Mobility community outreach project and is currently leading a project focused on grandparents raising their grandchildren on PEI. Dr.  Murray is also the recipient of the Vanier Institute’s 2018 Mirabelli-Glossop Award.

Doug Lionais, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Shannon School of Business at Cape Breton University, where he teaches within the MBA in Community Economic Development (CED) program. He received his PhD in Economic Geography from Durham University (UK) after earning a BBA from Cape Breton University. Dr. Lionais’ research focuses on understanding processes of uneven development and the production of depleted communities, local and regional economic development, and forms of alternative economic practice that respond to depletion.

Maddie Gallant, BScN, RN, is a practising obstetrical registered nurse and a passionate advocate for evidenced-based practice and improving patient experiences and outcomes in all areas of health care. Maddie Gallant has played a role in the Tale of Two Islands research study as a research assistant for the duration of the study. She continues to delve into the data uncovered by the study in order to disseminate and translate important findings to other healthcare professionals in the hope of improving patient care for families experiencing labour migration.


In Brief: COVID-19 IMPACTS on Families Living with Disabilities

Vanier Institute’s In Brief Series: Mobilizing Research on Families in Canada

Diana Gerasimov

March 9, 2021


Yang, F., K. Dorrance and N. Aitken. “The Changes in Health and Well-being of Canadians with Long-term Conditions or Disabilities Since the Start of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 45-28-0001 (October 7, 2020). Link: .

Arim, R., L. Findlay and D. Kohen. “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Canadian Families of Children with Disabilities,” StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 45-28-0001 (August 27, 2020). Link: .

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected many Canadians’ physical and mental health,1 including limiting their access to services they may have otherwise reached out to for support. This can have a significant impact on those living with disabilities or long-term conditions, who are more likely to use health services on a regular basis and whose situation may be compounded by isolation and distance from familiar, informal social support.

In a recently published data from Statistics Canada, Canadians living with disabilities or long-term conditions who participated in a crowdsourced survey, from June to July 2020, reported declining health and mental health, as well as disruptions to health services. Variations in the general health of participants depend on the type of disability or long-term condition that individuals experience.

  • 48% of participants living with disabilities or chronic conditions reported that their health was “somewhat worse” or “much worse” since before the pandemic.
  • 64% of participants with cognitive conditions reported that their health had gotten “much” or “somewhat” worse compared with before the pandemic.
  • 60% of individuals with mental health conditions reported that their overall health had gotten “much” or “somewhat” worse compared with before the pandemic.
  • 48% of participants with hearing conditions reported their health to have stayed about the same.
  • 73% of participants with mental-health related conditions reported “much worse” or “somewhat worse” mental health.
  • 57% of participants with disabilities or chronic conditions self-rated their overall mental health as having declined since the beginning of the pandemic, while 36% reported that their mental health had not changed and 7% reported an improvement in their mental health (“somewhat better” or “much better”).
  • 44% participants with hearing conditions reported consistent mental health since before the pandemic.

Families of children with disabilities

Another crowdsourced survey, which explored the experiences of parents of children living with disabilities, found that they were more likely to express concern for their children regarding their child’s mental health, anxiety and emotions, academic success and the impact of social isolation.

  • 60% of parents of children with disabilities were concerned for their child’s mental health compared with 43% of parents with children without disabilities.
  • 76% of parents of children with disabilities were very concerned about regulating their child’s anxiety and emotions, compared with 57% of parents of children without disabilities.
  • 58% of parents of children with disabilities or long-term conditions were very concerned for their child’s academic success compared with 36% of parents of children without disabilities.
  • 6 in 10 parents of children with disabilities were very concerned about social isolation compared with 5 in 10 parents of children without disabilities.

Diana Gerasimov holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Communication and Cultural Studies.


  1. Learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in Family Finances and Mental Health During the COVID‑19 Pandemic and Do Adults in Couples Have Better Mental Health During the COVID‑19 Pandemic?


In Brief: COVID-19 IMPACTS on Distribution of Household Tasks

Vanier Institute’s In Brief Series: Mobilizing Research on Families in Canada

Diana Gerasimov

March 1, 2021

STUDY: Zossou, C. “Sharing household tasks: Teaming Up During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 45-28-0001 (February 15, 2021). Link:

Since the start of the pandemic, public health measures in response to COVID-19 have impacted families across Canada and how they navigate responsibilities related to work, school and everyday life. Factors that include mobility restrictions, daycare closures and cancelled extracurricular activities, coupled with a rapid transition to remote work and online learning, have shifted family routines, roles and relationships, such as how domestic tasks are divided in the household.

During the early months of the pandemic, 68% of Canadians reported being satisfied with the way their household tasks were divided with their spouse or partner. However, the proportion of satisfaction varied greatly based on the age and sex of respondents.

  • A higher proportion of individuals 55 years of age and older (74%) reported being satisfied with the division of domestic tasks compared with those younger than 55 (63%). This difference was more apparent in women: 57% of women younger than 55 reported satisfaction with the division of household tasks compared with the 72% of women aged 55 and up.
  • 16% of women were dissatisfied with task distribution during the pandemic compared with 9% of men.
  • Women were more satisfied when they shared the tasks equally (80%) or when their partner took full responsibility (82%), compared with when they had to take care of it themselves (50%), regardless of the nature of the task.
  • 86% of individuals in partnerships reported the same level of satisfaction with the division of household tasks as before the pandemic.
  • 8% of Canadians reported being more satisfied with the division of domestic chores during the pandemic than before.

Types of household tasks

  • 56% of Canadians living as a couple reported that the laundry was primarily completed by the woman, compared with 16%, who said the man mostly undertook the task.
  • 48% reported that the woman prepared the meals, while 16% said this task was mostly undertaken by the man.
  • 30% of men did the grocery shopping during the pandemic, doubling from 15% in 2017.
  • When there was at least one child younger than 6 in the household, the proportion of men doing the grocery shopping increased from 30% to 42%.

Despite women balancing work and family life more than ever, they do most of the household chores. Although women are less likely to be mainly in charge of laundry and meals during the pandemic compared with 2017, no notable changes were observed in their participation in other household chores.

Diana Gerasimov holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Communication and Cultural Studies.


COVID-19 IMPACTS: Family Life, Traditions and Rituals

February 26, 2021

While COVID-19 has affected families across Canada and disrupted many of our routines, roles and relationships, it hasn’t stopped family life. Whether we are connecting to celebrate milestones or providing support in difficult times, people are finding diverse and creative ways to keep doing what families do – often with some help from technology.

According to a recent Leger survey,1 some families have taken their family traditions, celebrations and gatherings – both joyous and sad – through video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. While the experience may not be the same as hugging and talking to our loved ones in person, these adaptations are allowing many families to continue to smile, laugh, cry and grieve together. The data show that most, but not all, find them less meaningful than in person but that, for many, it is better than nothing.

