Infographic: Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada

Caregiving is a fact of life and a common family experience in Canada. At some point in their lives, most family members have provided – or will provide – care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need. However, Canadians don’t share a single narrative or caregiving experience, as social, economic, cultural and environmental factors shape who is expected to provide care, what kind of care they provide and the consequences of managing caregiving in addition to paid work.

And while the gap between women and men has lessened over the past generation, caregivers have historically been disproportionately women, and this remains true today. Research also shows that on average, women in Canada devote more time to caregiving tasks than men and are more likely to experience negative consequences as a result of their caregiving.

Our new infographic Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada explores family caregiving and work in Canada with a focus on women.

Highlights include:

  • 30% of all women in Canada reported that they provided care in 2012.
  • Women aged 45 and older reported having spent an estimated 5.8 years providing care throughout their lives, compared with 3.4 years for men.
  • Women are significantly more likely than men to report having spent 20 hours or more per week providing care (17% and 11%, respectively).
  • An estimated 72% of women caregivers aged 45 to 65 in Canada are also employed.
  • Women reported experiencing a variety of employment impacts as a result of their caregiving responsibilities: 30% reported missing at least one full day of work; 6.4% retired early, quit or lost their paid job; and 4.7% turned down a job offer or promotion.
  • Estimates show that women caregivers in Canada lost an aggregated $221 million in wages annually between 2003 and 2008 due to absenteeism, reducing work hours or leaving employment entirely.
  • Among women caregivers who have access to flexible work arrangements, half (47%) feel they cannot utilize these options without it having a negative impact on their careers.


Download the Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada infographic from the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Learn more about women, family caregiving and work in Canada:


Published on March 28, 2017

A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada

At some point in our lives, there is a high likelihood that each of us will provide care to someone we know – and receive care ourselves. Family members are typically the first to step up to provide, manage and sometimes pay for this care.

Families are highly adaptable and most of the time people find ways to manage their multiple work and family responsibilities, obligations and commitments. However, juggling work and care can sometimes involve a great deal of time, energy and financial resources, and employers can play an important role in facilitating this care through accommodation, innovation and flexibility.

In A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada, we explore some of the family realities and trends that shape the “landscape of care” across the country. This resource highlights how our family, care and work responsibilities intersect, interact and have an impact on each other.

Highlights include:

  • 28% of Canadians (8.1M) report having provided care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need in the past year.
  • Three-quarters of family caregivers (6.1M) were employed at the time, accounting for 35% of ALL employed Canadians.
  • Most (83%) surveyed caregivers say their experience was positive, and 95% say they are effectively coping with their caregiving responsibilities.
  • 44% of employed caregivers report having missed an average 8–9 days of work in the past 12 months because of their care responsibilities.
  • More than one-third of young carers (36%) arrived to work late, left early or took time off due to their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Employers across Canada lose an estimated $5.5 billion annually in lost productivity due to caregiving-related absenteeism.
  • Research shows that caregiving provides a variety of benefits to caregivers, including a sense of personal growth, increased meaning and purpose, strengthened family relationships, increased empathy and skill development.


Reconciling care and work requires understanding, respect and recognition from employers that sometimes an employee’s family circumstances need focused attention. Research shows that family caregivers and their employers benefit from policies that are inclusive, flexible and responsive, and when employees have a clear understanding of the process for handling individual requests for accommodation and customizing work arrangements.

For nearly all Canadians, caregiving is inevitable at some point over the course of their lives. Care is not always predictable and does not always arise outside working hours. Open communication and creative approaches to harmonizing work and care in a flexible manner benefits employees, employers, the economy and society.

Download A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Learn more about family caregiving and work in Canada:


Published on February 21, 2017

Understanding the Impact of Fort McMurray Wildfires on Foreign National Family Caregivers

The recent wildfire in northern Alberta, which began in early May and has only recently been brought under control, has had a profound impact on Fort McMurray and its surrounding communities. Approximately 2,400 buildings were destroyed, including many family homes and businesses, and the fire ravaged nearly 600,000 hectares of land. Many of the families in the region have experienced significant trauma due to their losses, the evacuation of more than 80,000 people and the overall impact on the community.

Live-in caregivers (foreign nationals living in Canadian homes and employed to provide child or adult care) working in and around Fort McMurray have been strongly affected by these events. These people comprise a unique and important workforce that is highly educated and experienced, and are “crucial to bridging work–family relations for their employers, especially those who work in the oil sands industry,” notes Dr. Sara Dorow, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Alberta in Live-in Caregivers in Fort McMurray: A Socioeconomic Footprint.

