Families Count 2024: new resource on family structure now available

Families Count 2024 is now available

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

STUDIES:

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.


Note

  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?

 

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.


Note

  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.

 

Celebrating Chosen Family Within the LGBTQ+ Community

Gaby Novoa

February 18, 2021

This February 22, 2021 is Chosen Family Day, a national observance of the significant relationships among those in the LGBTQ+ community.1, 2 Families formed by choice, and with intention, play a vital role in the lives of many LGBTQ+ people, where close relationships provide care, affirmation and a sense of belonging.

Research shows that marginalization due to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity has been linked to higher rates of family rejection, mental health challenges, substance abuse and exposure to violence among LGBTQ+, compared with their heterosexual and/or cisgender counterparts.3 These vulnerabilities are further amplified for those with intersectional identities, such as one’s race, class, religion or dis/abilities. Chosen families, friendships and positive community connections are therefore essential, as social connectedness is a key factor in well-being and resilience.4

Chosen families face more barriers yet serve many of the same functions of biological families

Fondation Émergence, a non-profit organization in Quebec that supports and serves the LGBTQ+ community through education and awareness-building, champions the importance of chosen family.5 Julien Rougerie, Program Manager with the organization, asserts that the roles within chosen and biological families are often identical: providing love, support, care and connections.

The difference for family who are not blood-related, however, is that their roles are often impeded by more barriers, such as the lack of formal recognition of such ties as valid or “legitimate.” Research has shown, for example, that LGBTQ+ seniors in long-term care homes are sometimes not able to get access or certain permissions for their loved ones when protocols and regulations are not inclusive to those who do not fall under “traditional” conceptualizations of a family member. Moreover, the fear of disclosing one’s sexual orientation can sometimes prevent an individual from identifying their partner or spouse. When institutions, such as health care or long-term care systems, do not acknowledge these diverse family formations, they block pathways of necessary care and connection.

One study found that, apart from their partner, 59% of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults aged 50 and over indicated that friends are the first people they contact in emergencies, whereas only 9% say that they contact a “family member.”6 Rougerie notes that LGBTQ+ older adults commonly share experiences of estrangement or distance from their biological families, as they grew up in sociocultural and political contexts in which there existed more stigma and sanctions around queerness. Reliance and interdependence with chosen family therefore take on additional significance among LGBTQ+ older adults, whose chosen family often become their caregivers in later life.

Chosen family and well-being are interconnected

In preparing for Chosen Family Day, the Vanier Institute asked people who identify as LGBTQ+ to share what these connections mean to them. Many of the responses and reflections highlighted themes of solace, security and strength:

“Chosen family is moving forward in my life. It’s feeling like I have agency in the experience of fraternity, trust and companionship. It’s building networks that are strong, like the points and spirals on a spider web.” 

  

“To me, chosen family is the community of support with which you surround yourself. It’s the relationships you hold closest – whatever their nature is – and where you feel unquestionably at home.” 

 

“Chosen family is wholehearted, wholesome, safe, strength, shared resources, shared emotions, uplifting habits, community, shared creation (such as through food), communion and ritual.”  

 

“For me, chosen family is a group of people that you can turn to when you face hardships or have something to celebrate, and they can be there for you without judgement, especially when it comes to queer aspects of life such as dating or gender identity. It’s not really about seeing each other all the time or even being best friends, it’s knowing that you can confide and find comfort in someone and be assured that they love you AND your queerness, not despite it.” 

 

“Chosen family mean there’s always an extra chair, and it’s for you.” 

 

“Chosen family to me is reclaiming something that you didn’t have before.” 

 

“Having a chosen family is an extension of self-love. The active choice to surround myself with people who love and support me is the most significant way that I can appreciate and value myself.”

  

“Chosen family is like a big family gathering but without uncomfortable chairs, heavy air (heavy with secrets) and weird unspoken rules about when to speak. Instead, we are talking about a web of people who bob in and out of my life. I look to them and they look out for me. It’s not all smooth sailing – they teach me hard lessons (like how to avoid jealousy and how to deal with grief). In the light moments and in the rough ones, I’m so grateful for my chosen family.” 

 

“Chosen family is a place without judgement. It’s where you feel safe and true to yourself. It’s a place ‘where you don’t have to shrink yourself, to pretend or to perform.’”7

 

“Chosen family are those who help you sustain an environment of peace where you can show up as your authentic self.”

 

“To me a chosen family is one connected above all by trust and a kind of loyalty that is easy because it recognizes and anticipates change and growth.” 

Special thanks to all those who took the time to share.

 Responses have been edited for punctuation.

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


Notes

  1. Friends of Ruby – an organization focused on supporting the progressive well-being of LGBTQI2S youth through social services and housing – launched Chosen Family Day in February 2020. Link: https://www.friendsofruby.ca/.
  2. Nathan Battams, “In Conversation: Lucy Gallo on Chosen Family Day and LGBTQI2S Youth,” The Vanier Institute of the Family (February 2020).
  3. Jonathan Garcia et al., “Social Isolation and Connectedness as Determinants of Well-Being: Global Evidence Mapping Focused on LGBTQ Youth,” Global Public Health (October 2019). Link: .
  4. Ibid.
  5. Fondation Émergence. Link: .
  6. Fondation Émergence, “Ensuring the Good Treatment of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Older Adults” (2018). Link:.
  7. The quoted words are lyrics from the song “Family” by Blood Orange.

 

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


Notes

  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.

 

Report: COVID-19 and Parenting in Canada

September 3, 2020

In June 2020, the Vanier Institute prepared the report Families “Safe at Home”: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Parenting in Canada for the UN Expert Group Meeting Families in Development: Focus on Modalities for IYF+30, Parenting Education and the Impact of COVID-19. Now available in English and French, this report highlights family experiences, connections and well-being during COVID-19, as well as the current resources, policies, programs and initiatives in place to support families and family life.

Families “Safe at Home” details federal, provincial and territorial resources created to offset, mitigate or alleviate the financial impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on families. In addition to government responses, a summary is provided of the diverse range of available services that support families from pre-parenthood to adolescence and that serve parents across Canada, including those who belong to Indigenous, 2SITLGBQ+ and newcomer communities.

The Expert Group Meeting was organized by the Division for Inclusive Social Development (DISD) of the UN Department of Economic and Social affairs (UN DESA), where experts from diverse fields from around the world connected virtually to discuss COVID-19 impacts, assess progress and emerging issues related to parenting and education, and plan for upcoming observances of the 30th anniversary of the International Year of the Family (IYF).


Families “Safe at Home”: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Parenting in Canada

Nora Spinks, Sara MacNaull, Jennifer Kaddatz

Toward the end of 2019, news began to spread around the world about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Like many other countries, Canada was facing the possibility of weeks and months with families living in isolation in their homes, changes to school and work schedules, and unknown impacts on family connections and well-being.

In 2020, global citizens around the world are living in and adapting to new ways of life while remaining “safe at home” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Canadians have been striving to respect physical and social distancing guidelines implemented by our governments and based on the recommendations of public health officials since March 10, 2020. For many families, the past three months have included parenting in close quarters with high levels of uncertainty and unpredictability while managing work commitments, fulfilling care responsibilities inside and outside the home, and homeschooling children of all ages. Despite the inability to plan and the unknowns about what the next few weeks and months might look like, most families are maintaining good physical and mental health, taking care of one another and weathering the storm with their neighbours and communities at a distance.

During these unprecedented times, the Vanier Institute of the Family has adjusted its focus to understanding families in Canada in a time of drastic social, economic and environmental change. The daily activities of individuals and families in Canada, what they are thinking, how they are feeling and what they are doing are all important factors to be addressed and understood in the short, medium or long term.

Accordingly, representatives from the Vanier Institute were co-founders of the COVID-19 Social Impacts Network, a multidisciplinary group of some of Canada’s leading experts along with some of their international colleagues. The network has identified important issues, key indicators and relevant socio-demographics to generate evidence-based responses addressing the social and economic dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis in Canada. As well, to understand the experiences of families during the pandemic, the Vanier Institute has internally mobilized knowledge from other available sources, including quantitative data from both government and non-governmental agencies, such as Statistics Canada and UNICEF Canada, as well as qualitative information from individuals, families and organizations across the nation. Analyses of these findings illuminate characteristics of family life both before and during the pandemic, providing insight into what Canadians fear and what they look forward to after public health measures are lifted.

Consistent with its core principles, the Vanier Institute honours and respects the perspectives of diverse families by applying a family lens and Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+), whenever possible.1 By examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and any of its associated “costs and consequences,” including fertility patterns, parenting, family relationships, family dynamics and family well-being, the Institute mobilizes knowledge to those who study, serve and support families to make sound evidence-based decisions when designing and implementing policies and programs for all families in Canada.

COVID-19 Pandemic Experience in Canada

As of May 31, 2020, 1.6 million people have been tested for COVID-19 in Canada (approximately 4.5% of the total population). Among them, 5% have tested positive for the virus, with 8% resulting in death.2 Seniors in long-term care facilities who have died of COVID-19 represent approximately 82% of all deaths linked to the virus.3

Families are like all other “systems” during the pandemic – their strengths and weakness are magnified, amplified and intensified as relationships, interactions and behaviours adapt to changes in routine, habits and experiences. Family connections, family well-being and youth experiences have all been dramatically affected.

Family Connections

  • Approximately 8 in 10 adults (aged 18 and older) who are married or living common-law agreed that they and their spouse were supporting one another well since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (Fig. 1). This figure varies only slightly for those with children or youth at home (77%) compared with those without children under the age of 18 in the household (82%).4
  • Fewer than 2 in 10 adults in committed relationships said they had been arguing more since the start of the pandemic (Fig. 1).5
  • Six in 10 parents reported they were talking to their children more often than before the lockdown began.6
  • When young kids were in the house, adults were almost twice as likely as those with no children or youth at home to have increased their time spent making art, crafts or music.7

On the other hand…

  • One-third of adults said that they were very or extremely concerned about family stress from confinement.9
  • 10% of women and 6% of men were very or extremely concerned about the possibility of violence in the home.10, 11
  • About 1 in 5 Canadians had senior relatives living in a nursing home or facility, with 92% of females and 78% of men being very or somewhat concerned for their health.12

Family Well-Being

  • More than three-quarters of Statistics Canada’s crowdsource participants reported either very good or excellent (46%) or good (31%) mental health during pandemic, in a survey conducted April 24–May 11, 2020.13
  • Nearly half (48%) of Statistics Canada’s crowdsource participants said that their mental health was “about the same,” “somewhat better” or “much better” than it had been prior to the start of the pandemic.14
  • About half of adults said they felt anxious or nervous or felt sad “very often” or “often” since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.15
  • Regardless of age group or week surveyed, women expressed being more afraid than men that they would contract the virus or that someone in their immediate family would contract it (Fig. 2).16

  • Canadians were more afraid of a loved one contracting COVID-19 than they were of contracting it themselves. Adults who were “very” or “extremely”concerned about:
    • their own health: 36%
    • health of someone in household: 54%
    • health of vulnerable people: 79%
    • overloading the health care system: 84%18, 19
  • More than 4 in 10 of adults living with children under the age of 18 in their home said they “very often” or “often” have had difficulty sleeping since the beginning of the pandemic.20
  • When asked to describe how they have been primarily feeling in recent weeks, Canadians were most likely to say they were worried (44%), anxious (41%) and bored (30%); fully one-third (34%) also said they were “grateful.”21
  • Women were considerably more likely than men to report experiencing anxiety or nervousness, sadness, irritability or difficulty sleeping during the pandemic.22
  • Adults across all age groups continued to exercise during the pandemic, as two-thirds of adults aged 18–34 reported that they were exercising equally as often or more often during the pandemic than they were before it started. The figures were similar for adults aged 35–54 (62%) and aged 55 and older (65%).23
  • Younger adults (aged 15–49) were more likely to report an increase in junk food consumption than older adults.24
  • Food banks saw a 20% average increase in demand, with some local food banks, such as those in Toronto, Ontario, seeing increases as high as 50%.25
  • More than 9 in 10 people aged 15 and older said that the pandemic had not changed their consumption of tobacco nor cannabis.26 Just under 8 in 10 reported that the pandemic had not affected their drinking habits.27