COVID-19 IMPACTS: Marriage and weddings

With public health measures restricting in-person gatherings across Canada, many couples in the early months of the pandemic who had planned to get married postponed their wedding plans, but with continuing restrictions on social gatherings, some have gone ahead, “tying the knot” virtually, connecting with their families and friends using video conferencing platforms.

The survey found that…

  • In the past year, 7% of respondents had participated in a wedding on a video conferencing platform (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams).
  • Those with children in the household (13%) were more than twice as likely as those without children at home (5%) to have participated in an online wedding.
  • The likelihood of having participated in an online wedding decreased with age:
    • 12% of those aged 18 to 34
    • 8% of those aged 35 to 54
    • 2% of those aged 55 and older
  • Among those who had participated in an online wedding, a slight majority said it was less meaningful than in person; those with children and younger respondents were more likely to report it as more meaningful:
    • Slightly over half (54%) said it was less meaningful, and 25% said it was “about the same.” However, 21% found it “more meaningful.”
    • Respondents with children in the household (32%) were more than twice as likely than those without children at home (12%) to report it as a more meaningful experience.
    • The likelihood of saying it was more meaningful dropped sharply with age:
      • 32% of those aged 18 to 34
      • 14% of those aged 35 to 54
      • 0% of those aged 55 and older

 COVID-19 IMPACTS: Grief and loss

Family grieving has also been taking place online, with many families hosting funerals on video conferencing platforms (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams). Respondents in the survey were twice as likely to report having participated in an online funeral (14%) than an online wedding (7%).

  • 1 in 7 surveyed Canadians (14%) said they have participated in a funeral on a video conferencing platform in the past year.
    • Respondents with children in the household (16%) were more likely than those without children at home (13%) to have participated in an online funeral.
    • The likelihood of having participated in an online funeral increased with age:
      • 12% of those aged 18 to 34
      • 14% of those aged 35 to 54
      • 16% of those aged 55 and older
  • When those who had attended an online funeral were asked about how meaningful their experience was compared with an in-person funeral:
    • More than one-third said it was “about the same” (25%) or “more meaningful” (9%), while the remaining two-thirds (66%) said it was “less meaningful.”
    • Respondents with children in the household (14%) were twice as likely as those without children at home (7%) to report it as a more meaningful experience.
    • The youngest age group was the most likely to report it being more meaningful:
      • 17% of those aged 18 to 34
      • 4% of those aged 35 to 54
      • 8% of those aged 55 and older

Adaptability and creativity will continue to play an important role in keeping families connected under COVID-19. While this survey showed that families clearly miss their in-person gatherings, these virtual adaptations of weddings, funerals and other family gatherings will likely persist in some format post-COVID (perhaps alongside in-person events), as they allow for family and friends at a distance to stay connected and experience important family events together.


  1. A survey was conducted by Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies on February 12 and 13, 2021 with 1,535 respondents. While no margin of error can be associated with a non-probability sample, for comparative purposes the national sample of 1,535 Canadians would have a margin of error of ±2.5%, 19 times out of 20.


Research Recap: Exploring Grand-family Experiences

Research recap by Gaby Novoa

February 9, 2021

STUDY: Ashley Martin, MD; Daniel Albrechtsons, MD; Noni MacDonald, MD, MSc, FRCPC; Nadia Aumeerally, MD, MSc, FRCPC; Tania Wong, MD, MSc, FRCPC, “Becoming Parents Again: Challenges Affecting Grandparent Primary Caregivers Raising Their Grandchildren,” Paediatrics & Child Health (May 2020). Link: .

Families are diverse, complex and evolve over time. These dynamics are exemplified in grand-families, in which grandparents are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren with little or no parental involvement. Counted in the Census as “skip-generation families” (also sometimes called “kinship families”), the term “grand-family” is being used by a growing number of support organizations for grandparents who raise grandchildren.

Grand-families have unique experiences, dynamics, strengths and realities, which researchers Ashley Martin, Daniel Albrechtsons, Noni MacDonald, Nadia Aumeerally and Tania Wong explore in a recent study, “Becoming Parents Again: Challenges Affecting Grandparent Primary Caregivers Raising Their Grandchildren.”1

Diverse pathways lead to formation of grand-families

Families adapt and transition to grand-families for many reasons, including mental illness and/or addictions; the absence, incarceration or death of a parent(s); or to provide support in the event of adolescent pregnancy. Similar to findings from other countries, research shows that grandparent primary caregivers in Canada are more likely to be female, out of the labour force and of lower socioeconomic status.

While grand-families are not a new phenomenon, data from the 2016 Census shows that they are home to a growing number of children in Canada (nearly 33,000 children under 15 lived in grand-families in 2016, up 32% since 2001).

“Becoming parents again” is a qualitative look at the lived experiences of grandparent carers based on semi-structured interviews with grandparent primary carers from 10 households in the Halifax Region. The authors note that the study participants were exclusively from urban environments and the majority were Caucasian. Therefore, grandparent caregivers from other ethnicities, cultures and contexts will be essential to further research on the topic, particularly First Nations families, who are overrepresented among grand-families.

Five major themes emerged in the interviews:

Changes in family dynamics: Grandparents consistently described significant role shifts within their family dynamics once they became primary caregivers and had taken on a parental role, while the biological parents adopted a stereotypical grandparent role of “spoiling their child during limited visits.”

The grandparents reported that these changes in family structures affected their relationships with their spouses, children and other grandchildren, expressing feelings of stress and guilt for not being able to meet everyone’s needs. Grandparents describe as “invaluable” the help they receive in cases where they have children, other than their grandchild’s parent, who can offer support and respite.

Psychosocial impact on grandchild and grandparent: Early adverse experiences for grandchildren often lead to the formation of grand-families. The grandparents interviewed said that the urgency in which children were placed under new care led to challenging behaviours for which the grandparents felt ill-prepared to manage.

The Department of Community Services (DCS) was involved in the cases of eight of the 10 grand-families interviewed, with reasons for intervention including the parents’ mental health and/or addiction issues or sudden death. These grandparents expressed complex feelings of sadness and anger toward their children for the resulting impacts on their grandchildren.

Challenges of parenting later in life: All grandparent caregivers discussed the difficulties of raising children as aging adults and the impacts that their chronic health conditions had on parenting. Many expressed feeling exhausted and felt it challenging to balance self-care while caring for grandchildren and spouses.

Many also spoke about the fear of dying before their grandchildren are old enough to be autonomous. The generational gaps between grandparent and child, rather than parent and child, was also noted, particularly in dealing with new and unknown technologies, such as setting boundaries around social media and screen time.

Resilience inspired by the love of family: Despite the challenges described, all interviewed grandparents said that caring for their grandchildren has profoundly impacted them in positive ways and that they had no regrets in assuming care. Their grandchildren’s well-being was cited as their top priority, and the unique relationships fostered out of the formation of their grand-family was described as one of the most fulfilling aspects of their lives. Ultimately, acting out of love inspired a sense of resilience among the study population.