Dorow explores the impact of the wildfire on the caregiver workforce in a new study, Caregiver Policy in Canada and Experiences after the Wildfire: Perspectives of Caregivers in Fort McMurray, which reports on findings from an online survey of 56 live-in caregivers working in and around Fort McMurray.

Key findings include:

  • Caregiver evacuees are experiencing emotional and financial stress as a result of uncertainty with regard to their continued employment and housing – realities that are “tied together” through dependency on a single employer.
  • The fire has caused stress over the disruption to their pathway to permanent residency, which requires the completion of 24 months or 3,900 hours of work.
  • Despite these experiences, many expressed gratitude for the emergency relief funds and donations they have received from employers, friends, family and the community. Few report having applied for Employment Insurance.

The study was carried out as part of On the Move, a research partnership that includes the Vanier Institute of the Family and 40 researchers from across Canada and around the world. This partnership investigates how employment-related geographic mobility (E-RGM) affects households and communities, and how E-RGM influences and impacts Canadian prosperity.

Learn more:

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.



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.



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


My Caregiving Journey

Katherine Arnup, Ph.D.

Today is National Carers Day (also known as National Family Caregiver Day), an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the valuable work that caregivers across the country perform for their loved ones, and to raise awareness about their realities and experiences. In this week’s blog, Katherine Arnup shares her personal journey as a family caregiver.


Before my sister got sick, I had never really thought of myself as a caregiver. Of course, like almost every girl growing up in the 1950s, I had a menagerie of dolls and stuffed animals I took care of, doling out medicine, taking their temperatures and giving needles with the tools from my red plastic Nurse’s Kit.

As a sickly, asthmatic child, I had more than my share of doctor’s visits, what with weekly allergy shots and the panoply of childhood illnesses including tonsillitis, red measles, German measles, chicken pox, mumps, whooping cough. The experience left me with no desire to become a doctor or a nurse. I would be a teacher and, I asserted at 12, I’d be a mother, though I was certain that I would never marry – a prediction that turned out to be almost entirely accurate.

My mother was an amazing caregiver. I suppose she pretty much had to be in the 1950s, what with big families (my parents had four girls) and her husband away on business for increasing amounts of time. Imagine, my mother had to deal with all four of us getting whooping cough, though not, of course, at the same time! That would have been far too efficient. She nursed my sister Carol when she had scarlet fever, mononucleosis and, as an adult, melanoma.

While I always pictured I would care for my children, caring would be part and parcel of motherhood, along with making play dough, overcoming sleepless nights and singing nursery songs. Caring was more of an action than a role, and certainly not an identity.

I don’t think my mother defined herself as a caregiver. She was to be a companion, wife, mother and homemaker. Not a laundress or seamstress. Not a nurse or nursemaid. Though she became all of those things to a great extent – and less and less my father’s partner.

As adults, we knew we could always call Mom whenever someone was feeling sick, and she would offer sympathy, advice if asked for and a run to the drugstore if needed. She loved being a grandmother, and the connection between us grew much stronger following the birth of my first daughter.

In 1990, at the age of 71, my mother suffered a devastating brain aneurysm that left her with multiple disabilities, needing 24-hour care until her death in 2006. Our caregiving mother was gone. To make up for our loss, my sister Carol and I pledged that we would take care of each other should one of us become ill.

Little did I expect to be called upon to fulfill that promise so soon.

In 1997, Carol’s cancer returned with an unstoppable force. Along with a team of family and friends, I cared for her during the final six months as her life slipped away.

This was long before the Internet and the wide range of information, resources and connections it offers. It felt like we were on our own, relying on books, articles, friends with medical training, but mostly flying by the seat of our pants. Since I was on sabbatical from my job at the university, I had precious time to spend with Carol day after day.

I learned about constipation caused by opioids, the difference between melanoma and sarcoma and what that meant for treatment options, about TKR (total knee replacement), CT scans, MRIs, commodes, anti-nausea medications, K-basins and mouth swabs. I learned where to buy the best home health products, ginger ale and high-end popsicles.

I learned how to request assistance from the Community Care Access Centre, and about the different “levels of care.” I learned that 15 hours a week was the most care you could receive (even if you needed round-the-clock care) and that the care provided was just a step above a “sitter,” someone you could hire to sit (and hopefully not fall asleep) with Carol during the night. I learned where to order a hospital bed, a commode, a walker.