Youth Experiences

  • Youth aged 12–19 said they got most of their information about COVID-19 and public health measures from their parents.28
  • Older youth, aged 15–17, were more anxious than younger youth, aged 12–14.29
  • Among youth aged 15–17, 50% reported that the pandemic had had “a lot” or “some” negative impact on their mental health, compared with 34% of youth aged 12–14. Approximately 4 in 10 youth aged 12–17 reported “a lot” or “some” negative impact on their physical health.30
  • Approximately half of children and youth across all age groups missed their friends the most while in isolation.31
  • Though 75% of youth claimed to be keeping up with school while in isolation, many were also unmotivated (60%) and disliked the arrangement (57%) (i.e. online learning; virtual classrooms).32
  • Many youth said they were doing more housework or chores during the pandemic.33
  • Older teens (aged 15–17) were having more difficult sleeping, feeling more anxious or nervous, sad and irritable. Younger teens (aged 12–14) were more likely to feel happy than older teens (Fig. 3).34

COVID-19 Pandemic Response in Canada

Since March 2020, the provincial, territorial and federal governments have announced diverse benefits, credits, programs, initiatives and funds to support families across Canada. The purpose of these recent resources is to offset, mitigate or alleviate the financial impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on families during this period of uncertainty, including the following:

Temporary Increase to the Canada Child Benefit (CCB)

The Canada Child Benefit (CCB) is a tax-free monthly payment made to eligible families to help with the cost of raising children under the age of 18. The amount of the benefit varies depending on the number of children, the age of the children, marital status and family net income from the previous year’s tax return. The CCB may include the child disability benefit and any related provincial and territorial programs.36

For families already receiving the CCB, an additional $300 per child was added to the benefit in May 2020. For example, a family with two children received $600, in addition to their regular monthly CCB payment, which could be up to a maximum of $553.25 per month per child under the age of 6 and $466.83 per month per child aged 6–17.37, 38

Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)

In April 2020, Canada’s federal government established the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to support workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CERB provides $2,000 every four weeks to workers who have lost their income as a result of the pandemic. Eligibility includes adults who have lost their job or who are sick, quarantined or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19. It applies to wage earners, contract workers and self-employed individuals who are unable to work. The benefit also allows individuals to earn up to $1,000 per month while collecting CERB.39

As a result of school and child care closures across Canada, the CERB is available to working parents who must stay home without pay to care for their children until schools and child care can safely reopen and welcome back children of all ages.

As of early May 2020, more than 7 million Canadians had applied for CERB since its introduction.40

Mortgage Payment Deferral

Homeowners across Canada who are facing financial hardship due to lack of work or decreased income during the pandemic may be eligible for a mortgage payment deferral of up to six months.

The payment deferral is an agreement between individuals and their mortgage lender, which includes a suspension of all mortgage payment for a specified period of time.41

Special Good and Services Tax Credit

The Goods and Services Tax credit is a tax-free quarterly payment that helps individuals and families with low and modest incomes offset all or part of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) or the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) that they pay.42

In April 2020, the federal government provided a one-time special payment in April 2020 to those receiving the Goods and Services Tax credit. The average additional benefit was nearly $400 for single individuals and close to $600 for couples.43

Temporary wage top-up for low-income essential workers

The federal government is providing $3 billion to increase the wages of low-income essential workers. Examples of essential workers (though variable by province or territory) may include health care professionals, long-term care facility employees and grocery store employees.

Each province or territory is responsible for determining which workers are eligible for this support and how much they will receive.44

Emergency Relief Support Fund for Parents of Children with Special Needs (Province of British Columbia)

To support parents of children with special needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of British Columbia created a new Emergency Relief Support Fund. The fund will provide a direct payment of $225 per month to eligible families from April to June 2020 (three months).

The payment may be used to purchase supports that help alleviate stress, such as meal preparation and grocery shopping assistance; homemaking services; caregiver relief support and/or counselling services, online or by phone.45

COVID-19 Income Support Program (Province of Prince Edward Island)

In April 2020, the Government of Prince Edward Island announced financial support for individuals whose income has been impacted as a direct result of the public health state of emergency, as well as additional protocols to keep residents safe.

The COVID-19 Income Support Program will help individuals bridge the gap between their loss of income and Employment Insurance (EI) benefits or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) by providing a one-time, taxable payment of $750.46

Support for Families Initiative (Province of Ontario)

In April 2020, the Government of Ontario announced direct financial support to parents while Ontario schools and child care centres remain closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Support for Families initiative offers a one-time payment of $200 per child aged 0–12 and $250 for those aged 0–21 with special needs.47

Emergency Allowance for Income Assistance Clients (Northwest Territories)

For Income Assistance clients registered in March 2020, the Government of the Northwest Territories provided a one-time emergency allowance to help with a 14-day supply of food and cleaning products as the stores have them available.

The Income Assistance (IA) program is designed for residents who are aged 19 and older and who have a need greater than their income. The emergency allowance received by individuals was $500 and for families it was $1,000.48

Parenting in Canada: Government Priorities, Policies, Programs and Resources

The Government of Canada and the provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments provide support to parents in Canada in myriad ways. In addition to the supports provided to assist families during the COVID-19 pandemic, as described in the previous section, a selection of current priorities, policies, programs and resources that are current and existed pre-pandemic are highlighted below.

Early Learning and Child Care

Early learning and child care needs across Canada are vast and diverse. The Government of Canada is investing in early learning and child care to ensure children get the best start in life. As a first step, the federal, provincial and territorial Ministers responsible for early learning and child care have agreed to a Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework. The new Framework sets the foundation for governments to work toward a shared long-term vision where all children across Canada can experience the enriching environment of quality early learning and child care. The guiding principles of the Framework are to increase quality, accessibility, affordability, flexibility and inclusivity. A distinct Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework was co-developed with Indigenous partners, reflecting the unique cultures and needs of First Nation, Inuit and Métis children across Canada.49, 50

Before- and After-school Care

Canada’s federal government priorities currently include working with the provinces and territories to invest in the creation of up to 250,000 additional before- and after-school spaces for children under the age of 10, at least 10% of which would allow for care during extended hours. Priorities also include decreasing child care fees for before- and after-school programs by 10%.51

Just for You – Parents

“Just for You – Parents” is a federally created web-based list of resources for parents on topics, including alcohol, smoking and drugs; child abuse; childhood diseases and illnesses; educational resources; family issues; healthy living; mental health; parenting tips (childhood development); school health; and work–life balance. Each topic includes a range of subtopics that direct parents through links to the most up-to-date information available in Canada on issues of importance to them and their children.52

Guaranteed Paid Family Leave Program

In 2019, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development was tasked to work with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion to improve and integrate the existing Employment Insurance-based system of maternity and parental benefits and work with the province of Quebec on the effective integration with its own parental benefits system.53

  • Maternity and Parental Benefits Administered through the Employment Insurance (EI) program in Canada (excluding Quebec), maternity and parental benefits include financial support (i.e. income replacement for eligible workers) to new mothers and parents following the birth or adoption of a child. The number of weeks and amount paid to each parent varies depending on the type of benefit, number of weeks and maximum amount payable (as determined by the government).54 In Quebec, the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) administers the maternity, paternity, parental and adoption benefits. The amount received by parents is also dependent on the type of benefit, number of weeks and maximum amount payable (as determined by the provincial government). In 2019, the average weekly standard parental benefit rate in Canada reached $464.00 per month.55, 56

Modernizing Canada’s Federal Family Laws

On June 21, 2019, Royal Assent was given to amend Canada’s federal family laws related to divorce, parenting and enforcement of family obligations. The first update to family laws in more than 20 years, this initiative will make federal family laws more responsive to the needs of families through changes to the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act. The majority of the amendments to the Divorce Act will come into force July 1, 2020, while amendments to the other Acts will take place over two years. The legislation has four key objectives: promote the best interests of the child; address family violence; help to reduce child poverty; and make Canada’s family justice system more accessible and efficient.57

Provincial and Territorial Child Protection Legislation and Policy

The federal, provincial and territorial governments of Canada recognize the importance of surveillance in providing evidence about the contexts, risk factors and types of child maltreatment to inform policy, program, service and awareness interventions. Through their child welfare ministries, the provincial and territorial governments are responsible for assisting children in need of protection; they are also the primary source of administrative data and information related to reported child maltreatment. Preventing and addressing child maltreatment is a complex undertaking that involves the engagement of governments at all levels and in various sectors, including social services, policing, justice and health. At the federal level, the Family Violence Initiative brings together multiple departments to prevent and address family violence, including child maltreatment. The Department of Justice is responsible for the Criminal Code, which includes several forms of child abuse. As the Criminal Code currently stands – which has been debated by advocates and parents alike – section 43 legally allows for the use of corporal punishment on children by select individuals as long as does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.58, 59

Nobody’s Perfect

Introduced nationally in 1987 and currently owned by the Public Health Agency of Canada, Nobody’s Perfect is a facilitated parenting program for parents of children aged 0–5. The program is designed to meet the needs of parents who are young, single, or socially or geographically isolated, or who have low income or limited formal education, and is offered in communities by facilitators to help support parents and young children. It provides parents of young children with a safe place to build on their parenting skills, an opportunity to learn new skills and concepts, and a place to interact with other parents who have children the same age.60

Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities

The Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities (AHSUNC) Program is a national community-based early intervention program funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. AHSUNC focuses on early childhood development for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and their families living off-reserve. Since 1995, AHSUNC has provided funding to Indigenous community-based organizations to develop and deliver programs that promote the healthy development of Indigenous preschool children. It supports the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical development of Indigenous children, while supporting their parents and guardians as their primary teachers.61

Parenting in Canada: Pre-Parenthood to Adolescence62

For expectant parents (or those considering parenthood), the months leading up to the birth or adoption of a child can be exciting and overwhelming. There are many things to prepare for – including the unexpected – in advance of the little one’s arrival. Support in Canada often includes regular and free visits with an obstetrician-gynecologist, a midwife or other registered health care professionals to ensure healthy growth and development. Programs and services are also available in communities across Canada to prepare and plan for parenthood.

  • 2SITLGBQ+ Family Planning Weekend Intensive This two-day program is structured to explore pathways to parenthood and strategies for achieving one’s vision of kinship and family. Participants are encouraged to ask questions, gather information and build community, while exploring topics such as co-parenting, multi-parent and single parent families, pregnancy, kinship struggles and self-advocacy. (LGBTQ+ Parenting Network)
  • Preparing for Parenthood Geared toward parents-to-be, this program offers information about how to remain healthy during pregnancy and what to expect during the early days and weeks of parenthood. (EarlyON Child and Family Centres)
  • Mommies & Mamas 2B/Daddies & Papas 2B This 12-week course is geared toward gay/lesbian, bisexual and queer men/women who are considering parenthood. The course includes resources and discussions to explore practical, emotional, social, ethical, financial, medical, legal, political and intersectional issues related to becoming a parent. Topics explored include co-parenting, surrogacy, parenting arrangements, non-biological and adoptive parenting, fertility awareness, pre-natal care options and legal issues. (LGBTQ+ Parenting Network)

Newborns and Infants

Caring for a newborn or infant comes with many triumphs and challenges. For parents, programs and services are offered across the country, many free of charge, including visits with pediatricians and registered health care professionals. Postnatal care services vary across regions and communities, which may include informational supports, home visits from a public health nurse or a lay home visitor, or telephone-based support (e.g. Telehealth) from a public health nurse or midwife.63 Organizations across the country also offer drop-in programs for parents, grandparents and caregivers to support healthy child development and attachment.