Lack of resources: The majority of surveyed grandparent households (90%) expressed disappointment in the lack of community and financial supports and services available to them. Grandparents described it as emotionally and financially challenging to navigate the court system and DCS while establishing custody of their grandchildren. One expressed frustration over these interactions: “If you say you’re going to take this child and look after them and you’re the grandparents, it’s different than if I had stepped in as a foster parent. There’s no help for you.”

Since becoming a parent again was unplanned, many grandparents had to delay retirement plans and continue their participation in the paid labour force. Most families underlined financial difficulties, with minimal support from the child’s parent or the government, all while balancing work and caring for a young child.

Greater awareness of grand-families can facilitate evidence-based support

Intergenerational relationships are important for family well-being and can protect youth from risk, especially in the case of early adverse experiences, which are a common pathway leading to the formation of grand-families. While such family dynamics come with their challenges, studies nonetheless have reported that 90% of custodial grandparents would take responsibility for their grandchildren were they given the choice again. “Becoming parents again” highlights the challenges faced by grand-families in Maritime Canada that are indicative of similar experiences across Canada and the United States.

Greater awareness of grand-family experiences can facilitate the development of evidence-based supports and services, or the modifications of existing programs, to recognize and respond to the needs and realities of diverse family arrangements.

Gaby Novoa, Families in Canada Knowledge Hub, Vanier Institute of the Family

This research recap was reviewed by Tania Wong and Christina Murray. 


  1. Ashley Martin et al., “Becoming Parents Again: Challenges Affecting Grandparent Primary Caregivers Raising Their Grandchildren,” Paediatrics & Child Health (May 2020). Link: .

COVID-19 IMPACTS: Retirees and Family Finances in Canada

Edward Ng, PhD

September 3, 2020

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the labour market, work–life and family finances in Canada. Amid the public health measures and economic lockdown, many organizations and businesses across the country rapidly laid off employees and/or transitioned employees to teleworking. As a result, the unemployment rate increased from 8% to 14% between March and May 2020, reaching the highest figure recorded since comparable data became available in 1976.1 A survey conducted April 10–12, 2020 by Leger, the Association for Canadians Studies (ACS) and the Vanier Institute found that more than one-third of Canadians aged 18 and older were financially impacted due to COVID-19 (i.e. lost their job temporarily or permanently, or experienced pay or income losses).2

Within many families, this context of uncertainty in the labour market can have a major impact on aspirations, such as buying a home, having a child3 or pursuing post-secondary education. Retirement has also been affected, with pre-retirees and retirees alike adapting and reacting to the evolving context to support family. Retired people are in a unique situation, however, when it comes to the financial impact of COVID-19, as they are not in the labour force, and those who are seniors have access to other income supports. As their capacity to provide financial support to family is shaped by their own finances, understanding their unique realities and experiences will help shed light on this aspect of COVID-19 impacts on families in Canada.

Retirement plans shaped by family finances and available supports

While a growing share of Canadians are working past their 50s and beyond the traditional retirement age of 65, the retired population has grown overall as population aging has continued. According to Statistics Canada, the average age at retirement for all workers in Canada was 64.3 in 2019. That said, many older Canadians continue to work well into their 60s and beyond. In 2017, nearly one-third of Canadians aged 60 and older said that they worked (or wanted to work) in the previous year, half (49%) of whom did so “out of necessity.”4

Prior to COVID-19, many Canadians expressed concern about their financial preparedness for retirement. According to the 2019 Canadian Financial Capability Survey, 69% of pre-retired Canadians are preparing financially for retirement, on their own or through a workplace pension plan.5 But more than one-third of surveyed Canadians aged 55 and older reported are concerned they don’t have enough savings (37%) and/or that they will be able to cover health care costs as they age (34%).6

Retirees who are seniors have access to income support through government pension payments, available to all Canadians at age 65 who have lived in the country for at least 10 years. On top of privately arranged retirement schemes and/or personal retirement savings or investments, public income programs for seniors, such as the Old Age Security (OAS) program, the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) and the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan, provide senior retirees in Canada with fixed and relatively stable income sources that can help protect them against economic instability, such as the economic shock resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May 2020, in response to the financial stress placed on retirees and seniors, the federal government announced additional financial support for seniors as a one-time payment of $500 for individuals who receive both the OAS and the GIS to offset additional costs from COVID-19.7

Retiree investments impacted, but overall family finances less affected

A survey conducted by the Leger, ACS and the Vanier Institute in early May provided one of the first glimpses into the pandemic’s financial impact on retirees.8 It showed that only 1 in 5 retirees9 reported a decrease in income as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, compared with close to one half of pre-retirees (47%) (fig. 1).

In fact, the polling data showed that some (7%) of retirees reported difficulty in their capacity to meet financial obligations, such as paying bills, compared with close to 1 in 4 pre-retirees (24%). Similarly, 1 in 20 (5%) retirees reported difficulty in paying mortgage or rent, compared with close to 1 in 5 pre-retirees (18%).

While retirees have access to public income support, many also have access to additional income support through savings or other investments. (In 2015, 50% of seniors in Canada reported receiving income from investments.)10 The COVID-19 outbreak resulted in financial market uncertainties and turbulences that added considerable stress on investors in general, and this is the area where retirees were most adversely affected. The polling data showed that more than half (52%) of retirees reported negative impact on their retirement savings or other investments – though the impact was greater among pre-retirees (59%).

Retirees assisting other family members financially

Family can be viewed as a potential source of insurance against abrupt financial shocks. Since some retirees were less exposed to the pandemic-related economic shocks, they have been a potential source of financial support for their children or younger family members, who may have been more adversely affected. A study on the impact of severe economic recessions found that, during the 2008 financial crisis, 28% of households in the United States reported getting financial help from family and friends.11

How did COVID-19 affect retirees’ ability to assist other family members in Canada? When asked, about 1 in 5 retirees (21%) reported that the pandemic had affected their ability to assist other family members financially. Among the pre-retirees, who were more exposed to the economic shock produced by COVID-19, the rate was 45%. Retirees who received income assistance from their children or grandchildren (some of whom could be pre-retirees) may therefore have also been indirectly affected in this way.

Retirement timing is being affected for one-third of surveyed Canadians

As families continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19, data show that many workers are adapting their retirement plans. A recent US survey found that 39% of American workers are changing their retirement timing,12 primarily for financial reasons (e.g. they had to use some of their savings, some of their investments may have lost value during the pandemic, there is less certainty in general about how much money they will need in retirement).

A separate survey from Canada suggests a similar trend may be taking place in Canada, with one-third (33%) of adults who plan to retire saying that they will retire later than planned as a result of COVID-19.13 However, 8% of respondents said they would retire earlier than originally planned, possibly due to wanting to avoid continued uncertainty and turbulence in the labour market (if they are financially able to do so).