I learned how to tell most people they couldn’t visit, how to enlist Carol’s special people to sign up for shifts, how to politely decline all calls for Carol.

I learned how to call a family meeting and ensure that everyone showed up. I learned how to set an agenda, chair the meeting and prepare the minutes, thereby establishing routines and commitments. I learned how to stifle my anger in the interests of providing Carol with the best possible care. I learned how to focus my anger on getting medical treatment sooner than the established (far off) date.

I learned that getting cancer sucks – and that getting a terminal diagnosis sucks even more. I learned that some pain just can’t be stopped: the pain in Carol’s foot, in her spine, in her knee. I learned that a broken heart still keeps beating.

I learned how to order a cremation, how to buy a cemetery plot, how to acquire the drugs necessary for assisted suicide, how to change a medical power of attorney, how to add a codicil to a will.

I learned that everyone has their own version of crazy when they are facing the loss of someone they love. I learned that I would never get over losing my sister. And I learned that her death transformed me in ways I could never have imagined.

I was 47 when my sister died (she was 51). Though often scared that I would not be able to fulfill my promise, my love for her enabled me to face my own fear of cancer, illness – even death itself. Those fears had dominated and limited my life, but by facing them, I have been able to bring comfort to hospice patients and their families, and to friends and relatives facing their parents’ aging.

If you’d asked me 20 years ago if I would be a hospice volunteer, I would have told you that you were crazy. I would have told you I was terrified of death and that a hospice would be the last place I’d set foot in, let alone return week after week for 14 years.

If you’d asked me if I would be the “go to” person for friends and family who were facing the loss of someone they love, I would have said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I was the person who steered a wide berth around someone whose mother had just died, justifying my actions by the claim that “I don’t know what to say.”

Yet, love enabled me to face my fears of illness and death, to become a caregiver to my sister and my parents, and to learn the lessons I share with others through my writing, public talks and hospice volunteering.


Katherine Arnup is a writer and life coach specializing in transitions and a retired Carleton University professor. Author of the award-winning book Education for Motherhood, a history of advice for mothers, she has pioneered studies on the diversity and complexity of family life. In her latest book, “I Don’t Have Time for This!” A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Your Parents and Yourself, she tackles the last taboo – death itself.


See also:

Suggested Reading: “‘I Don’t Have Time for This!’: A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Your Parents and Yourself” (review)

Death, Dying and Canadian Families by Katherine Arnup (report)

Making Time for the Dying (interview with Katherine Arnup on CBC Ottawa Morning)

Modern Caregiving in Canada by Janet E. Fast and Donna S. Lero (article)

Public Policy Brief: Compassionate Care Benefits

On January 3, 2016, significant changes were made to compassionate care benefits. Eligible employees now have access to up to 26 weeks of Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, instead of 6 weeks, to care for a gravely ill family member. Weeks of benefits may be taken within an expanded period of 52 weeks, up from 26 weeks. No other changes were made regarding eligibility, benefit calculations or maximums.

Benefits can still be distributed among family members who are sharing the caregiving responsibilities, though each family member must meet the eligibility requirements.

Compassionate care benefits were introduced in 2004 through the EI program in order to support families in their caregiving responsibilities. The benefits are available to eligible employed caregivers who are providing care or support to a gravely ill family member, including extended family and those considered to be like family. Providing care or support includes providing psychological or emotional support, arranging for care by a third party, or directly providing or participating in the care.

To be eligible for such benefits, applicants must provide a Medical Certificate for Employment Insurance Compassionate Care Benefits signed by the medical doctor of the gravely ill person to confirm their significant risk of death within 26 weeks and an Authorization to Release a Medical Certificate form.

Family relationships across the life course are diverse and complex. For family members providing care or support to a loved one who may be experiencing a terminal illness, progressive condition, life-threatening injury or approaching end of life, having the proper supports in place can make a tremendous difference.

Implications of the recent changes

For families who are providing care, the recent changes to compassionate care benefits can provide relief and comfort for a longer period of time. Federal EI benefits are separate from the labour standards that provide job protection and seniority protection. Employers that offer EI top-ups will need to decide if they will extend the top-up for the full leave period. Caregivers in the paid labour force and their managers/team leaders may need information about the changes.

Source: Service Canada, 2016.