  • Roots of Empathy At the heart of the program are an infant and parent who visit a local classroom every three weeks over the course of the school year. Along with a trained Roots of Empathy Instructor, students observe the baby’s development and feelings. This program provides opportunities for parents and infants to take part in teaching emotional literacy and empathy to children aged 5–12, while strengthening their own bonds to each other. (Roots of Empathy)
  • Parenting My Baby Tailored to new parents to provide opportunities to learn, participate in discussions on various topics related to infancy, child development and parenting, as well as opportunities to meet fellow new parents. (EarlyON Child and Family Centres)
  • Bellies & Babies This drop-in group is geared toward pregnant women and new parents with babies from birth to one year. The group provides individual and peer support for pregnant women and postnatal mothers and provides resources and support to new parents. Resources include topics such as the importance of early secure attachment, nutrition, breastfeeding, mental health, infant development and parenting. (Sunshine Coast Community Services Society)
  • Young Parents Connect This informal support group is geared toward parents and parents-to-be under the age of 26. It provides an opportunity to meet other young parents, ask questions and share concerns. Each session also includes a fun, interactive activity for children and parents together. (EarlyON Child and Family Centres)

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Programs for toddlers and preschoolers include a variety of activities to engage both children and their parents to support healthy child development and parent–child attachment. Programs may include drop-in activities, such as those offered by the Boys and Girls Club of Canada or through municipal recreation centres. The drop-in program – offering dancing, story time, arts and crafts and much more – provides opportunities for parents, caregivers and grandparents to take part in learning activities to create, explore and play. Drop-ins welcome moms, dads, grandparents and caregivers, while also providing opportunities to meet and connect with others within the community.

  • Parenting Skills 0–5 This online parenting class is designed for families experiencing challenges, providing parents with a foundational understanding to raise their children during the first five years. Topics in this class include child development and personality, discipline, sleep and nutrition. Parenting skills classes are also available for parents with children aged 5–13 and 13–18. (BC Council for Families)
  • Fathering Tailored to fathers, including new dads, those experiencing separation or divorce, teen dads and Indigenous dads, this series of resources provides information on how to navigate the various stages of childhood while providing practical tips in support of both fathers and their children. (BC Council for Families)
  • Dad HERO (Helping Everyone Realize Opportunities) This project consists of an 8-week parenting course (offered in select correctional institutions in Canada) and a Dad Group both inside the facility for incarcerated fathers and in the community for fathers who were previously incarcerated. This project was designed to educate and teach fathers about parenting, child development and growth, and their role in their children’s lives. Dad HERO provides parenting education and support connecting fathers with their children and improve their mental health and well-being. (Canadian Families and Corrections Network)

School-Aged Children

As children begin and progress through the formal education system in Canada, they encounter various people (i.e. peers, educators) and influences (i.e. social media). Programs and services for parents of school-aged children provide practical tips, informative resources and opportunities to meet and engage with fellow parents in their communities.

  • Parenting School-Age and Adult Children This resource was created to support newcomer parenting programs and address some of the challenges that newcomer parents and caregivers may have with parenting in Canadian society. The goal of the program is to gain effective communication skills, better understand the Canadian school systems and create a safe space for parents and caregivers to address their questions and concerns relating to children integrating into the wider Canadian society and culture. (CMAS)
  • Positive Discipline in Everyday Parenting This workshop series promotes non-violent discipline and respects the child as a learner. It is an approach to teaching that helps children succeed, gives them information and supports their growth from infancy to adulthood. (EarlyON Child and Family Centres)
  • Newcomer Parent Resource Series Available in 16 languages (e.g. Urdu, Arabic and Russian), this resource series explores various topics of interest tailored to meet the unique needs of immigrant and refugee parents of young children. Topics include Keeping Your Home Language, Guiding Your Child’s Behaviour, Helping Your Child Cope with Stress, Children Learn Through Play, and Listening to and Talking with Your Child. (CMAS)
  • Parenting after Separation: Meeting the Challenges This six-week program is geared toward parents who have recently experienced separation from their partner. Parents meet once a week to discuss the challenge associated with parental separation and divorce and learn practical strategies to support their children. (Family Service Toronto)
  • Foster Parent Support This program provides direct, outreach-oriented support to foster parents/caregivers and the children/youth in their care. Support workers work directly with the family in their home, in the community or via phone. This program is intended to be flexible in meeting the unique needs of each foster family and can offer a variety of supports, including teaching conflict resolution skills, de-escalation techniques, collaborative problem solving and using strength-based and trauma-informed approaches. (Boys and Girls Club of Canada)

Adolescents

Parenting a teen can be challenge, especially in the rapidly evolving era of technology. Adolescence can also be a difficult time for teens who may be questioning their identity, their purpose and envisioning their goals for the future. Programs for parents of teens recognize the importance of supporting children through adolescence as they transition into adulthood.

  • Parents Together This is an ongoing professionally facilitated education and group support program for parents who are experiencing challenges while parenting a teen. This program helps parents address their feelings (e.g. guilty, isolation) and provides opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge that can help decrease conflict in the home between parents and their teen. (Boys and Girls Club of Canada)
  • Transceptance This is an ongoing monthly peer support group for parents and caregivers of transgender youth and young adults. The support provides support and education, reduces isolation and stress, and shares information, including strategies for dealing or coping with disclosures. (Central Toronto Youth Services)
  • Parenting in the Know This 10-week education and support program to learn more about adolescent development, teen mental health and other common issues that parents experience. Local guest speakers, community resources, practical ideas and connections with others experiencing similar issues help parents feel better equipped to parent their teen. (Boys and Girls Club of Canada)
  • Families in TRANSition (FIT) This 10-week program is geared toward parents/caregivers of trans- and gender-questioning youth (aged 13–21) who have recently learned of their child’s gender identity. The program provides support to parents/caregivers to gain tools and knowledge to help improve communication and strengthen their relationship with their youth; learn about social, legal and physical transition options; strengthen skills for managing strong emotions; explore societal/cultural/religious beliefs that impact trans youth and their families; build skills to support their youth and family when facing discrimination, transphobia and/or transmisogyny; and promote youth mental health and resilience. (Central Toronto Youth Services)

Looking Ahead

Families are the most adaptive institution in the world. They are resilient, diverse and strong.

As countries around the world begin to focus on the post-pandemic future, families and family experiences will continue to evolve and adapt. Parents may return to work outside the home, when children return to school and child care, and many will continue to work remotely. Some extracurricular activities will return, while classes like martial arts may continue to be delivered online.

While predicting the future has never been easy, the impact and realities of the global pandemic on families is not yet known, and programs and services may require adjustments in order to support the physical, mental, emotional and social well-being of parents and their children through a trauma-informed lens. Though many families may have been safe at home, some experienced an increase in violence, stress, isolation and anxiety.

Policy and program development, benefits, resources, supports and services will require a comprehensive understanding of families in Canada, their experiences and aspirations; thoughts and fears; and hopes and dreams during this period in time which has evolved and may forecast what lies ahead. The research and innovation behind the many initiatives, including those included in this paper, will help guide evidence-informed decisions; the development, design and implementation of evidence-based programs, policies and practices; and evidence-inspired innovation at all levels of government, community organizations, workplaces and faith communities to ensure families in Canada thrive now and into the future.

Nora Spinks is CEO at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Sara MacNaull is Program Director at the Vanier Institute ofthe Family.

Jennifer Kaddatz is a senior analyst at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Published on June 23, 2020

______________________________________________________________________________

This report was originally published on June 23, 2020 on the UN Department of Economic and Social affairs (UN DESA) website as part of the Expert Group Meeting on Families in Development: Focus on Modalities for IYF+30, Parenting Education and the Impact of COVID-19. This event was organized by the Division for Inclusive Social Development (DISD) of UNDESA to convene diverse experts from around the world virtually to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on families, assess progress and emerging issues related to parenting and education, and plan for upcoming observances of the 30th anniversary of the International Year of the Family (IYF).

Appendix A: Organizational and Program Overview

Founded in 1977, the BC Council for Families (BCCF) has been developing and delivering family support resources and training programs to professionals across the province of British Columbia as a way to share knowledge and build community connections. The BCCF offers online classes, resources and programs to support parents and children from infancy to adulthood.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada offer educational, recreational and skills development programs and services to children and youth in communities across Canada. The Clubs strive to provide safe, supportive places where children and youth can experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships and develop confidence and skills for life. Many Clubs also offer programs and services to parents to support child development and attachment.

__________

Founded in 1992, Canadian Families and Corrections Network (CFCN) aims to build stronger and safer communities by assisting families affected by criminal behaviour, incarceration and reintegration. Their work includes developing resources for children, parents and families to understand the correctional system and process in Canada and to support families as they manage the experience of having a loved one incarcerated.

__________

The Central Toronto Youth Services (CTYS) is a community-based, accredited Children’s Mental Health Centre that serves many of Toronto’s most vulnerable youth. Their programs and services meet a diversity of needs and challenges that young people experience, such as serious mental health issues; conflicts with the law; coping with anger, depression, anxiety, marginalization or rejection; and issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

__________

Founded in 2000, CMAS focuses on caring for immigrant and refugee children by sharing their expertise with immigrant serving organizations and other organizations in the child care field. They currently identify gaps in service and work to create solutions; establish and measure the standards of care; and support services for newcomer families through resources, training and consultations.

__________

EarlyON Child and Family Centres provide opportunities for children from birth to age 6 to participate in play and inquiry-based programs, and support parents and caregivers in their roles. The goal of the EarlyON is to enhance the quality and consistency of child and family programs across Ontario.

__________

For more than 100 years, Family Service Toronto has been supporting individuals and families through counselling, community development, advocacy and public education programs. This includes direct service work of intervention and prevention such as counselling, peer support and education; knowledge building and exchanging activities; and system-level work, including social action, advocacy, community building and working with partners to strengthen the sector.

__________

Founded in 2001 and housed at the Sherbourne Health Centre (in Toronto, Ontario), the LGBTQ+ Parenting Network supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer parenting through resource development, training and community organizing. The Network coordinates a wide range of programs and activities with and on behalf of LGBTQ parents, prospective parents and their families, including newsletters, print resources, support groups, social events, research projects, advocacy and training.

__________

For more than 30 years, Roots of Empathy has strived to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. The goals of Roots of Empathy are to foster the development of empathy; develop emotional literacy; reduce levels of bullying, aggression and violence; promote children’s pro-social behaviours; increase knowledge of human development, learning and infant safety; and prepare students for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting.

__________

Since 1974, Sunshine Coast Community Services Society (SCCSS) has provided services for individuals and families along the Sunshine Coast (British Columbia). Programs are focused around child and family counselling; child development and youth services; community action and engagement; domestic violence; and housing.