While it is too early to draw a clear picture of the diverse ways COVID-19 has impacted retirement in Canada, early data shows that retirees are less financially impacted on average, as pre-retirees seem to have been more exposed to the economic impacts. Nonetheless, surveys show that the increased uncertainty is having an impact on people’s retirement planning, and further research will be important to understanding how this is affecting family finances and well-being more generally.

Edward Ng, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada


  1. Statistics Canada, “Labour Force Survey, May 2020,” The Daily (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2020). According to the Labour Force Survey, from February to April of 2020, 5.5 million Canadian workers were affected by the COVID-19 economic shutdown, which included a drop in employment of 3 million and a COVID-19-related increase in absences from work of 2.5 million. Link: .
  2. Ana Fostik and Jennifer Kaddatz, “Family Finances and Mental Health During the COVID‑19 Pandemic” (May 26, 2020).
  3. See Ana Fostik, “Uncertainty and Postponement: Pandemic Impact on Fertility in Canada,” The Vanier Institute of the Family (June 30, 2020).
  4. Myriam Hazel, “Reasons for Working at 60 and Beyond,” Labour Statistics at a Glance, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 71-222-X (December 14, 2018). Link: .
  5. Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, Canadians and their Money: Key Findings from the 2019 Canadian Financial Capability Survey (November 2019). Link:.
  6. RBC, 2017 RBC Financial Independence in Retirement Poll (February 14, 2017). Link:.
  7. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, “Prime Minister Announces Additional Support for Canadian Seniors,” Government of Canada (May 12, 2020). Link:.
  8. The survey, conducted by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger on May 1–3, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. Using data from the 2016 Census, results were weighted according to gender, age, mother tongue, region, education level and presence of children in the household in order to ensure a representative sample of the population. No margin of error can be associated with a non-probability sample (web panel in this case). However, for comparative purposes, a probability sample of 1,512 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.52%, 19 times out of 20.
  9. Retirees are defined as those aged 45 and above who reported being retired in the polling survey, when asked about their current occupation. Pre-retirees are other respondents in the same age group who reported an occupation other than homemaker or a student. Since there is no mandatory retirement age in Canada, among those aged 45 and more, the polling data showed that some 4% of those aged 65 and above were still working, while some 29% of the retirees in the same age group were in fact younger than 65.
  10. Statistics Canada, “Income Sources and Taxes (16), Income Statistics (4) in Constant (2015) Dollars, Age (9), Sex (3) and Year (2) for the Population Aged 15 Years and Over in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2006 Census – 20% Sample Data and 2016 Census – 100% Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (September 12, 2017). Link:.
  11. National Research Council, “Assessing the Impact of Severe Economic Recession on the Elderly: Summary of a Workshop” (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011). Link:.
  12. Edward Jones Canada, The Four Pillars of the New Retirement (June 25, 2020).
  13. Ibid.


Research Recap: COVID-19 and Employment-Related Mobility in Canada

Gaby Novoa

July 16, 2020

The COVID‑19 pandemic has had a major impact on employment patterns across Canada, with economic lockdown and public health measures enacted in March 2020 affecting an increasingly mobile workforce.

Throughout the pandemic, the On the Move Partnership – a research project involving the Vanier Institute and university partners that explores the impact of employment-related geographic mobility – has published information and insights in their COVID‑19 and the Mobile Labour Force series. This Research Recap highlights some of their work on multiple aspects of the pandemic’s impact, including gender, migrant workers, truck drivers and the impact on coastal fishing communities.

Walking the Empty City: Feminist Reflections on Life Suspended under COVID‑19 

Deatra Walsh, PhD, provides a first-hand account of moving through St. John’s on standstill, amid the COVID‑19 pandemic. She underlines the notion of walking as “a particularly important form of mobility,” an ability that women do not always experience as a freely taken or comfortable action, as unbothered or undisturbed.

Walsh speaks to walking as a coping mechanism, as it offers routine that can contribute to one’s well-being, while all else may feel uncertain and uprooted. In her reflections of the visually empty neighbourhood, she also reflects on life pre-pandemic. Have communities already been social distancing from one another (before it was a mandatory public health measure), turning “inward to our devices and our lives?” she asks. However, she also acknowledges symbols of solidarity – of being alone together – through window art and pot clanging from doorsteps.

Temporary and Precarious Migration Status and the Experience of the Pandemic in Canada’s Health Care Sector: Emerging Themes

Shiva Nourpanah, PhD, and Kerri Neil explore how the pandemic uniquely affects the labour and livelihood of migrant health care workers in Canada. The pandemic has amplified vulnerabilities of senior populations and residents of long-term care homes. Nourpanah and Neil underline how a high proportion of the workers in these facilities are migrant workers and nurses here on temporary work permits. With health care workers already facing high risk of infection and mental health impacts, the precarious nature of their resident status exacerbates these stresses. The authors raise two particular challenges of this complex situation: guidelines for self-isolation reduce a health care worker’s shifts, which in turn can affect their visa requirements regarding the obligatory number of hours they must work; yet, more shifts increase their exposure and risk of contracting the virus.

Moreover, the pandemic has brought the suspension of concrete immigration plans, including sponsorships, family reunification and marriages. These uncertainties only contribute to the mental and emotional toll placed on temporary migrant workers. For these temporary residents who are providing essential work for Canada, their well-being and resident status may be inevitably and adversely affected by the pandemic. However, the article’s authors assert that some of these impacts can be reduced with proper research and policy-making.

COVID‑19 and Coastal Fishing Communities

Gale Burford, PhD, and Barb Neis, PhD, outline the ways in which remote coastline fishing communities face limited health care access, which, when coupled with the interconnectedness of work mobility, raise their own concerns and challenges within pandemic management. While such communities are remote, they are nonetheless connected to national and international markets. With fishing being categorized an essential industry, the mobility of supply chains creates risk of virus spread. This is a risk that can be difficult to avoid, as these communities are also often single industry towns and thus rely on these fishing seasons.

In this article, Burford reflects on a FaceTime call with his sister, who resides in Cordova, Alaska, a coastal fishing town. While the town depends on the income of the fishery, fears of exposure to infection with the coming of migrant labour forces and the consequential strain on health care services were prevalent. These concerns are echoed within coastal communities across the Atlantic Canada. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the fishery season was delayed, and further delays were still called for in order to develop protocols to protect the safety and well-being of workers and their families. The authors note that Employment Insurance can contribute to mitigating the difficulty of weighing health and against the need for employment and income.

The Impact of the COVID‑19 Pandemic on Canadian Truck Drivers

Among the services deemed essential in the COVID‑19 pandemic is transportation and shipping of goods. Trucking is critical in Canada, transporting 90% of food and consumer goods, including necessary medical supplies. Natasha Hanson, PhD, and Kerri Neil underline some of the challenges that truck drivers now face on the road, during the pandemic context, including limited availability of convenient food sources and access to bathroom facilities.