For more information about work–family, diversity and inclusion, and workplace wellness, contact the Vanier Institute of the Family at

Family Caregiving in Canada: A Fact of Life and a Human Right

Nathan Battams

At some point in our lives, there is a high likelihood that each of us will provide care to someone we know – and receive care ourselves – at least once. Family members are typically the first to step up to provide, manage and sometimes pay for this care. The forms of family care we provide and receive are so diverse, not to mention second nature, that we may not even think of them as caregiving: driving a sibling to a medical appointment, preparing a meal for a grandparent, picking up a sick child from school – these are all a part of the “landscape of care” in which we live.

Families are highly adaptable and most of the time people find ways to manage their multiple work and family responsibilities, obligations and commitments. However, this can be challenging for some working caregivers, since most who juggle work and caregiving are employed full-time. When working family members, protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act, find themselves in a dilemma between providing required care and fulfilling their work obligations – and if they have exhausted other reasonable options to arrange for this care – employers may be obligated under human rights law to accommodate the employee on the basis of family status. Human rights are intended to provide a framework of rights and flexibility so that workers can fulfill both their work and their caregiving obligations.

Accommodation under human rights requires flexibility from employees and employers

Reconciling care and work in a harmonious manner requires respect and recognition from employers of the fact that sometimes family circumstances need focused attention. Ideally, an employer has in place policies that are inclusive, providing both flexible workplaces (which can reduce the number of individual requests) and a process for handling individual requests for accommodation, where this flexibility may not be enough.

Individual requests for accommodation based on family status require that the employee show a substantial caregiving obligation – it cannot simply be a personal choice to do something for a family member. For example, a parent leaving work to drive a child to extracurricular activities would be a personal choice, whereas leaving work to drive them to a hospital if they could not find an available caregiver would be considered an obligation.

Reconciling care and work in a harmonious manner requires respect and recognition from employers of the fact that sometimes family circumstances need focused attention.

Obligation alone, however, is not enough. The employee must demonstrate that they have attempted to reconcile work–care conflicts and have explored all realistic alternatives accessible to them. When individual requests arise, the employer must examine if there is a negative impact on the employee due to a dilemma between caregiving obligations and a practice or rule in the workplace. If this is the case, the employer must allow time for the employee to explore options, discuss the issue with the employee, do an individual assessment of the specific circumstances and consider flexible workplace arrangements (FWAs).

Employers can refuse to accommodate, but only if they can provide evidence that doing so would create “undue hardship” for their organization as a result of adjusting policies, practices, bylaws or physical space to accommodate. Undue hardship has no strict legal definition – each case must be treated within the specific context, taking into account various workplace and operational requirements. Human rights law also requires requests for accommodation to be considered individually, taking into account diverse family roles and expectations. Employers must provide evidence as to the nature and extent of the hardship.

Johnstone v. Canada was a landmark family status case that helped to clarify the types of circumstances in which an employer has a duty to accommodate an employee with parent–child caregiving obligations. Fiona Johnstone and her husband worked full-time on rotating, unpredictable shifts for the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) while raising two toddlers. Her husband also travelled for business. Johnstone requested a full-time fixed shift schedule so she could fulfill her child care obligations. While the CBSA permitted fixed shifts, they only granted them on a part-time basis, so they refused to accommodate the request. The CBSA argued that child care responsibilities are the result of personal choice and did not trigger a “duty to accommodate.”

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal sided with Johnstone, ruling that she had indeed been discriminated against, and the Federal Court dismissed the Attorney General’s application for a judicial review of the case, confirming that parental child care obligations fall within the scope and meaning of the ground “family status” in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Honourable Mr. Justice Mandamin, dismissing the Attorney General’s application for a judicial review in Canada v. Johnstone, stated,

…it is difficult to have regard to family without giving thought to children in the family and the relationship between parents and children. The singular most important aspect of that relationship is the parents’ care for children. It seems to me that if Parliament intended to exclude parental child care obligations, it would have chosen language that clearly said so.

In 2014, this decision was upheld at the Federal Court of Appeal, and it has since been cited in a number of cases in jurisdictions in Canada. But the laws on this still vary slightly across the country. For example, in New Brunswick, Family Status is not a protected ground, and in Ontario it covers only a parent–child relationship, although it applies to those who provide care to an elderly parent.

Caregiving accommodation reduces costs for employees and employers

Employer accommodation of care is not just about ensuring that human rights are recognized and respected – it can also help to mitigate the potential costs to employees and employers that could also result from caregiving. In a recent report, Janet Fast categorizes these costs to caregivers into three main categories: care labour, employment restrictions and out‑of‑pocket expenses.