Notes

  1. GBA+ is an analytical process used to assess how diverse groups of women, men and non-binary people may experience policies, programs and initiatives. The “plus” in GBA+ acknowledges that GBA goes beyond biological (sex) and socio-cultural (gender) differences. We all have multiple identity factors that intersect to make us who we are; GBA+ also considers many other identity factors, such as race, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability. Link: https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/gba-acs/index-en.html
  2. Government of Canada. “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Outbreak Update” (May 31, 2020). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html
  3. Marc Montgomery, “COVID-19 Deaths: Calls for Government to Take Control of Long Term Care Homes,” Radio-Canada International (May 25, 2020). Link: https://www.rcinet.ca/en/2020/05/25/covid-19-deaths-calls-for-government-to-take-control-of-long-term-care-homes/
  4. A survey by Leger, the Association for Canadian Studies and the Vanier Institute of the Family, conducted weekly starting in March (beginning March 10–12), through April and May 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. Some weekly surveys included booster samples of specific populations. 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.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Statistics Canada. “Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1: Impacts of COVID-19,” The Daily (April 8, 2020). Link: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200408/dq200408c-eng.htm
  10. Ibid.
  11. Though data varies, reports have claimed that consultations by the federal government reveal a 20% to 30% increase in violence rates in certain regions which is supported by organizations such as Vancouver’s Battered Women Support Services that has reported a 300% increase in calls related to family violence during the pandemic. Links: ,
  12. Survey by Leger, the Association for Canadian Studies and the Vanier Institute of the Family.
  13. Statistics Canada. “Canadians’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic” (May 27, 2020). Link: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200527/dq200527b-eng.htm
  14. Ibid.
  15. Survey by Leger, the Association for Canadian Studies and the Vanier Institute of the Family.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Canada’s healthcare system is publicly funded, which means that all Canadian residents have reasonable access to medically necessary hospital and physician services without paying out-of-pocket. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canada-health-care-system.html
  20. Survey by Leger, the Association for Canadian Studies and the Vanier Institute of the Family.
  21. Angus Reid Institute. “Worry, Gratitude & Boredom: As COVID‑19 Affects Mental, Financial Health, Who Fares Better; Who Is Worse?” (April 27, 2020). Link: http://angusreid.org/covid19-mental-health/
  22. Survey by Leger, the Association for Canadian Studies and the Vanier Institute of the Family.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Statistics Canada, “Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1: Impacts of COVID-19.”
  25. Beatrice Britneff, “Food Banks’ Demand Surges Amid COVID-19. Now They Worry About Long-Term Pressures,” Global News (April 15, 2020). Link: .
  26. On October 17, 2018, the use of cannabis for recreation and medicinal purposes among adults became legal in Canada. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/cannabis/
  27. Michelle Rotermann, “Canadians Who Report Lower Self-Perceived Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic More Likely to Report Increased Use of Cannabis, Alcohol and Tobacco,” StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada (May 7, 2020). Link: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-28-0001/2020001/article/00008-eng.htm.
  28. The Association for Canadian Studies’ COVID-19 Social Impacts Network, in partnership with Experiences Canada and the Vanier Institute of the Family, conducted a nation-wide COVID-19 web survey of the 12- to 17-year-old population in Canada from April 29 to May 5. A total of 1191 responses were received, and the probabilistic margin of error was ±3%. Link: https://acs-aec.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Youth-Survey-Highlights-May-21-2020.pdf
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Angus Reid Institute. “Kids & COVID-19: Canadian Children Are Done with School from Home, Fear Falling Behind, and Miss Their Friends” (May 11, 2020). Link: http://angusreid.org/covid19-kids-opening-schools/
  32. Ibid.
  33. The Association for Canadian Studies’ COVID-19 Social Impacts Network.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid.
  36. Canada Revenue Agency. “Canada Child Benefit” (April 8, 2020). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/child-family-benefits/canada-child-benefit-overview.html
  37. Government of Canada. “Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan” (May 28, 2020). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html
  38. Government of Canada. “Canada Child Benefit: How Much You Can Get” (January 27, 2020). Link: https://www.canada.ca
    /en/revenue-agency/services/child-family-benefits/canada-child-benefit-overview/canada-child-benefit-we-calculate-your-ccb.html
  39. Government of Canada. “Expanding Access to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and Proposing a New Wage Boost for Essential Workers” (April 17, 2020). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/04/expanding-access-to-the-canada-emergency-response-benefit-and-proposing-a-new-wage-boost-for-essential-workers.html.
  40. Catherine Cullen and Kristen Everson, “Canadians Who Don’t Qualify for CERB Are Getting It Anyway – And Could Face Consequences,” CBC News (May 2, 2020). Link: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cerb-covid-pandemic-coronavirus-1.5552436
  41. Government of Canada. “Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.”
  42. Government of Canada. “GST/HST Credit – Overview” (May 28, 2020). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/child-family-benefits/goods-services-tax-harmonized-sales-tax-gst-hst-credit.html
  43. Government of Canada. “Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.”
  44. Ibid.
  45. Province of British Columbia. “Province Provides Emergency Fund for Children with Special Needs” (April 8, 2020). Link: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020CFD0043-000650
  46. Government of Prince Edward Island. “Province Announces Additional Income Relief, Stricter Screening Measures for Travelers” (April 1, 2020). Link: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/news/province-announces-additional-income-relief-stricter-screening-measures-travelers
  47. Government of Ontario. “Ontario Government Supports Families in Response to COVID-19” (April 6, 2020). Link: https://news.ontario.ca/opo/en/2020/04/ontario-government-supports-families-in-response-to-covid-19.html
  48. Government of Northwest Territories. “Backgrounder and FAQs | Income Security Programs” (n.d.). Link: https://www.gov.nt.ca/sites/flagship/files/documents/back_grounder_faq_income_assistance_measures_en.pdf
  49. Employment and Social Development Canada. “Early Learning and Child Care” (August 16, 2019). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/early-learning-child-care.html
  50. Government of Canada. “Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework” (September 17, 2018). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/indigenous-early-learning/2018-framework.html
  51. Government of Canada. “Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Mandate Letter” (December 13, 2019). Link: https://pm.gc.ca/en/mandate-letters/2019/12/13/minister-families-children-and-social-development-mandate-letter
  52. Government of Canada. “Just for You – Parents” (April 20, 2020). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/just-for-you/parents.html
  53. Liberal Party of Canada. “Choose Forward: More Time and Money to Help Families Raise Their Kids.”
  54. Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. “Maternity and parental leave benefits” (August 17, 2017). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/services/starting-family/maternity-parental-leave-benefits.html
  55. Government of Québec. “Québec Parental Insurance Plan: What Types of Benefits Are Available to Me?” (May 30, 2017).
  56. Government of Canada. Employment Insurance Monitoring and Assessment Report for the Fiscal Year Beginning April 1, 2017 and Ending March 31, 2018 (June 1, 2019). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/ei/ei-list/reports/monitoring2018.html
  57. Department of Justice. “Strengthening and Modernizing Canada’s Family Justice System” (August 29, 2019). Link: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/cfl-mdf/01.html
  58. Government of Canada. Provincial and Territorial Child Protection Legislation and Policy – 2018 (May 13, 2019). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/health-risks-safety/provincial-territorial-child-protection-legislation-policy-2018.html#2
  59. Kathy Lynn, “The Canadian Debate on Spanking and Violence Against Children,” The Vanier Institute of the Family (November 15, 2016).
  60. Nobody’s Perfect. Parent Information (n.d.). Link: http://nobodysperfect.ca/parents/parent-information/
  61. Public Health Agency of Canada. “Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities (AHSUNC)” (October 23, 2017). Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/childhood-adolescence/programs-initiatives/aboriginal-head-start-urban-northern-communities-ahsunc.html
  62. Additional information about the organizations mentioned in this section that deliver programs or services to parents can be found in Appendix A.
  63. The Vanier Institute of the Family. “In Context: Understanding Maternity Care in Canada” (May 11, 2017).

 

COVID-19 IMPACTS: Youth Well-being in Canada

Edward Ng, PhD, and Nadine Badets

August 27, 2020

Spring and summer 2020 have been a unique time for children and youth in Canada, as families across the country have been adapting their routines, plans and activities in light of physical distancing and other public health measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With schools closing their doors and moving online in the spring, nearly 5 million children and youth across the country were no longer spending their days near their friends and peers as they and their families adapted and reacted to the evolving situation.1

While surveys have shown that most youth are adhering to public health measures and have demonstrated resilience, this disruption had been difficult for many. In a poll conducted by UNICEF Canada, the toughest aspects cited by youth have been not being able to leave the house, go to school and spend time with friends.2 This matters for the well-being of children and youth, since research shows that social interaction is fundamental in youth development, as positive influences by and among peers are important for students’ academic achievement and success later in life.3

Youth more concerned about family contracting COVID-19 than themselves

While youth have mostly been homebound and self-isolating themselves, some of their immediate family members have continued commuting to work, and therefore risking infection and transmission.

In the COVID-19 Social Impacts Youth Survey conducted in mid-May jointly by the Association for Canadian Studies, Experiences Canada and the Vanier Institute of the Family, nearly 4 in 10 (39%) youth aged 12 to 17 surveyed expressed concerns of contracting COVID-19 themselves,4 compared with more than half (56%) of adults who were surveyed in early May.5 This may be in part due to the current understanding regarding the perceived lower likelihood of experiencing complications and risk with COVID-19 among younger age groups. As well, the same sets of polling data showed that the fear of someone in one’s immediate family catching the virus is higher for both youth and adults (71% and 67%, respectively).

Most youth bored, but also happy, under public health measures and physical distancing

In the same youth survey, more than 80% of youth reported being bored but, interestingly, a similar proportion also reported being happy (89% among youth aged 12 to 14 and 84% among those aged 15 to 17).6 This may be in part due to shifting time use patterns due to school closures. Nearly 7 in 10 of surveyed youth reported they were relaxing more than before the pandemic, with the common activities including watching videos/movies/television or listening to podcasts (78%), spending time on social media (63%), listening to music (59%) and playing electronic games (51%). Youth who reported feeling bored or happy during the pandemic were more likely to report that they spend more time watching videos/movies/television during the pandemic than before it (79% and 81%, respectively).

Technology may be playing a larger role in many people’s lives, but it is not the only way youth are keeping busy. Nearly half (45%) of youth reported helping with chores around the house more than before, while slightly more than one-third of youth were doing arts or crafts (36%) or puzzles (35%) more so than before the pandemic.7

Meanwhile, even before the pandemic, parents had already been expressing concerns about youths’ preoccupation with technology.8, 9 During the lockdown, approximately 64% of the parents who responded to a Statistics Canada crowdsourcing survey were worried about their children’s amount of screen time use.10 According to UNICEF, however, the most robust studies suggest that moderate use of digital technology tends to be positive for children and youths’ mental well-being, while no use or too much use can have a small negative impact.11 Internet and digital technology, while providing a positive source of help and a sense of inclusion, can also open up possibilities of cyber-bullying, impact mental health and exacerbate sleeping problems.12

More than one-third of surveyed youth experienced a negative impact on their mental health

Prior to COVID-19, youth were known to experience higher rates of mental illness and poor mental health than older age groups in Canada. For example, the rate of depression among youth aged 15 to 24 was higher than any other age group.13 A recent study of Canadian Community Health Survey data show that among youth aged 12 to 17, there was a decline of 6% in reporting excellent or very good mental health from 2015 to 2019 (78% and 73%, respectively).14 Further compounding the issue of youth mental health is that, in 2018, suicide was the leading cause of death among male youth aged 15 to 19 and was the second leading cause of death among female youth in Canada.15

In mid-May, more than one-third (37%) of respondents in the youth survey reported that they have experienced negative impacts to their mental health.16 When compared with adults aged 18 and older surveyed in early May,17 youth aged 12 to 17 were more likely to report feeling sad (57% versus 45%, respectively) and irritable (65% and 39%) than adults, and were more likely to report having trouble sleeping (50% versus 35%).