The trucking industry was already facing a labour shortage pre-pandemic. Now, the difficulty of maintaining well-being on the road and the risk to safety amid continued travel has prompted even more drivers to retire or quit. With the reliance on trucking for transportation of necessary goods, but the challenges that the work entails, it has yet to be seen how the pandemic will impact the industry in the long-term.

Visit the On the Move Partnership website for more research and resources.

Gaby Novoa is responsible for Communications at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Research Recap: Mobile Workers in Alberta During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Gaby Novoa

May 28, 2020

With the designation of the oil sands industry in Alberta as an “essential” service on April 2, 2020, many workers in the industry’s fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workforce have since been continuing to travel and to remain on worksites for long periods in often crowded environments – all in a pandemic environment. While these conditions predated the coronavirus outbreak and have been explored in previous research from On the Move, they have new implications that will have an impact on workers, their families, their home communities and employers.

In “COVID-19 and (Im)Mobile Workers in Alberta’s ‘Essential’ Oil Industry,”1 On the Move Partnership co-investigator Sara Dorow, PhD, highlights some of the experiences of these workers, and shares research on the health and social impacts of their working context as the pandemic continues.

Impact of continued travel during pandemic affects public health and family relationships

Continued travel between oil sands worksites in Alberta and workers’ home communities across Canada increases risk of transmission. As of May 2020, more than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been traced to one oil sands site, with one-quarter of these cases among people who reside outside of Alberta. However, Dorow explains that virus spread is but one of the current challenges associated with mobile work. FIFO-based industries can strain workers’ relationships with their families, friends and communities. Research has shown that this pressure can have an impact on people’s relationships, as well as many aspects of their physical and mental health.

As travel is restricted or otherwise curtailed as part of public health measures to prevent viral spread, many workers are facing longer rotations and thus longer stays on work camps, away from their families for up to months at a time. Families are adapting in creative ways to stay connected and manage their responsibilities, but it can be difficult.2

The pandemic exacerbates pre-existing difficulties of work camp environments

Dorow emphasizes that pandemic only exacerbates the difficulties of a work camp environment, which FIFO workers have described in interviews “like being in prison” or that it leaves them “feeling like cattle.” Depending on the season and price of oil, camps can be quite packed. Even when they are not as full, camp dwellers live in close quarters, sharing common spaces such as dining halls, gyms and sometimes washrooms, and commute daily in shuttle buses.

This lack of space matters, as research has shown that crowded housing can negatively impact physical health and psyche. Dorow also underlines that essential service on such worksite camps are provided by frontline hospitality, cleaning and care workers – mobile workers who are also part of the rotation to and from camps, and who also experience long periods of immobility while on-site.

FIFO-based industries like the oil sands can make it difficult to socially distance. Moreover, beyond the current pandemic context, such work environments also pose systemic health risks. The strain that mobile work and long worksite durations place on workers’ relationships is also to be acknowledged and further researched. Dorow raises some potential factors that can mitigate these challenges, such as access to healthy food, work buddy programs and work rotations that allow people to return home for longer than only a few days a time. Restructuring and reimagining these sites and systems can help to ensure the safety and well-being of workers, their families and home communities.

Gaby Novoa is responsible for Communications at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Access the article “COVID-19 and (Im)Mobile Workers in Alberta’s ‘Essential’ Oil Industry” by Sara Dorow, PhD



  1. Research recap article by Sara Dorow, PhD, “COVID-19 and (Im)Mobile Workers in Alberta’s ‘Essential’ Oil Industry,” On the Move (May 20, 2020).
  2. Sara Dorow and Shingirai Mandizadza, “Circuits of Care: Mobility, Work and Managing Family Relationships,” The Vanier Institute of the Family (January 10, 2017).

Research Recap: Caregiving in Military and Veteran Families

Alla Skomorovsky, Jennifer Lee and Lisa Williams

While research has shown that Canadian Veterans who transition to civilian life due to illness and/or injury often experience difficulties adjusting to their new context, a growing body of academic literature has found that the “strength behind the uniform” – the military and Veteran families providing care to these people – can also be affected by the well-being and transition experiences of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member.1, 2

Depending on the severity of the illness and/or injury sustained, military members may require assistance with daily life activities (e.g., grounds maintenance, meal preparation, cleaning services) and family members are often the first to provide, arrange and/or pay for this care, which can range in intensity, duration and frequency. As the ill/injured military or Veteran family member adjusts and adapts to the limitations of the illness and/or injury itself, and to their new civilian lifestyle, they can experience strain and tension in their family relationships.

In military families, spouses of military members are often the primary caregivers, and providing this care can have a negative impact on their own health, well-being and careers. Moreover, research shows that caring for military personnel with psychological illnesses can be particularly taxing for caregivers and increase the risk or extent of their own psychological distress due to the military member’s increased reliance on them for cognitive and/or emotional tasks and support.

Limited research has examined the unique experiences, perceptions and impacts of transition to civilian life on the families of CAF personnel or Veterans, particularly those who have been medically released due to illness and/or injuries. However, a past pilot study conducted in 2014–2015 among CAF families transitioning to civilian life suggested that the cumulative effects of illness or injury of a military member combined with their transition to civilian life can have a significant impact on various domains of family functioning.3

Following the lines of the literature reviewed above, Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA) conducted a study in 2017–2018 in order to explore and enhance our understanding of the experiences of families of ill and/or injured CAF members or Veterans at various stages of the medical release process regarding their transition from military to civilian life through a series of semi-structured interviews.4

Illness and injury affects family well-being and relationships

Consistent with the literature, interviews indicated that the CAF members/Veterans’ health directly impacts their family members’ well-being, particularly when family members play a caregiving role for the member/Veteran.

[As reported by the parents of a member/Veteran]: Because we struggled really, back then it was a real struggle. When he first came home from the very first tour was a huge struggle. I mean, he’s lost two relationships. He’s had two family breakdowns because of his PTSD.

The members/Veterans could also see the impact on their family members, including the children.

My daughter, [who] is 21, has been probably impacted the most by me, like from what she’s seen me go through. And it’s been really hard on her… because of my anxiety and my depression and everything, she now has anxiety and depression.

Most spouses related the strain on their familial, social and personal well-being primarily to the members/Veterans’ illness/injury, rather than the transition itself.

I think it’s all relative to the whole process… you have a member that’s dealing with their own mental health issues, but not seeking active treatment for himself, and they think that… you know, like, their depression, or their anxiety, their PTSD. And the other partner picks up the slack in the household. It’s difficult to carry that all the time.

Family members reported experiencing strain in their relationship with the CAF member/Veteran. In particular, many family members, who were also spouses, reported a lack of satisfaction and intimacy in their relationship with the CAF member/Veteran, as well as experiencing an emotional disconnect and/or resentment.

He’s got absolutely no interest in sex, that’s a huge impact in our relationship. Yeah, so… as a couple, that’s a difficult one to work through… to lose that intimacy with your partner.