Care labour costs for employees include time caregivers spend with the care recipient, time spent on behalf of the recipient (e.g. scheduling appointments), time spent getting to/from the recipient and time spent monitoring or managing care. Employment restrictions include reduced working hours or having to quit, experiencing decreased productivity and the resulting career limitations or reduced/forgone income. Out-of-pocket expenses include housing, community services, supplies and transportation that may also be incurred by caregivers.

It is estimated that every year, Canada loses the equivalent of nearly 558,000 full-time employees from the workforce due to the inability to manage the conflicting demands of paid work and care.

The costs faced by employees as a result of caregiving pose direct and indirect costs for employers. Direct costs to employers include higher turnover, absenteeism and additional benefit costs (e.g. health care claims and disability leave for caregiving employees). Indirect costs include reduced return on investment in employees, poorer on-the-job performance and resulting spillover effects to co-workers, supervisors, customers and clients. There are costs to the overall economy as well: in Fast’s report, it is estimated that every year, Canada loses the equivalent of nearly 558,000 full-time employees from the workforce due to the inability to manage the conflicting demands of paid work and care.

Organizations that support employees with family caregiving obligations can benefit in many ways. It can help them align corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments and enhance their public image and organizational reputation. A growing body of research shows that employee productivity, job performance, recruitment and retention benefit from FWAs.

Many diverse approaches can facilitate family caregiving

Family caregiving situations are unique, shaped by the individuals providing and receiving care, the nature of the required care, the occupation of the working caregiver and the organizational culture of their workplace. As such, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

There is growing literature about providing and facilitating FWAs. The Canadian Human Rights Commission published A Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations, which outlines a number of FWAs that can facilitate accommodation, including telework; job sharing; different or shifting start and end times; compressed schedules; extended maternity or parental leave; shift changes; compassionate, discretionary or other leave to care for sick family members; leave to provide childcare or eldercare in unanticipated or emergency situations; part-time work with pro-rated benefits; and shifting or sharing work duties or tasks.

Family caregiving rates expected to grow

Caregiving is a common experience within (and between) families, regardless of where they live or where they are from. Accommodation of family caregiving is becoming increasingly relevant as families are getting smaller, Canada’s population ages and the resulting rate and complexity of disability increases. This emerging reality has raised concern about a growing “care gap” in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, nearly half (46%) of Canadians from coast to coast to coast (13 million) have provided care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need at some point in their lives – 8 million (28% of the population) did so in 2012 alone.

Canada’s aging population is fuelling caregiving needs across the country. By 2030, seniors are projected to account for close to one in four people (up from 15.3% in 2013), and the number of centenarians is projected to grow from 6,900 to more than 15,000. Not only are there more seniors, but these seniors are living longer: average life expectancy at age 65 is 22.0 and 19.2 years for women and men, respectively (i.e. 87 and 84.2 years of age) – up from 19.0 and 14.7 years in 1981.

Senior care and eldercare is only a part of the portrait of care in Canada. Children are also primary recipients. This generation has seen a significant increase in dual-earner households – from 36% of couples with children in 1976 to 69% in 2014, three-quarters of whom have both partners working full-time. While this has increased family income, it has also meant there are fewer family members available to help manage work and family responsibilities.

Family caregiving is diverse and complex – just like families

Caregiving is diverse and complex, encompassing a wide range of activities. Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Caregiving and Care Receiving tracks a wide range of caregiving activities, including transportation, meal preparation, medical procedures, personal care, house maintenance and managing finances, but the list is not exhaustive. New and emerging issues, such as a spouse’s need to provide caregiving in support of their transgender partner’s medical transition or the need for a parent to appear in court regarding child custody and caregiving issues, can also remind us of the diverse variety of families and caregiving needs.

The fluid and evolving nature of care relationships between individuals can add another layer of complexity to our understanding of care. The care provided can vary in type, nature and duration, and it is shaped by the unique circumstances of the individual requiring care (see chart). Caregiving events can be short-term and episodic, such as if a family member experiences a temporary mobility restriction due to a broken leg. They can also be long-term and intensive, such as if a family member is living with a terminal illness in a palliative care centre.

Click to enlarge

Some care requirements are predictable, thus giving caregivers a higher degree of control over their time and resources, while other situations can be more complicated. Regardless of the type, nature and duration of care, family caregivers must integrate it with their work‑related obligations and commitments – a balancing act that can be supported and accommodated by employers.

