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.

 


SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


NOTES

1 Battams (2013).

2 Bleakney (2014).

3 Becker (2007).

4 Stamatopolous (2015a).

5 Ibid.

6 Charles, Stainton, and Marshall (2002).

7 Charles et al. (2012).

8 Bleakney (2014).

9 Charles et al. (2012).

10 Bleakney (2014).

11 Stamatopoulos (2015b).

12 Stamatapoulos (2015a).

13 Stamatapoulos (2015b).

 


Further Reading

Programs and Networks:

Cowichan Family Caregivers Support Society Young Carers’ Network

Hospice Toronto Young Carers Program

Powerhouse Project: Young Carers Initiative

Young Carers Project of Waterloo Region

 




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)