So kind of emotionally distant, on an intimate level, absolutely more distant. It’s kind of like on the outside looking in.

I’m doing more than my share. And actually, if I go back and think about that, there is sometimes that…. Then at times, because I would like him to be more engaged in his care than I am. So yeah, there’s a bit of resentment there if I’m totally honest with myself. 

Caregiving intersects and interacts with other family responsibilities

Family members providing care to the ill or injured military members/Veterans – predominantly spouses – indicated that caregiver burden was a major contributing factor toward their reduced physical health and/or psychological well-being. Examples include the additional cognitive and physical demands placed on the caregivers, such as ongoing monitoring of the CAF member/Veteran, physically assisting CAF members/Veterans to complete their daily activities and taking over previously shared tasks (e.g., gardening, cooking, cleaning).

He is not able to physically do what he has done in the past before he was hurt, and so I took on the task of, well, everything – physical mainly – around the house. And I ended up hurting my back because of it. Somebody needs to do it, and uh… so I ended up hurting my back and now I can’t even work because of this.

Some spousal caregivers also noted that they felt emotionally and mentally drained due to the increased responsibilities and the lack of time they had for self-care. Other consequences they experienced as a result of caregiving include negative health outcomes and work repercussions.

I think it’s really isolating for a caregiver. Like, I wanted to be there for my husband and my spouse. I want to take care of him, do whatever he needs, but then… not that it’s anybody else’s fault, but where’s my break?

I feel like I’m not supported, so I just deal with that on my own, you know. I feel like I bear the brunt of the… of the housework… I feel like I have to get things done on my own. So I feel like I’m sacrificing my own health.

In comparison with spouses providing care, parents providing care typically reported that the members/Veterans’ illnesses and/or injuries did not affect their own personal lives or health. However, this might have been due to the lesser proximity and frequency with which they provided assistance.

Communication between partners can mitigate the impact of caregiving

Despite the reported negative impacts that caregiving, the transition experience and the illness/injury had on their spousal relationship, many spousal caregivers also reported growth in their relationship. According to study participants, the quality and clarity of communication in their relationship was an important factor that appeared to influence the severity of negative impacts. As a result of their shared transition experience and communication, many spousal caregivers reported feeling closer to the CAF member/Veteran as well as becoming a better team. Thus, it is possible that having effective communication bolsters spouses’ tolerance for the additional caregiving responsibilities and burden.

We’ve grown more into a team than a… than a couple almost. Like, what do we have to get done? Okay, how are we going to do it? So yeah, our lives focus mostly on that.

Communication is the key there, especially in a relationship.

Lessons learned and the way forward

This study helped to shed light on the experiences of CAF families during military to civilian transition. Results demonstrate that the transition experience does not solely affect the member/Veteran – it affects their family members and caregivers as well. The majority of family members and, especially, caregivers reported feelings of distress and unease during the transition process, but most reports of the decline in physical, psychological and social well-being were attributed to consequences of the illness and/or injury.

Some important methodological limitations of the present study should be considered when interpreting the results. First of all, the study was designed with an assumption that all ill and injured CAF members/Veterans who participated in the study would have caregiving needs and access to a caregiver (e.g., spouse, sibling, parent) because they had been medically released, and this influenced the development of questions used during the interview process. However, it became clear throughout the interviews that some releasing CAF members/Veterans did not have a caregiver, nor did they necessarily perceive themselves as requiring care, despite suffering from various limitations as a result of their illness and/or injury. Second, although a sizable number of CAF members/Veterans participated in the study, they were in varying stages of transition. Due to the length of the interview, it was not possible to include detailed questions regarding each stage of the transition process. Finally, given the qualitative methodology used in the study, the results are not representative of the population as a whole.

To address these limitations and build on this research, DGMPRA has developed a comprehensive research program related to military families, collaborating extensively with other government agencies – Veterans Affairs Canada and Statistics Canada. This body of research seeks to enhance the lives of military personnel, Veterans and their families across the country.

Through its exploration of the challenges experienced by families of ill and injured CAF members/Veterans, this study provides directions for enhancing the transition experience of military families and maintaining their overall well-being. With the trend for medical releases on the rise since 2013,5 this is an issue of growing importance for Veterans, their families and Canadian society as a whole. It is important to continue developing the expert knowledge necessary to support these families and to find ways to ensure their individual and family well-being.

Alla Skomorovsky, PhD, is a research psychologist at Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA), where she is a member of the Social Policy and Family Support Programs team. She conducts quantitative and qualitative research in the areas of resilience, stress, coping, personality and well-being of military families.

Jennifer Lee, PhD, is Chair of The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP) Human Resources and Performance Group (HUM) Technical Panel 21 on Resilience and Acting Director of Research on Personnel and Family Support at DGMPRA, where she has been overseeing her team’s work on a range of topics, including sexual misconduct; diversity and inclusion; military, Veteran and family health; and, more recently, the implications of the legalization of cannabis on Canadian Armed Forces personnel.

Lisa Williams, MA, is a researcher at DGMPRA, where she is a member of the Social Policy and Family Support Programs team. She conducts quantitative and qualitative research in the areas of military, Veteran and family well-being.


  1. Jim Thompson, MD, et al., “Survey on Transition to Civilian Life: Report on Regular Force Veterans,” Veterans Affairs Canada (2011). Link: .
  2. Learn more in A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada (November 2018 update). Link: .
  3. Alla Skomorovsky et al., Pilot Study on the Well-Being of Ill or Injured Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Members and Their Families: Well-Being Model Development (2019). Scientific Report. DRDC-RDDC-2017-R203.
  4. A total of 72 semi-structured interviews were conducted, 16 of which were omitted from further analysis due to ineligibility (e.g., non-medical release, over 5 years since release). Of the remaining 56 interviews, there were 31 individual interviews with CAF members or Veterans, 11 individual interviews with primary caregivers and 14 combined interviews. Participants consisted of CAF Veterans who were medically released within the past 5 years or members who were expecting to be medically released within the near future (i.e., within 24 months of the study) due to a psychological or physical illness and/or injury. Their primary caregivers, operationally defined as the individual who provides the majority of care and/or support (physical or psychological) to the CAF member/Veteran, were also included in the interview process. Primary caregivers were typically a family member (e.g., sibling, parent) and, in the vast majority of cases, the spouse. Eligible participants were interviewed either in person or by phone at a time of their choice.
  5. Linda Van Til et al., “Well-Being of Canadian Regular Force Veterans, Findings from LASS 2016 Survey,” Veterans Affairs Canada – Research Directorate Technical Report (June 23, 2017). Link:.