Another survey of youth and young adults aged 14 to 27, conducted April 10 to 14, 2020 for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), also found a decline in reported mental health early in the pandemic, both for those with pre-existing mental health issues and those without.18

One immediate effect of the mental health repercussions of the pandemic has been an increased demand for mental health and support services for youth. The Kids Help Phone, a 24/7 national support and crisis line for children and youth, saw a jump in the number of calls and texts for help in mid-March 2020, double that of the previous year, with close to 2,000 calls or texts per day.19 The number of crisis calls has also increased, resulting in more interventions by emergency services than usual, with the organization making 8 to 10 calls to emergency services per day since the pandemic started.

Youth spending more meaningful time with their family, but they miss their friends

The shift to working and schooling from home and the disruption of regular routines and schedules have provided families with more opportunities to connect. The youth survey data from mid-May showed that two-thirds (67%) of youth reported having more meaningful conversations with their families during the pandemic than before.20 By comparison, only 50% of surveyed adults in early May reported having meaningful conversations with their spouse or partner.

In terms of family relationships, close to one-quarter of parents reported spending more time with children under lockdown (24%).21 For both youth and adults, the vast majority reported that they are supporting each other well within the family during the lockdown (74% and 81%, respectively). However, around 43% of youth reported arguing more with their families, while only 19% of adults reported arguing with their spouse or partner.

On the other hand, youth are feeling a strong loss of connection to their friends. About 70% of youth reported that they have been homebound during the pandemic, with the exception of going out for necessities, with only 24% reporting that they visited friends and family during the week before the survey.22

According to Angus Reid, youth reported that missing their friends has been the worst part about being stuck at home (54%).23 More than half of youth indicated that the COVID-19 lockdown has had a negative impact on their relationships with friends (53%).24 Statistics Canada’s crowdsourcing survey also provided the parents’ perspective. Almost three-quarters of participating parents (71%) were concerned about their children’s lack of engagements to socialize with friends, and 54% of parents were concerned about their children’s social isolation.25

Distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: A painful lesson?

The virtual home school arrangement has been challenging for many families and teachers across Canada. This pandemic-induced online learning has been described as the biggest distance learning experiment in history.26 Amid the abrupt shutdown of schools, teachers had to adjust their teaching styles with little training or resources.

More than half (51%) of youth indicated that the pandemic has had a very negative effect on their school year and/or their academic success.27 Only 27% reported that they “totally agree,” and another 43% partially agreed, that they are doing a good job at getting schoolwork done from home.

About 41% of youth aged 12 to 17 reported missing going to school “a lot,” and another 31% said they “somewhat” missed school. Lack of access to peer/school/academic resources, motivation, time management and online settings make up just some of the challenges of distance learning.28 Though 75% of youth claimed to be keeping up with school while in isolation, many were also unmotivated (60%) and disliked the arrangement (57%) (i.e. online learning and virtual classrooms).29

Distance learning requires Internet access, and while the 2018 Canadian Internet Use Survey found that 94% of Canadians had home Internet access, there nonetheless exist inequities in the ability of school children to actively participate in online education. The reasons among those who did not have Internet access included affordability of the Internet service (28%), equipment (19%) and unavailability of Internet service (8%).30

In addition, while around 8 in 10 youth said they always have enough money to meet their basic needs, such as for food, clothing, health care and housing,31 meeting basic needs and having access to a comfortable study environment at home during the pandemic may be even more difficult for youth and families living with low-income or newly experiencing job and income loss. In addition, closures of schools may impact food security, as some school meal programs were designed to alleviate family food insecurity for those students in low-income situations.32

Long-term monitoring of COVID-19 impacts important for youth well-being

Without school, extra-curricular activities and other opportunities to see peers, youth are missing out on important and valued time for socializing with friends, classmates, teachers, coaches and more – all of which could be fundamental in their scholastic and character development. Although alleviated somewhat through social media, texting, calling and other communication technologies, the mental health of youth in Canada has been greatly impacted during COVID-19.

Previous studies on the impact of school interruptions, such as teachers’ strikes and school closures during the 1916 polio pandemic, have shown short- and long-term negative effects on academic development and knowledge acquisition.33, 34, 35 A recent study on the potential impact of the pandemic on youth education in Canada highlighted that the adverse effect might increase the socioeconomic skills gap by as much as 30%.36 As provincial authorities and school boards consider how to proceed to re-open schools in a safe way to control COVID-19 spread,37 innovation and adaptation in our education system will be important in avoiding or mitigating gaps in academic achievement, now and in the years to come.

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

Nadine Badets, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

 


Notes

  1. Erin Duffin, “Enrollment in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools in Canada in 2017/18, by Province,” Statista (October 29, 2019). Link: .
  2. UNICEF Canada, U-Report Canada: Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Young People in Canada – Poll 2: Examining the Issues (May 2020). Link:  (PDF).
  3. Shqiponja Telhaj, “Do Social Interactions in the Classroom Improve Academic Attainment?” IZA World of Labor (June 2018). Link:.
  4. Association for Canadian Studies, Social Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Youth (May 21, 2020). Link: (PDF). The Association for Canadian Studies’ COVID-19 Social Impacts Network, in partnership with Experiences Canada and the Vanier Institute of the Family, conducted a nationwide COVID-19 web survey of the 12- to 17-year-old population in Canada April 29–May 5, 2020. A total of 1,191 responses were received, and the probabilistic margin of error was ±3%.
  5. A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted 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 1,526 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.52%, 19 times out of 20.
  6. Association for Canadian Studies, Social Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Youth.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Monica Anderson and Jingjing Jiang, “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018,” Pew Research Center (May 31, 2018). Link: https://pewrsr.ch/30aWglE (PDF).
  9. Wesley Sanders et al. “Parental Perceptions of Technology and Technology-Focused Parenting: Associations with Youth Screen Time,” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (May–June 2016). Link: https://bit.ly/30gsCeV.
  10. Statistics Canada, “Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Families and Children,” The Daily (July 9, 2020). Link:.
  11. Daniel Kardefelt-Winther, How Does the Time Children Spend Using Digital Technology Impact Their Mental Well-Being, Social Relationships and Physical Activity? An Evidence-Focused Literature Review, UNICEF (December 2017). Link: (PDF).
  12. OECD, “Children & Young People’s Mental Health in the Digital Age” (2018). Link: (PDF).
  13. Leanne Findley, “Depression and Suicidal Ideation among Canadians Aged 15 to 24,” Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 82-003-X, Health Reports, Vol. 28, no. 1, 3–11, (January 18, 2017). Link:.
  14. Statistics Canada, “Understanding the Perceived Mental Health of Canadians Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Canadian Community Health Survey, 2019 (August 6, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/33VJPwj.
  15. Statistics Canada, “Table 13-10-0394-01 Leading causes of death, total population, by age group” (Accessed August 13, 2020). Link: https://doi.org/10.25318/1310039401-eng.
  16. Association for Canadian Studies, Social Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Youth.
  17. Association for Canadian Studies. A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted 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 1,526 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.52%, 19 times out of 20.
  18. Robert Cribb, “Youth Mental Health Deteriorating Under Pandemic Stresses, New CAMH Study Reveals,” The Star (May 28, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3ikLMaf.
  19. Jeff Semple, “Kids Help Phone Calls for Back Up Amid Record Demand – and Canadians Respond,” Global News (June 28, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3gbeDMr.
  20. Association for Canadian Studies, Social Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Youth.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Angus Reid Institute, Kids & COVID-19: Canadian Children Are Done with School from Home, Fear Falling Behind, and Miss Their Friends (May 11, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3kVRReK.
  24. Association for Canadian Studies, Social Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Youth.
  25. Statistics Canada, “Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Families and Children,” The Daily (July 9, 2020). Link:.
  26. Paul W. Bennett, “This Grand Distance-Learning Experiment’s Lessons Go Well Beyond What the Students Are Learning,” CBC News (May 11, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/33bNEgo.
  27. Association for Canadian Studies, Social Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Youth.
  28. UNICEF Canada, U-Report Canada: Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Young People in Canada (May 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2CUd9Z9 (PDF).
  29. Association for Canadian Studies, Social Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Youth.
  30. Statistics Canada, “Canadian Internet Use Survey,” The Daily (October 29, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/3hWlwSN.
  31. Association for Canadian Studies, Social Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian Youth.
  32. Canadian Medical Association Journal, “Indirect Adverse Effects of COVID-19 on Children and Youth’s Mental, Physical Health,” EurekAlert (June 25, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2BWMvOr.
  33. Michael Baker, “Industrial Actions in Schools: Strikes and Student Achievement,” Canadian Journal of Economics (March 2011). Link: https://bit.ly/3gaona6.
  34. Michèle Belot and Dinand Webbink, “Do Teacher Strikes Harm Educational Attainment of Students?” (2010) Labour Economics 24(4): 391–406. Link: https://bit.ly/3aYuJI3.
  35. Keith Meyers and Melissa A. Thomasson, “Paralyzed by Panic: Measuring the Effect of School Closures During the 1916 Polio Pandemic on Educational Attainment,” NBER Working Paper Series 23890 (September 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/3hSzswU (PDF).
  36. Catherine Haeck and Pierre Lefebvre, “Pandemic School Closures May Increase Inequality in Test Scores,” Research Group on Human Capital Working Paper Series (June 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/30elgbN (PDF).
  37. Carly Weeks, “Rising Rates of COVID-19 in Children, Adolescents Spark Concerns About Back to School Plans,” The Globe and Mail (June 23, 2020). Link: https://tgam.ca/3hTmFuk.

 

In Conversation: Katherine Arnup on Death, Dying and Dignity During COVID-19

Gaby Novoa

August 4, 2020

In May 2018, the Vanier Institute published Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada1 by Katherine Arnup, PhD, which examined the evolution of death and dying across generations, the desires and realities of families surrounding death and dying, the role of families in end-of-life care and its impact on family well-being.

With the current conversation surrounding COVID-19 and post-pandemic context, we joined in conversation with Dr. Arnup to hear her reflections on some of the themes explored in the 2018 report, and on the impact of the pandemic on conversations surrounding death and dying in Canada.


Tell us about how you feel COVID-19 has impacted the conversation and attitudes on death and dying among families and policymakers in Canada.

Death is in many ways in the public eye more now than it was prior to COVID-19, and has been from the get-go, once the virus became a presence in the world, because a number of countries experienced a large number of deaths before it really hit here. People were very aware that something major was happening in terms of death.

In Canada, we’ve had daily deaths, casualties and case counts being reported, much like in wartime. There’s been war imagery accompanying this in many ways, but certainly in my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything like this – it’s almost unavoidable. If you visit the CBC website, the first thing you see is the current counts, which makes you very aware of how many people have died. You can’t really get away from it, with these constant reminders. There’s a sense that we’re “at war” with a virus. Especially at the beginning, there was a sense that it could be anywhere, people nearby could be carrying it, and you could get it and it could kill you. A lot of fear – fear of the virus and a fear of dying.

One of the themes in Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada is that people’s fear of death and dying deters families from having important conversations about it. Do you think the pandemic has forced people to think about death in a more in-depth way, or have anxieties and fears caused more avoidance of the conversation on death and dying?

I think it’s the latter. In my report, I was talking about a kind of acceptance of death and planning for death. But since there are many unknowns around COVID, which has struck so many people throughout the world, it’s different from anything any of us have experienced.

I think one of the biggest ways that COVID-19 and death have been front and centre throughout the pandemic is around seniors and their families. It’s quite true that the virus poses a greater risk for seniors than for anyone else, although certainly other factors make people vulnerable as well. However, seniors, and particularly people in their 80s and 90s and people with comorbidities, are likely to have a bad result and perhaps die as a result of contracting the coronavirus.