Work–care reconciliation benefits families and employers

For nearly all Canadians, caregiving is inevitable at some point over the course of their lives. Since care provision is not always predictable and does not always arise outside working hours, employees and employers will need to reconcile work and care in creative ways that seek to maintain productivity and morale – indeed, failing to do so results in costs on all sides. Open communication and creative approaches to harmonizing work and care in a flexible manner can benefit employees, employers and the labour market in Canada as a whole.

“This is an issue that will touch millions of Canadians at some point in their lives and will become increasingly important with demographic change. The CHRC encourages employers, employees, and unions to seek collaborative approaches to enable people with family caregiving responsibilities to continue to participate fully and meaningfully in the workforce.”

David Langtry, Acting Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2014


Nathan Battams is a writer and researcher at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

This article can be downloaded in PDF format here.


Suggested Reading

Canadian Human Rights Commission, A Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations (2014).

Janet Fast, Caregiving for Older Adults with Disabilities: Present Costs, Future Challenges (December 2015).

Maire Sinha, “Portrait of Caregivers, 2012,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (September 2013).

Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams, Families and Work in Canada (October 2015).

Sara MacNaull, Caring Enough to Flex, Flexing Enough to Care (October 2015).

Caring Enough to Flex, Flexing Enough to Care

Sara MacNaull

October is Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month, an occasion for highlighting the importance of workplace health for the success of organizations and the well-being of their employees and their families. In this week’s blog post, Sara MacNaull explores the importance of flexible work arrangements in helping employed family members to manage their multiple and often complex responsibilities.


Family members have multiple and often complex responsibilities, obligations and commitments at home, at work and in their communities. Families excel at finding adaptable and creative solutions, but as studies have shown, employed family members want their managers’ respect for their lives outside of work and need flexibility to effectively manage their many life roles.

Employed family members across Canada are increasingly requesting flexible work arrangements (FWAs) in order to provide care for immediate or extended family and friends. FWAs can greatly enhance a person’s ability to achieve work and life quality while providing care, whether it’s for a child, an elderly or ill parent, a sibling or spouse with a disability, or a close friend who is dealing with a chronic illness.

The care provided can vary in type, nature and duration (see chart), and is shaped by the unique circumstances of the individual requiring care. While some care requirements are predictable, thus giving caregivers a higher degree of control over their time and resources, other situations can be more complicated. For example, if an elderly parent or grandparent requires occasional daily care, a caregiver can plan in advance which care responsibilities (such as grocery shopping and yardwork) get done on particular days outside of work hours. On the other hand, palliative or end-of-life care can be very unpredictable and stressful for family members who have to navigate the health care system while grappling with the impact of the impending loss of a loved one.

Aging and Caregiving in Canada

13M people said they had been a caregiver to a family member or friend at some time during their lives.

Among family caregivers, 39% primarily cared for their father or mother, 8% for their spouse or partner and 5% for their child. The remaining (48%) provided care to other family members or friends.

Seniors are projected to account for approximately one-quarter of Canada’s population by 2036.

Source: Statistics Canada

When a family member experiences a sudden and/or unexpected illness or injury, such as a heart attack, stroke or torn ligament, family and friends jump into action to provide care and support. For employed caregivers, this may mean seeking out and approaching their supervisor or employer to explore FWAs for a predictable or an indefinite period of time. A manager’s or employer’s response can have a significant impact on families and family life.

Recent rulings from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal have highlighted the complexity of family care needs and, consequently, the value of FWAs. The Tribunal has heard several cases where the need for flexibility to provide care was not accommodated and employers were found to have discriminated based on family status. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, family status refers to the “status of being in a parent and child relationship,” including diverse familial relationships that may not be bound by blood or adoptive ties but are centred on care, responsibility and commitment.

The need for flexible or customized work arrangements and workplace accommodations based on family status will continue to increase as Canada’s population ages and the formal and informal care needs increase in response. Formal care refers to the paid services provided by an institution or an individual for a care recipient, while informal care refers to unpaid care provided by family, friends and volunteers. Often, a mix of formal and informal care is included in treatment or recovery plans. For those providing informal care, managing their own personal and family responsibilities and health care services accentuates the need for flexibility, as care demands are rarely static and tend to fluctuate over time.

Within the labour force, flexibility is often thought to be available only to managers or applicable to white collar workers or professions. However, a recent publication by the Families and Work Institute, Workflex and Manufacturing Guide: More Than a Dream, found that even in the manufacturing sector – which is often perceived as having rigid workplace requirements – a growing number of companies have found ways to accommodate their employees’ care needs. Such needs are now being met through creative and innovative FWAs, resulting in increased employee satisfaction and productivity.