Published on July 25, 2019

Research Recap: Beyond “Snapshots” to “Lifetimes” of Family Care

Janet Fast, Norah Keating, Jacquie Eales, Choong Kim and Yeonjung Lee

According to the most recent General Social Survey (GSS) on Caregiving and Care Receiving, 28% of Canadians provided care to a family member or friend in the previous year.1 But “snapshots” in time such as this don’t paint a complete picture of caregiving experiences. Looking across the life course provides more insight into how Canadians are engaged in care across their lives and reveals a number of lifetime “pathways” of care that are commonly experienced.2 In fact, half (46%) of all Canadians have provided care at some time in their lives, showing that family care is a much more common experience than many people had imagined. It’s time to move beyond snapshots to focus on lifetimes of family care.

Groundbreaking research at the University of Alberta, using data from Statistics Canada’s 2012 GSS shows, for the first time, five distinct care trajectories (pathways) across the life courses of 3,299 adults aged 65 and older: Late Bloomer, Encore, All at Once, Enduring and Serial. This innovative perspective shows not only how care evolves across the life course but that it evolves in diverse ways for different individuals. We now can examine the cumulative lifetime impact of caregiving to identify carers at greatest risk of poor health, social isolation and poverty in later life to better target policy interventions.

A life course approach highlights diverse patterns of caregiving across carers’ lives

Research shows that 1 in 2 Canadians aged 65 and over – or more than 2 million people – have cared for others one or more times across their lives.


Late Bloomer

One in 2 carers (54%) follow a Late Bloomer pathway. Its defining feature is a single, short episode of providing care (fewer than 5 years), mostly to spouses or parents. This pathway starts in the early 60s (average 63 years); 43% of Late Bloomer carers are men and 57% are women.


One in 4 carers (25%) follow an Encore pathway. Its defining feature is a first long episode of providing care, mostly to parents or spouses, followed by shorter episodes increasingly to same-generation friends or neighbours. This pathway starts in the early 50s (average 52 years) and lasts nearly 14 years; 41% of Encore carers are men and 59% are women.

All at Once

One in 10 carers (11%) follow an All at Once pathway. Its defining feature is a decade or more of providing care, mainly to parents or parents-in-law, and usually for more than one parent at the same time. This pathway starts in the early 50s (average 52 years); 36% of All at Once carers are men and 64% are women.


One in 16 carers (6%) follow an Enduring pathway. Its defining feature is a first very long episode of providing care to close family, followed by a second long episode of providing care to close family or friends. Care to children or siblings with chronic health conditions/disabilities was notable. This pathway starts in the early 30s (average 34 years) and has the longest duration (average 33 years); 37% of Enduring carers are men and 63% are women.



One in 25 carers (4%) follow a Serial pathway. Its defining feature is a long-term pattern of caring for others (close relatives, distant relatives, friends or neighbours), often at the same time. This pathway starts in the mid-30s (average 36 years) and spans more than three decades (31 years on average). Of all care pathways, the Serial pathway has the largest proportion of women carers (71%).


Read the full “Life Course Trajectories of Family Care” open access study through Intenga Connect.


Janet Fast, PhD, is a Family Economist and Professor, Department of Human Ecology, University of Alberta.

Norah Keating, PhD, is a Family Gerontologist and Director, Global Social Issues on Aging (International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics).

Jacquie Eales, MSc, is a Communication and Knowledge Translation specialist and Research Manager, Department of Human Ecology, University of Alberta.

Choong Kim is an Applied Economist and PhD candidate, Department of Human Ecology, University of Alberta.

Yeonjung Lee, PhD, is a specialist in Comparative Welfare States and Gerontology and Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.



  1. Maire Sinha, “Portrait of Caregivers, 2012,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (September 2013). Link:.
  2. Joohong Min, Yeonjung Lee, Janet Fast, Jacquie Eales and Norah Keating, “Life Course Trajectories of Family Care,” Innovation in Aging, 2:1 (November 2018). Link: .


Research Recap: School Experiences of Children in Military Families

Emily Beckett

There are more than 64,000 children growing up in military families in Canada.1 Many of these children experience high mobility, as studies show that military families move three to four times more often than their civilian counterparts.2 While most military families are highly adaptive and resilient during relocations, a growing body of research has found that these frequent moves can have an impact on family well-being.3

Nearly three in 10 surveyed military spouses (27%) report they have been relocated at least four times due to military postings.4

While frequent moves can affect multiple aspects of family life, some research suggests that the greatest disruption on youth is related to school and school-related activities.5 Parents in military families are aware of these disruptions, with more than half (54%) of surveyed military spouses agreeing that “military children are at a disadvantage because civilian public schools do not understand military life.”6 However, research also shows that a child’s school environment can facilitate the transition and have a positive impact on the well-being of youth in military families.

In recent review of available literature, School Participation and Children in Military Families: A Scoping Review, Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Linna Tam-Seto, PhD(C), explored existing research on how transition affects the well-being of children and youth in military families with regard to school participation. Through an examination of 112 academic articles, they found that experiences common in military families, such as separation from a deployed parent, relocation, parental deployment in dangerous conflict situations and changes to family dynamics during and after deployments, can all shape the quality and quantity of children’s participation in school-related activities. While the vast majority of the articles in the literature review are based on U.S. data, military families in Canada seem to share many of the same experiences and concerns, as reflected in data from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Community Needs Assessment: 2016 Overall Results report.7

Resettling into a new community takes time

While starting at a new school doesn’t necessarily mean a child from a military family will experience academic difficulties, research in the literature review suggested that it takes students approximately four to six months to academically re-establish themselves each time they move. Though this period is temporary, these disruptions can have a long-term effect on opportunities later in life, specifically in regard to a child’s willingness to take risks or pursue challenges.

Based on the predominantly American research, Cramm and Tam-Seto noted that difficulties in transition among students were found to be associated with the duration of deployments (total number of months that the child’s parents are away on deployment), the mental health of the non-deployed parent and decreasing resiliency. Research also acknowledges the potentially difficult period of reintegration of a military member into family structures and routines after their deployment. Given that there is some evidence that the accumulation of months deployed is associated with these types of negative effects, it will be critical to determine what the experience is for military families in Canada.

Academic experiences and access to supports can be impacted by military life

Cramm and Tam-Seto found that students in the research, who were primarily from U.S. military families, can experience negative impacts on their academic performance (e.g., academic gaps and redundancies) when they move across jurisdictional boundaries: factors such as standards, credit requirements and the age of kindergarten can change from region to region. They also found that stress at home during deployment and reintegration can often affect in-school behaviour and class dynamics, as these students may act out emotionally and experience difficulties with concentration, anxiety and conflicts with peers. Though the survey doesn’t specify whether the problems exhibited in the children of the respondents to the CAF Community Needs Assessment were associated solely with mobility, 13% of respondents reported that their child exhibited emotional or behavioural problems at school in the past year. Further research is needed to provide a greater understanding and focus on military families in Canada.

In 2016, more than 1 in 7 surveyed CAF members (13%) reported that their child exhibited emotional or behavioural problems at school in the past year.

Studies found an association between behavioural and emotional adjustment and academic performance (e.g., conduct, attendance, attitudes toward school and approaches to learning). The difficulties associated with transitioning to a new school can be compounded when a student requires access to special education resources.8 Many of the 8.2% of surveyed CAF families who report having children with special needs9 require access to resources and supports, and the process of accessing them can be disrupted with every move.