That’s especially been the case in long-term care facilities. In Ontario, the long-term care facility in Bobcaygeon was one of the first ones that the public really became aware of, where they had many deaths in a short period of time. Overall in Canada, the most recent data on this showed that 81% of the deaths in Canada were in long-term care, compared with the average of 42% in developed countries in the OECD.2 The numbers are much higher in Canada, so dramatic that the military was called in for assistance in Ontario and Quebec, which also fits with the military and war metaphors. They reported incredibly appalling conditions in those long-term care homes.3

I think a lot about long-term care homes now in a way that I didn’t before. I believe that I was just like most Canadians in that I didn’t think about them, beyond saying “I hope I never end up there,” and I think that’s very typical of Canadians. Maybe true for people in other countries, but I can say it for Canadians and that fits in with some of the things I’ve written about in the 2018 report and elsewhere: we want to live forever, but we want to be healthy, strong and independent – those are huge values for us.

Living in long-term care is something we really don’t want to think about, so most of us haven’t looked at the conditions there – many of which existed before the pandemic. That is, often four people to a room, staff working at several homes, understaffing, staff being very busy rushing from patient to patient and then going to another home. A lot of those things were happening already, and they created the conditions for the pandemic to grab hold and decimate long-term care populations.

I think those who have family in long-term care homes have had a huge wake-up call. They probably knew something about the conditions, and some of them were active caregivers in those homes – that is, going and caring for their loved ones – while some people virtually never visited. My aunt was in a long-term care home in a small town not that far from Bobcaygeon. I visited her when she was dying, and was actually really impressed with that home. She had her own room and you could tell that the staff cared for their patients, for their residents. I don’t think everything negative that we’ve seen is the case for all long term-care by any means. But we mostly just haven’t thought about it.

Pat Armstrong, a major scholar of health care in Canada, has been involved in a 10-year study of long-term care homes.4 She and her team remind people that though we don’t want to think about them, any of us could end up in long-term care almost in the blink of an eye: a major accident or a stroke, a fall that means we can’t care for ourselves, a diagnosis of dementia. Any of those things could mean that I end up in a long-term care home. I don’t want to, like most people, but we always think it’s going to be somebody else and not us. I think that the crisis has made us aware that it can be anyone – our mothers, our fathers, our sisters, ourselves. With change – and only one changed circumstance has to happen – we could be there as well. It’s a reminder that we all need to be fighting to change those institutions and how people die.

I was looking at the list of desires and assumptions discussed in the report, two of which stood out as I read the military report: we want to die at home and we want to die with dignity. It’s very clear that there was no dignity in the way that people were dying in long-term care homes. Indeed, there was no dignity in how they were being cared for, because of the conditions there. It’s also clear that people are there in those facilities because families can’t take care of them. It’s not that families don’t care. It’s that their own lives and the demands of their lives, and the lack of home care, means that they can’t care long-term for a family member who’s got dementia and maybe is acting out, or a family member who really needs 24/7 care.

Many Canadians also assume that they can get all the home care they and their families need. The pandemic has meant that many people had to cancel the home care that was coming in, especially at the beginning, because they were afraid to get COVID from their home care provider. Home care providers, by their very nature, are usually working in several homes. So, they’re potentially carrying the virus to many homes. It’s meant that not only is there not enough home care generally, but in the case of COVID, people were also hesitant to have those carers coming into their homes.

Like the pre-existing challenges in many long-term care homes, we’ve seen certain vulnerabilities and inequities amplified within the pandemic. Do you find any hope in how the conditions of long-term care are now being brought to greater public awareness?  

With long-term care homes, I feel a need to speak out about it, and to press governments to make changes that could have a huge impact, such as federal standards, or for senior care to be included in the Canada Health Act so that it becomes a shared responsibility across governments.

I think families have really mobilized and have seen the shortcomings and some of the reasons why the conditions are so bad. This is partly due to the for-profit homes, which have higher deaths, but also a lack of inspections and of enforcement of what exists in the law. In bringing it to the public attention as it has, in being such a tragedy, I think that there is hope for improvement, and I hope that many more people are now aware that it could be them, that it could be their families.

People who have children with severe disabilities who are living in congregate care are also facing similar issues of not being able to have family with them, as they still aren’t able to go into those homes. I do see a lot more discussion now around families as caregivers, having them recognized as caregivers and not just as visitors, as they’re being talked about. It’s an issue that the Vanier Institute has raised, I’ve done work with the Change Foundation, and there are other organizations that have made progress on that. So, I feel positive and see hope there for a recognition of the role of caregivers and their importance in the health and well-being of those who are cared for.

There has been increased opportunity to talk about advanced care directives. Even if people aren’t necessarily having those conversations, I think that if they’re faced with a family member getting COVID, it will spur the realization that we don’t always know what our family member wants. Even though the conversation around death hasn’t come on to the table in the best way, I think it provides openings for those of us who have been promoting the importance of advanced care. It provides an avenue for discussion, to be able to say to people that this is a realistic concern. We just never know when something will happen, and something will happen. We need to know what each other wants. Our children need to know what we want – I think the pandemic opens the door to that.

I’m writing and have been making videos, and I will be encouraging people in one of my next ones to talk to their family members (if they haven’t already) about what they want and about making advanced care directives, because it’s really important. Family members having to say “I just don’t know what Mom would want” is a mistake that doesn’t have to happen.

I feel optimistic about these things, and optimism in the face of a pandemic is in short supply. I’m optimistic around that sense that we’re all in this together, which we began this pandemic with. Our Prime Minister stressed this idea every day in his talks, and other people did as well. I think there has been significant pulling together around a sense of community and caring for one another. I’ve experienced this in my own neighbourhood – people who never normally talked to one another are checking in. When you go for a walk, people ask how you are doing and it’s genuine. I think that’s a strangely positive thing that is a result of the pandemic. I hope that it lasts, that people are doing things for elderly neighbours and that they’re more aware of who might be in need of help on their street. Anything that increases a sense of community I think is a great thing.

You touch on this point in your video “Expanding Our ‘Bubbles,’”5 on feeling reassured in many ways by this sentiment that we’re all in this together, though you also note that it has become increasingly apparent that we’re not all in the same boat. We might all be in it together, but the way we’re experiencing it varies greatly, whether it’s higher risk among seniors and other groups.6 Could you elaborate?

When you look at the breakdown of the areas that are still COVID hotspots, it’s where there are people living in poverty, people of colour, people who are working high-risk jobs in health care and in the service sector, and people living in large numbers together because they might not be able to afford anything else. Significant outbreaks among migrant workers employed in agricultural work and workers in food processing plants also demonstrate the impact of inequalities in our society on people’s vulnerability in the pandemic.

Another important way in which people haven’t been in it all together has been in families’ inability to have funerals, wakes, services or celebrations of life during the pandemic. I think this is having a huge impact on those who aren’t able to mark the death of a loved one with friends and family. There have been many families who couldn’t have a service of any kind, who couldn’t hug, who couldn’t get together beyond small groups. I just wonder what happens to that grief.

Many of those people who died, died alone. People in long-term care facilities and in hospitals have died alone. None of us wants that to happen. None of us wants it to happen to the people we love, and we don’t want to have it happen to us. It is an important tenet of hospice palliative care: let no one die alone. That this has been happening on a huge scale for the families left behind, it means enormous grief and guilt, feeling that “I couldn’t be there for Mom” or “I couldn’t be there with Mom when she was dying.” That’s heartbreaking. I don’t know what people do with that; you kind of have to push it down. I think about how all the obituaries say, “When it’s possible, we’ll have a service.” It’s hard for me to imagine all those services and where they’ll happen and whether that will provide the closure and support that people need. I certainly haven’t seen anything like that in my lifetime.

What gives you hope going forward? 

I think about these questions: What do we want when we die? But also, what do we want as we grow older? What do we need to support us in that? How are we dealing, in general, with aging and dementia? What do we hope for? How can we create places that are very different from long-term care homes? How can we make that happen?

Katherine Arnup, PhD, is a writer, speaker and life coach specializing in transitions, and a retired Carleton University professor. Author of Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada (and several books, including “I Don’t Have Time for This!”: A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Your Parents and Yourself and Education for Motherhood, she has pioneered studies on family experiences and provided unique insights into family life throughout her career.

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

This interview has been edited for length, flow and clarity. 


Notes

  1. Katherine Arnup, PhD, Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada, The Vanier Institute of the Family (May 2018).
  2. Canadian Institute for Health Information, “Pandemic Experience in the Long-Term Care Sector: How Does Canada Compare with Other Countries?” CIHI (June 25, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3hGl4bc.
  3. Canadian Armed Forces, “Op LASER – JTFC Observations in Long Term Care Facilities in Ontario,” CAF (May 20, 2020). Link: .
  4. Pat Armstrong is a Distinguished Research Professor in Sociology at York University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Link: .
  5. Katherine Arnup, “Expanding Our ‘Bubbles,’” (YouTube). Link:.
  6. In Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada, Arnup writes that experiences of death and dying are affected by factors of gender, race, class, ethnicity, geography, marginalized status, ability, sexual and gender identity, marital status and Indigenous, First Nation, Inuit and Métis status.

Families in Canada Adapting: My Family’s COVID Journey

While COVID-19 has affected families across Canada and the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that impact their well-being, it hasn’t stopped family life by any means. Whether it’s managing work–family responsibilities, connecting to celebrate milestones or providing support in difficult times, people are finding diverse and creative ways to keep doing what families do.

As families in Canada continue to manage these transitions, the Vanier Institute is gathering, compiling and sharing these “stories behind the statistics” to provide insights and into family strengths, resilience and diverse experiences across the country.

Edward Ng, PhD

(July 23, 2020) March 16, 2020 ended up being not just another Monday. While this was the first official day of spring break for public school students in Ontario, the school board suddenly announced that the break would be instead two weeks, which was later extended until further notice. Inadvertently, some 2 million Ontario public school students – including my younger daughter, who is in Grade 9 – started a long journey of distance learning from home as a result of the pandemic.

Family home suddenly becomes school and shared workspace

The night before, I had also been asked not to report to work at my office near downtown Ottawa due to public health measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, my older daughter, a university student, was told that classes would move online, as the campus began to shut down.

Among my family of four, only my wife continued to leave home for work. However, after a case of COVID-19 was reported at her workplace in late March, everyone was then asked to work from home from then on, a decision that would have been unimaginable before the pandemic began. I began to wonder if this was the beginning of the end of an office-centric era, with huge implications for work and family.

Though we have an Internet connection, our home setting is not equipped to be a home office and/or a home school. Since my wife works in a sector dealing with clients over the phone, I quickly rearranged a room to set up a temporary office for her. My younger daughter, after an extended spring break, soon started to receive daily instruction and lessons from her teachers online, which meant all four of us were now using a single Internet connection almost constantly. Ultimately, we’ve had to contact our Internet service provider to upgrade our hardware, which mitigated our problems and frustrations – and the demand for me to become an Internet technologist!

Reflecting on experiences and emotions through music

In May, two months into the lockdown, my daughter was asked by her Grade 9 music teacher to select some songs that reflected her emotional state while learning from home. She chose “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. I was surprised since she is not of the era of the Bees Gees, who were famous in my birthplace of Hong Kong when I was growing up. This upbeat disco hit of the late 1970s was described by one of the songwriters as actually being rather serious in its focus – it is about survival1 when life is “goin’ nowhere.”