One employer in manufacturing offered to pay for half of the fifth work day for employees who met their weekly goals, thereby allowing workers to use this as paid leave in half-day increments. Another employer focused on cross-training – training employees in multiple positions in the production process – as a way to increase overall flexibility and versatility among their workforce while ensuring that all stations remain covered to meet the continued needs of the organization.

With precarious employment, seasonal jobs or self-employment, flexibility may be inherently built into work. However, employees who are managing care responsibilities may be the ones paying a higher cost when it comes to lost wages due to absenteeism or reduced workloads.

Families are society’s most adaptable institution – a trait that is rooted in their constant need to adjust to ever-evolving environments. As organizations of all kinds consist of diverse family members, all of whom face unique realities, flexibility is key to the resiliency of families, the labour force and economy, and our greater society.

Sara MacNaull is responsible for Networks, Projects and Special Events at the Vanier Institute of the Family and is currently working toward earning the Work–Life Certified Professional designation.

This article can be downloaded in PDF format here.

Reflections on the Families in Canada Conference 2015

By Vanier CEO Nora Spinks

If it is true that “many people walk in and out of your life, but only true friends leave footprints on your heart,” then many participants at the Families in Canada Conference 2015 left the historic event with lots of new tracks on their hearts as a result of this unique experience. We explored the stories behind the statistics, modelled diversity and inclusion, challenged our assumptions, examined our biases and imagined the future of families in Canada.

Over the past few years, leading up to the 2015 conference, the Vanier Institute embarked on the National Families in Canada Listening Tour, where thousands of Canadians were asked to reflect on their experiences, hopes, dreams and expectations. They were tasked with completing the phrase “Family is…” and asked to imagine and anticipate the future by completing the phrase “Wouldn’t it be great if…”

Their Excellencies The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and Mrs. Sharon JohnstonIn spring of 2012, the first Families in Canada Round Table was held at Rideau Hall, co-hosted by the Vanier Institute and His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. Vanier Institute Board Chair David Northcott opened the 2015 conference by sharing that one of the Canadian leaders at this event said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was another gathering like the original Canadian Conference on the Family, where we could expand the conversation involving more people from across the country?”

The Families in Canada Conference 2015 did just that! And did it in a big way.

Participants attended this conference to learn. People came from across the country, representing all 10 provinces and two of Canada’s territories, all sectors and many industries. Our conversations were enriched with diverse perspectives from researchers, scholars, academics, writers and journalists, service providers, government officials and employers, as well as advocates and people with lived experiences.

People attended to gather information, to hear and share insights and to be inspired.

The past is about learning, the present is about growth and the future is about possibilities. Over two days, participants reflected on the past, examined the present and began imagining the future.
This special conference on families in Canada, hosted by a research and education organization, was unique in many ways. In planning the experience, we wanted it to be informative, memorable, impactful, insightful and inspirational. We wanted it to be positive, hopeful and inclusive. We achieved those objectives and more.
Conference speaker Andrew Solomon

The experience was greater than we could have thought possible, and it was enhanced by recent and current events, technology, the gifts and talents speakers and panellists shared with participants, and the openness and engagement of all those present.

Who would have thought that an opening musical performance by gifted Inuk artist Susan Aglukark singing “O Siem” (we are family) would be so powerful and set the tone for the entire conference?

Who would have thought that we would have a keynote speaker on Day 1 who talked about disability, difference and diversity and described his own complex family structure that spans three states and includes himself, his husband, four other adults and four children – and that he was able to talk about it publicly and share it in a room where he was respected and his experiences were valued?

Who would have thought that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would have released their report just before the conference began, and that it was exactly seven years ago to the day of our Respect, Reconciliation and Resilience conversation that panellist and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Phil Fontaine spoke to the Senate, kicking off the process?

Conference speakers Archbishop V. James Weisgerber, Kelly J. Lendsay and Phil FontaineWho would have thought – even a few years ago – that people would come to a meeting like this and instead of being asked to turn off their phones, actually be asked to turn them on to tweet about our conversations?

Who would have thought that thousands of tweets would be posted with the conference hashtag? Just to put that in perspective: at the Institute, we usually have five to 10 a day. So, a thousand a day is remarkable.

Who would have thought that by doing so we would have reached not only the people in the room, but thousands of other people out there through Twitter, and thousands more through the radio interviews that occurred during the conference with Andrew Solomon, barbara findlay and myself; locally, nationally and internationally, our conversations continued well beyond the meeting room.