Like any family with a member with special needs, many military parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can face difficulties navigating health care and education systems, not only to acquire appropriate resources but to secure assessments and diagnoses as well.10 Obtaining a diagnosis can be difficult as families can spend months or even years on a wait-list, which can result in military families relocating before they receive care or services.

Many special education resources cannot be accessed without a diagnosis, and Cramm and Tam-Seto found that schools may delay providing resources based on the assumption that a student’s academic struggles are related solely to military life or a temporary reaction to a deployed parent. Alternatively, special education resources are occasionally provided rather than taking the larger step of addressing gaps in education due to relocation. Many U.S. school staff report that they feel unable to appropriately identify students in military families for clinical referrals.

Building community in the face of high mobility

Research shows that in the context of high mobility, military students can experience difficulties initiating and maintaining meaningful personal relationships and building social circles with children their age. Many civilian peers may not understand or be able to empathize with parental deployment or frequent moves, which can have an impact on relationships with military children. Social connections between military and civilian youth are common, since 85% of military families in Canada now live off-base in civilian communities, compared with only 20% in the mid-1990s.11

Cramm and Tam-Seto found that children of military families living in U.S. civilian communities are particularly vulnerable to feelings of isolation and loneliness – important measures, since the connection between strong social networks and well-being has been well established in research.12 Conversely, research shows that a sense of community belonging can be a factor in protecting mental health and enhancing resiliency.13

Participation in extracurricular activities can be affected by mobility among youth in military families. For example, opportunities for a child in a military family to sign up for a soccer team may have passed by the time they move, as the tryouts may have already been held and the team was set before the beginning of the academic year. Higher levels of sports teams or leadership programs may pass over military students to avoid complications that could arise if the student needs to relocate again.

The 2016 CAF Community Needs Assessment report found that among respondents who cited their child’s well-being as the most significant problem in the past year, nearly three in 10 (29%) reported requiring help with activities (e.g., bolstering fitness, stress relief, family bonding) to aid in the child’s well-being. Circumstances may not allow a parent to organize transportation to extracurricular activities or manage without the student’s support at home due to increased child care responsibilities during parental deployment, as 23% of all respondents reported experiencing issues with child care, such as quality, distance, expense and hours of availability.

Educational professionals have unique opportunities to facilitate transitions

Research suggests that teachers, counsellors and other educational professionals have unique opportunities to facilitate transitions for military youth. American research in the review suggested that the school environment can act as a protective factor during relocation, and that educators can support students in military families by strengthening the child’s resiliency and adaptive coping skills.

Due to the inherently disruptive nature of relocation and the potential loss of stability and routine in their lives, military families and students can be particularly reliant on school personnel and structure for social and emotional support. Among surveyed CAF parents who selected child well-being issues to be the most significant problem in the past year, more than one-third (34%) reported requiring emotional or social support. When families are able to get involved in their child’s schools, studies suggest it can enhance school engagement, academic success and their likelihood of graduating and pursuing post-secondary education.

However, Cramm and Tam-Seto also found that many U.S. educational staff report feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of their students’ needs and struggle to deal with military family-specific issues, such as repeated transitions, parental deployment, fear of death or injury of a deployed parent, and how to meet those needs and communicate effectively with military families.

While many of the studies and research explored and cited by Cramm and Tam-Seto were from abroad, the findings are important in better understanding military families in Canada, who share many of the same “military life stressors” as their American counterparts – in particular, high mobility, frequent periods of separation and risk.14 The research in this scoping review study suggests that schools and educational professionals with a high degree of military literacy (awareness of these stressors and military family experiences) can play a major role in facilitating transitions among youth. Canadian-specific research with school communities will be important in the coming years.

Resources and information facilitate support for military youth

Enhancing military literacy among educational professionals can play an important role in supporting military youth and their families, and many have expressed a desire for resources to help them with this goal. Resources such as School Counsellors Working with Military and Veteran Families, published in 2017 in collaboration with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle, can play an important role in creating and strengthening “military-literate” teams of school counsellors (and their colleagues) in schools across Canada by providing information about the military and Veteran lifestyle and sharing tailored resources.

Military and Veteran families are strong, diverse and resilient, and they make unique and valuable contributions to communities across the country. Many experience high mobility, which affects the well-being of military-connected children and youth, and, in turn, on the well-being and operational effectiveness of serving CAF members.15 Enhancing understanding of their experiences and the “military lifestyle” among educational professionals and others who study, serve and support families will be key to ensuring that communities and workplaces are inclusive environments in which these families can thrive.


Read the full study:

Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Linna Tam-Seto, PhD(C), “School Participation and Children in Military Families: A Scoping Review,” Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention (March 1, 2018). Link: .



Emily Beckett is a professional writer living in Ottawa, Ontario.

Published on May 22, 2018

This article was reviewed by Col. (retd) Russ Mann, Special Advisor to the Vanier Institute of the Family and former Director of Military Family Services, as well as Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Linna Tam-Seto, PhD(C).


  1. Heidi Cramm et al., “The Current State of Military Family Research,” Transition (January 19, 2016).
  2. Kerry Sudom, “Quality of Life among Military Families: Results from the 2008/2009 Survey of Canadian Forces Spouses,” Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, Chief Military Personnel (August 2010). Link: .
  3. Learn more with A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada.
  4. Sudom, 2010.
  5. Pamela Arnold et al., “Needs of Military-Connected School Divisions in South-Eastern Virginia,” Old Dominion University Center for Educational Partnerships (September 2011), link:; Angela J. Huebner et al., “Parental Deployment and Youth in Military Families: Exploring Uncertainty and Ambiguous Loss,” Family Relations 56(2) (April 2007), link:; and Kristin N. Mmari et al., “Exploring the Role of Social Connectedness among Military Youth: Perceptions from Youth, Parents, and School Personnel,” Child and Youth Care Forum, 39(5) (October 2010), link:.
  6. Sanela Dursun and Kerry Sudom, “Impacts of Military Life on Families: Results from the Perstempo Survey of Canadian Forces Spouses,” Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, Chief Military Personnel (November 2009). Link:.
  7. Prairies Research Associates, CAF Community Needs Assessment: 2016 Overall Results (September 2017).
  8. Cramm, 2016.
  9. Heidi Cramm, “Health Care Experiences of Military Families of Children with Autism,” Transition (November 6, 2017).
  10. Cramm, 2017.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Maire Sinha, “Canadians’ Connections with Family and Friends,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (page last updated November 30, 2015). Link:.
  13. Statistics Canada, “Community Belonging,” Healthy People, Healthy Places, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-229-X (January 2010). Link:.
  14. National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, “On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium,” Special Report to the Minister of National Defence (November 2013). Link: https://bit.ly/2q6hi2a.
  15. National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, 2013.