Life goin’ nowhere, somebody help me

Somebody help me, yeah

Life goin’ nowhere, somebody help me, yeah

I’m stayin’ alive

It’s a cry for survival that resonated with my daughter’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, with her feelings and concerns regarding the virus amplified as a visible minority2 teen.3 I admired her perseverance as she avoided venturing out as much as possible throughout the lockdown. But she also felt hopeful: the second song she chose was “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins, reflecting her anticipation of going out without fearing COVID-19.

Care and concern across generations

Like the majority of Canadians, I am more concerned about my family contracting COVID-19 than myself, and surveys have consistently shown that visible minorities experience both of these concerns at higher rates than those who are not visible minorities.4, 5 Like many families, my care and concerns extend across generations, to older and younger generations.

My university-aged daughter works as a part-time cashier at a neighbourhood pharmacy. Each shift, she ventures out to her essential job, and we were concerned about the risk of being infected with COVID-19 through her exposure to customers. In mid-April, she came down with a fever and dry cough, which are some of the possible symptoms. We were worried, and encouraged her to self-isolate by taking a leave of absence to ensure she was not positive. As soon her symptoms subsided, she returned to work, only to find her workplace had been transformed, with plexiglass installed at the cash to minimize the risk of infection. One time, she reported a scary moment when a client, while paying for the purchase, kept on coughing at the plexiglass without any concern for others!

For about three years, my mother-in-law has been staying in a long-term care home in Toronto, and we visited her whenever we went to the city. Given that these care homes in Ontario and Quebec have become the epicentre for COVID-19, we became very nervous for her. In fact, we found out that a resident at her care home was tested positive in mid-May, which indicated an outbreak, according to the local public health authority. Further investigation was conducted of staff and residents, with encouraging results that contradicted the original findings. We were relieved when the Public Health Authority withdrew its order of outbreak for the facility.

With the Ontario ruling that no visitations were allowed at these care homes at the early stage of the pandemic, we could only use online communication, such as Skype, to stay connected through virtual visits. The workers there at the care home have told us that the residents there have been bored during the pandemic and welcome these virtual visits. Now that Ontario is starting to allow visitors into nursing homes, we are making plans for a physical visit, which still needs to respect social distancing protocol.

Care and concern across borders

I experienced concerns for my family prior to the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in February, my relatives who were visiting from East Asia decided to leave Toronto to return home to Hong Kong before Air Canada cancelled all direct flights. During that time, COVID-19 was affecting that part of Asia severely and I had suggested they stay longer in Toronto, but they decided to go. To soothe my own worry, I searched around and managed to purchase some non-surgical masks for them to use in Hong Kong. (Note that, at that time, in mid to late-February, face masks were hard to find for purchase, even in Ontario.)

In hindsight, however, my relatives felt that they had made the right decision to leave, as COVID-19 cases began to increase in Toronto and as airports started to close in Canada. Interestingly, they are now back in Toronto for their annual summer visit to Canada, just as a COVID-19 outbreak is occurring in Hong Kong.

Perhaps due to my close connection to Asia, I was quite concerned about COVID-19 before it became a household name in Canada. I vividly recall how SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)6 hit my homeland as well as Toronto in 2003. So, as early as February of this year, near the beginning of the outbreak in Asia, I had closely followed the development of this emerging virus, which was impacting families all around the world.

Time for family memories and conversations

Thinking of the song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” brings back memories of when my daughters were young, when we would often do this together in a nearby park.7 We would spend a lot of time talking and laughing together, and once the kite caught the wind, we would follow along and enjoy watching it soar into the sky.

As they have grown to become more independent over the years, and I focused on my own work and other involvements, there are usually few opportunities for these kinds of moments. But the pandemic has reminded me to spend time with them – and provided some opportunities to do so – before they graduate onto the next stage of life. Thankfully, the “lockdown” has allowed us time, as a family, to have some meaningful discussion about matters important to life. For that, I am thankful.

Edward Ng, PhD, is an analyst at the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Notes

  1. Interestingly, “Stayin’ Alive” has been used to train medical professionals to provide the right number of chest compressions per minute while performing CPR, since its tempo of close to 104 beats per minute falls within the recommended 100–120 chest compressions per minute recommended by the British Heart Foundation while performing the life-saving procedure.
  2. “Visible minority” refers to whether a person belongs to a visible minority group as defined by the Employment Equity Act and, if so, the visible minority group to which the person belongs. The Employment Equity Act defines visible minorities as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” Categories in the visible minority variable include South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, Japanese, Visible minority (i.e. “not included elsewhere”), Multiple visible minorities and Not a visible minority. According to the 2016 Census of Canada, close to 70% of the visible minorities are born outside Canada (69%).
  3. According to a survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Experiences Canada conducted from April 29 to May 5, 2020, more than half (52%) of visible minority youth said they were somewhat or very afraid of catching COVID-19, compared with 34% of those who are not visible minorities. Link: .
  4. More than 6 in 10 surveyed visible minorities (62%) said they were afraid of contracting COVID-19, but 73% were even more fearful for family members to get the virus, compared with 54% and 66%, respectively, among those who are not visible minorities.
  5. A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association of Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted May 1–3, 2020, included 1,526 Canadians 18 years of age or older, randomly recruited from LEO’s online panel. 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 1,526 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.51%, 19 times out of 20.
  6. Severe acute respiratory (SARS) is a respiratory disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-1), which resulted in approximately 300 deaths in Hong Kong and more than 40 deaths in Canada during the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak.
  7. “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is from the Walt Disney classic Mary Poppins, featured at the end of the film when George Banks (played by David Tomlinson), realizes that his family is more important than his job, and decides to take his family on a kite-flying outing.

 


Published on July 23, 2020

COVID-19 IMPACTS: Families and Housing in Canada

Nadine Badets, Gaby Novoa and Nathan Battams

July 21, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted families and family life across Canada, with economic lockdowns and physical distancing measures affecting the social, economic and environmental contexts associated with family well-being. Housing is no exception: prospective homebuyers are seeing a real estate cooling down in the face of uncertainty, while physical distancing measures are not easily actionable for many families living in crowded or unsuitable housing.

The COVID-19 lockdown has considerably slowed Canada’s real estate market

Most major cities in Canada (16 of 27) had little or no change to new housing prices in April 2020. However, sales of new homes and resales of older homes across Canada all declined significantly during the height of the pandemic. Builders surveyed by Statistics Canada in April 2020 reported a decline of almost two-thirds (64%) in sales of new homes when compared with the same month in 2019. The Canadian Real Estate Association reported a 58% decline in home resales in April, year over year.1

In light of the closure of economies and significant loss of jobs, the provinces and territories have issued eviction bans and payment suspensions to support renters. The Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) has also urged all landlords, including those with CMHC insurance or financing, to abstain from evicting renters during the COVID-19 pandemic.2 However, as the pandemic restrictions begin to lift, many people and families in Canada could be faced with evictions and/or owing large amounts of money for missed rent.

Demand for homeless shelters increased dramatically during lockdown

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges with housing accessibility and affordability was unequally and excessively prevalent among certain groups within Canada, including newcomers and refugees, racialized groups, LGBTQ2S people, seniors, Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities and/or mental health conditions.3

Homelessness4 is particularly concerning during the pandemic, as it exposes people to unsafe living conditions with severe consequences for physical and mental health, and makes it challenging to abide by new public health orders such as physical distancing.

Whether people are moving from home to home (often referred to as “hidden homelessness”), spending time in shelters,5  living transiently and sleeping in various places, or a combination of these, those experiencing homelessness are often in close proximity with multiple people and with little to no access to the necessary resources for recommended hygiene practices.6

In 2014, it was estimated that at least 235,000 people in Canada experience homelessness in a given year and around 35,000 are homeless on a given night. Individuals usually spend an average of 10 days in shelters, and families usually spend twice that amount of time.7 Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, shelters in Canadian cities have reported increased use by new and familiar clients;8 however, due to physical distancing restrictions, shelters have had to drastically reduce the number of beds and spaces they offer, which has left many without a place to stay.9, 10

Increases in reports of domestic violence,11 abuse12 and mental health concerns13 have also left many individuals and families with no place to stay. Many shelters have increased support to the homeless by creating spaces in community centres, hotels and permanent housing, though they lack the financial capacity to meet the increased demand for shelter services.14, 15

Housing issues in First Nations and Inuit communities are related to increased COVID-19 risk

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Indigenous leaders and peoples have been calling attention to the continuing devastation from tuberculosis in First Nations and Inuit and communities, reminding Canada that COVID-19 is not the only pandemic they are facing.16, 17

In 2017, Inuit had a rate of 205.8 cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people, and First Nations (on reserve) had 21.7 cases per 100,000. Tuberculosis was also high among immigrants, with a rate of 14.7 among those born outside of Canada, whereas for Canadian-born non-Indigenous people the rate was 0.5 per 100,000.18 As of April 19, 2020, the only Inuit region to report COVID-19 cases is Nunavik, with 14 cases (5 recovered and 9 active).19 Among First Nations, data collected through communities show that, as of May 10, 2020, there were 465 cases of COVID-19 and 7 deaths.20

In 2016, Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat21 (the Inuit homeland) were more likely to live in crowded households22 (52%) and in homes in need of major repairs23 (32%).24 Unsuitable housing is also prevalent in some First Nations, where issues such as household crowding (27%)25, 26 and homes in need of major repairs (24%)27 are much higher than for non-Indigenous people in Canada (9% and 6%).28

Household crowding aggravates the risk of catching infectious respiratory diseases like tuberculosis and COVID-19, the latter of which is considered to be even more contagious than tuberculosis.29 Poor housing conditions have been directly associated to quality of health and well-being, with studies showing increased risk of the spread of infectious and respiratory diseases, chronic illness, injuries, poor nutrition, violence and mental disorders.30 Household crowding also complicates – and potentially negates – physical distancing and the isolation of sick people within a household. Homes in need of major repairs can pose health hazards in a variety of ways. In particular, the ongoing lack of sufficient access to water infrastructure in some First Nations poses additional risks of infection and transmission.

Multigenerational households face more obstacles to physical distancing

Multigenerational households are an important part of many families in Canada, as they can facilitate care and support between generations and allow some parents to save money on child care, and facilitate intergenerational learning.31 Between 2001 and 2016, multigenerational households were the fastest-growing household type in Canada, increasing by 38% to reach nearly 404,000 homes.32

These types of households may face unique barriers to social distancing, taking into account the seniors within the home who are considered among the populations most vulnerable to the virus.33

In 2016, 11% of immigrants lived in multigenerational households,34 as did 5% of non-immigrants.35 Indigenous children aged 0 to 14 years were often more likely to live in multigenerational households36 with 13% of First Nations children, 13% of Inuit children and 7% of Métis children, than non-Indigenous children (8%).37

Sustainable Development is intertwined with housing

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of housing in Canada, and intensified pre-existing inequalities among marginalized communities across the country. As Canada has committed to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which address factors such as poverty (SDG 1), health and well-being (SDG 3) and reduced inequalities (SDG 10), housing will be an important component of policy responses and conversations on this topic, which is of particular importance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nadine Badets, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

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

Nathan Battams is Communications Manager at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 