Conference speakers barbara findlay and Ann DouglasWho would have thought that those who study, serve and support families would so graciously step outside of their comfort zone? Who would have thought that a research conference would include people singing, talking about dancing, speaking about their experiences, hugging, sharing their feelings openly and telling their stories about being part of a family, studying families and family life or supporting families in their homes and communities?

Who would have thought that academics would step out of their comfort zone and actually stand in front of a conference about research on families without a single PowerPoint!

Who would have thought that we would include knowledge translation with graphics, art and music – that we would be talking about families and transferring knowledge using rap, video, poetry, posters and even a magic trick?

Conference speaker Carl CadoganWho would have thought that a research conference would include musicians on its panels and artists in the audience? Who would have thought that we would have a gathering here in Canada with Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Inuit and Métis), with Catholic Church leaders, with a Rabbi, with a leader in the Muslim community, with people who are Hindi and others from many cultures?

We set out to gather new information, to reflect and to be inspired to take that new knowledge and those fresh insights and turn them into solid impact in the work that we do. We set out to understand poverty, homelessness, the early years and the golden years. We set out to understand the power of relationships and the importance of communications.

We set out to understand the two sides of the technology coin – the pain and the exclusion that it sometimes creates, but also the power and the possibility of the inclusion that it can provide. We achieved these objectives and more!

Conference speakers Corey and Jessie Van EssenAs the Families in Canada Conference 2015 drew to a close, the participants reflected on the experience and made a commitment to create a Canada where families engage and thrive in a caring and compassionate society, with a robust and prosperous economy, in an inclusive and vibrant culture, in a safe and sustainable environment. Achieving this will require creativity, innovation, passion, intelligence, courage, commitment and collaboration.

The bright minds at the conference, the catalytic conversations held and the diverse approaches to enhancing our understanding of Canada’s families have shown us that while there is much work to be done, the future is full of possibility and potential.

Wouldn’t it be great if 50 years from now, at the Families in Canada Conference 2065, the next generation of those who study, serve and support Canada’s families gather to celebrate the realization of this vision?

Suggested Reading: “‘I Don’t Have Time for This!’: A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Your Parents and Yourself”

By Katherine Arnup, PhD

Aging, illness and dying are realities that we all will face at some point, in our family circles and ultimately in our own lives. Despite this fact of life, most people in the Western world are hesitant to discuss this inevitable journey with our loved ones, despite the importance of these conversations in preparing for the future.

In her new book, “I Don’t Have Time for This!”: A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Your Parents and Yourself, award-winning author Dr. Katherine Arnup provides a thoughtful and informative guide to beginning essential conversations with our parents about the end of life, tools and strategies for caregiving, keys to releasing guilt and regret, advice about asking for and receiving help, and the positive impact that facing aging, illness and death can have on our lives (and those around us).

“Katherine Arnup has been able to capture the complexity of life and living in family relationships while guiding us gently through the inevitability of death and dying. Documenting both sides of the caregiving/receiving experience, this important and timely resource helps us summon the courage to have the sometimes difficult conversations with loved ones and service providers – and with ourselves. A validation for those who have been a part of an end-of-life experience and an inspiration for all of us who expect to be part of one in the future – even if it is only our own.” – Nora Spinks, CEO, Vanier Institute of the Family

To learn more about the family experiences of death and dying in the Canadian context, read Death, Dying and Canadian Families – a 2013 report by Dr. Arnup, published as part of the Vanier Institute’s Contemporary Family Trends series. This report explores the death denying/defying culture of the Western world and its implications for families in Canada while rooting the discussion in four key contexts: Canada’s aging population, the realities of chronic illness and the need for care, the gap between desires and reality regarding the location of death, and the impact on families and family life.

Death, Dying and Canadian Families can be downloaded from the Vanier Institute website.

About Katherine Arnup, PhD

Katherine Arnup is a social historian, life coach and retired university professor. She is the author of the award-winning book Education for Motherhood: Advice for Mothers in Twentieth-Century Canada, editor of the first book on lesbian families in Canada (Lesbian Parenting: Living with Pride and Prejudice) and author of more than three dozen articles on marriage, motherhood, lesbian and gay families, aging, death and dying.

Dr. Arnup will be a panellist at the Families in Canada Conference 2015 on June 10 and 11, 2015. Read her full biography on the conference website.

Listen to Dr. Arnup discuss the importance of talking about death and dying on CBC Ottawa Morning.