Notes

  1. Statistics Canada, “New Housing Price Index, April 2020,” The Daily (May 21, 2020). Link: .
  2. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, “COVID-19: Eviction Bans and Suspensions to Support Renters: The Latest Updates on Eviction Moratoriums Related to COVID-19” (March 25, 2020). Link: .
  3. Homeless Hub, “Racialized Communities” (n.d.). Link:.
  4. Homelessness can be described as being very short-term (being unhoused for a night or so), episodic (moving in and out of homelessness) or chronic (long-term). For more information, see the Homeless Hub website. Link:.
  5. Shelters include emergency homeless shelters, violence against women shelters and temporary institutional accommodations. For more information, see the Homeless Hub website. Link:.
  6. Jennifer Ferreira, “The Toll COVID-19 Is Taking on Canada’s Homeless,” CTV News (May 22, 2020). Link:.
  7. Stephen Gaetz, Erin Dej, Tim Richter and Melanie Redman, “The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016,” Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (2016). Link: (PDF).
  8. Ferreira, “The Toll COVID-19 Is Taking on Canada’s Homeless.”
  9. Nicole Mortillaro, “‘It’s Heartbreaking’: Homeless During Pandemic Left Out in the Cold – Figuratively and Literally,” CBC News (April 17, 2020). Link:.
  10. Matthew Bingley, “Coronavirus: Toronto Officials Call for Provincial Pandemic Plan for Shelters to Avoid ‘Mass Outbreaks,’” Global News (April 20, 2020). Link:.
  11. Cec Haire, “Increase in Domestic Violence Calls Persists Throughout Pandemic, Says Non-Profit,” CBC News (July 2, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/32eJp3p.
  12. Public Health Ontario, “Rapid Review: Negative Impacts of Community-Based Public Health Measures During a Pandemic (e.g., COVID‑19) on Children and Families” (2020). Link: https://bit.ly/307gxY8 (PDF).
  13. Aisha Malik, “CAMH Expands Virtual Mental Health Services Amid COVID-19 Pandemic,” MobileSyrup (May 4, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3gVt73i.
  14. Mortillaro, “‘It’s Heartbreaking’: Homeless During Pandemic Left Out in the Cold – Figuratively and Literally.”
  15. Ferreira, “The Toll COVID-19 Is Taking on Canada’s Homeless.”
  16. Olivia Stefanovich, “COVID-19 Shouldn’t Overshadow Ongoing Fight Against TB, Inuit Leaders Say,” CBC News (April 12, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3doVTr3.
  17. John Borrows and Constance MacIntosh, “Indigenous Communities Are Vulnerable in Times of Pandemic. We Must Not Ignore Them,” The Globe and Mail (updated March 21, 2020). Link: https://tgam.ca/2YYhTDY.
  18. M. LaFreniere, H. Hussain, N. He and M. McGuire, “Tuberculosis in Canada, 2017,” Canada Communicable Disease Report (February 7, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2CrvRq9.
  19. Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, “COVID-19: 14th CONFIRMED CASE IN NUNAVIK,” News Release (April 19, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2OnScIb (PDF).
  20. Courtney Skye, “Colonialism of the Curve: Indigenous Communities and Bad Covid Data,” Yellowhead Institute (May 12, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/37W5kgi.
  21. Inuit Nunangat is composed of four Inuit regions: Nunatsiavut (Northern Labrador), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Nunavut and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Northern Northwest Territories). Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, “Inuit Nunangat Map” (updated April 4, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2WgN4de.
  22. Statistics Canada (2016 Census of Population) calculates crowded households as an indicator of the level of crowding in a private dwelling. It is calculated by dividing the number of persons in the household by the number of rooms in the dwelling, and dwellings with more than one person per room are considered to be crowded. Statistics Canada, “Persons per Room,” Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016 (May 3, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2AZDJyT.
  23. Major repairs are defined by Statistics Canada (2016 Census of Population) as including defective plumbing or electrical wiring, and dwellings needing structural repairs to walls, floors or ceilings. Statistics Canada, “Dwelling Condition,” Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016 (May 3, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/3erBnam.
  24. Thomas Anderson, “The Housing Conditions of Aboriginal People in Canada,” Census in Brief (October 25, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/316qpmR.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Statistics Canada, “Housing Conditions,” Aboriginal Statistics at a Glance: 2nd Edition (December 24, 2015). Link: https://bit.ly/37Ue8ne.
  27. Anderson, “The Housing Conditions of Aboriginal People in Canada.”
  28. Vanier Institute of the Family, “Indigenous Families in Canada,” Facts and Stats (June 2018).
  29. Olivia Stefanovich, “COVID-19 Shouldn’t Overshadow Ongoing Fight Against TB, Inuit Leaders Say.”
  30. Housing as a Social Determinant of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Health” (2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2DoQ3JV (PDF).
  31. Asfia Yassir, “Having Grandparents at Home Is a Blessing,” South Asian Post (March 4, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2WhlrR5.
  32. The Vanier Institute, “2016 Census Release Highlights Family Diversity in Canada” (October 25, 2017).
  33. Caroline Alphonso and Xiao Xu, “Multigenerational Households Face Unique Challenges in Battling Spread of Coronavirus,” The Globe and Mail (March 21, 2020). Link: https://tgam.ca/2O9ss24.
  34. Defined by Statistics Canada (2016 Census of Population) as households where there is at least one person living with a child and a grandchild.
  35. Statistics Canada, “Admission Category and Applicant Type (47), Immigrant Status and Period of Immigration (11B), Age (7A), Sex (3) and Selected Demographic, Cultural, Labour Force and Educational Characteristics (825) for the Population in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories and Census Metropolitan Areas, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/312VGHv.
  36. Defined as living in a household with at least one parent and one grandparent.
  37. Statistics Canada, “Family Characteristics of Children Including Presence of Grandparents (10), Aboriginal Identity (9), Registered or Treaty Indian Status (3), Age (4B) and Sex (3) for the Population Aged 0 to 14 Years in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link: .

 

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.

Uncertainty and Postponement: Pandemic Impact on Fertility in Canada

Ana Fostik, PhD

June 30, 2020

 

In the first weeks after the public health measures and economic lockdowns began in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the social life of millions of adults was suddenly halted and many started spending every day at home. This led some to wonder about whether, in about nine months, we would see a spike in births. Could there be a “Coronial” generation, a baby boom due to couples spending more time together?1

Although many couples have been spending more time together, they have also been experiencing a variety of challenges and difficult transitions never experienced by our current generations: the health care system was heavily impacted by the pandemic, children were suddenly out of daycare or school and in need of homeschooling, some adults needed to work from home while caring for young children in the household, and many others had difficulty with their family finances, as they found themselves unemployed, working fewer hours or making less income.

Indeed, millions of workers were left without employment or working fewer hours than normal as a result of the lockdowns, and the unemployment rate reached a historic high of 13.7% in May 2020, up from 5.6% only three months prior. About half of the self-employed saw a reduction in the number of hours worked, accompanied in most cases by a loss of income. As a result, more than 1 in 5 adults lived in a household reporting financial difficulty to meet basic obligations such as rent, mortgage and groceries that month.2

“In this context, I would be really surprised if family projects did not change,” says Benoît Laplante, a family demography professor at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique in Montreal. Indeed, evidence suggests it is very unlikely that fertility will increase nine months after the lockdowns started. On the contrary, past research shows that a reduction of the total fertility rate can be expected in the short term. Economic downturns and recessions, labour market uncertainty and, more broadly, general societal uncertainty and negative expectations about the future have all been associated with a postponement of childbearing plans, and thus with reductions in the number of births within a population.

Labour market uncertainty impacts childbearing plans

A recent meta-analysis on the impacts of unemployment and temporary employment on fertility in Europe showed that people who have experienced episodes of unemployment tend to delay planned births.3 As unemployment results in a loss of income and increased uncertainty about future job prospects, plans for starting or expanding the family are more likely to get halted until better financial times.

This was particularly true among heterosexual couples when the male partner became unemployed, and it had an impact not only on their decision to have their first child, but also among those with children who had planned on expanding the family. Data also showed that unemployment became increasingly more detrimental for childbearing between 1970 and 2015, as conditions in the labour market became more challenging and permanent jobs less common.

On the other hand, women in some countries leveraged their periods of unemployment as an opportunity to carry out their fertility plans and have their planned children in that moment, as time for childbearing and childrearing became more available and the opportunity costs diminished (in terms of the time spent in the labour market developing experience that allows advancing their professional careers). However, this was not true in the countries hardest hit by the 2008 Great Recession in Southern Europe (i.e. Italy and Spain), which were also those with the lowest fertility levels.

People with temporary jobs were also found to be less likely to have children during periods of economic uncertainty, particularly when having a second or third child, which the study suggests is the result of the increased financial impact of expanding the family. Men were more impacted by unemployment than by having a temporary job; especially in contexts where men are expected to be the main financial providers of the household, having a job, regardless of its characteristics, is better than having none in order to start or expand the family.

Great Recession associated with fertility decline in Europe

Economic crises can impact fertility intentions and actual childbearing, even when individuals are not personally affected by the loss of a job or income, as downturns translate to a reduction in GDP growth and an increase in unemployment. In times of uncertainty about the economic future and labour market stability, people might become risk averse and avoid any long-term commitments, of which having a child is the most irreversible one. Negative expectations about the future may lead many families to postpone childbearing plans until times of greater certainty.4

An interesting recent example of this can be found in Europe, where fertility rates had been increasing since the first years of the 2000s. During and after the Great Recession of 2008–2009, fertility rates stagnated and then decreased in most European regions, particularly those most affected by the recession.

A recent article on the impact of this recession on fertility in 28 European countries analyzed the effects of unemployment, long-term unemployment and GDP decline on fertility rates between 2000 and 2014. The study found that when unemployment increased, fertility rates decreased significantly. Moreover, the effect of unemployment was stronger during the period of the recession (between 2008 and 2014) than before its start, suggesting that the negative impact of unemployment on fertility behaviour may be magnified during times of recessions.5

Research suggests that “fundamental uncertainty” impacts childbearing plans

While the European economy recovered after the Great Recession, fertility did not bounce back in many European countries and, in fact, it continued to decline. This was especially true in some Nordic countries, where the effects of the Great Recession were mild and where fertility decline started later and continued past 2014, after the macro economic conditions had improved. This led some researchers to focus on the presence of “fundamental uncertainty” regarding the future and its impact on family aspirations. Their argument is that fundamental uncertainty regarding the future of the economy, but also of political systems at a global level, can have an impact on the narratives, perspectives and worldview of individuals, regardless of whether they have experienced a precarious job or unemployment themselves. As “narratives of uncertainty” become widespread, births are delayed, even if and when the economy recovers.6

A study of the effects of a financial crisis in Italy in 2011 to 2012 showed that, as individuals googled the technical term “spread” (an indicator used by economists to measure the lack of confidence in a financial system), births fell sharply nine months later. They estimated that births were reduced between 2.5% and 5% as a consequence of these “narratives of uncertainty.”7

Recent research shows the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting childbearing plans

A recent survey of adults aged 18 to 34 years old in several European countries (i.e. Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the U.K.) estimated the proportion of births that were planned for 2020 that are being delayed. Adults who had declared in early 2020 (i.e. before the coronavirus outbreak) that they were planning on conceiving or having a child by the end of the year were asked whether the pandemic had altered these plans in any way. The study found that individuals did indeed change their fertility plans in all studied countries, either by delaying or abandoning the plan for this year.

The impact varied across countries, but in Italy and Spain, nearly one-third of those who were planning a birth for 2020 abandoned the project for the year. Half or more of respondents in Germany, France, Spain and the U.K. declared that their plan to have a child still stood, but they were postponing it for later in the year.8

Planned births among mothers aged 40 and older may be significantly impacted

Experiences from past economic and sanitary crises (e.g. the 1918 flu pandemic) have shown that some of the births that are postponed in times up upheaval are caught up with later on.9 People sometimes wait until times are less uncertain before going forward with births that had previously been planned.

Laplante points out that the difference between delaying a birth and abandoning the project to have a child altogether may become especially blurry in the current circumstances. “What’s most likely is that people will delay or abandon (their reproductive plans) … and when you delay, after a while, you may end up abandoning … now, everyone is living in uncertainty, and when will we have a vaccine? In two years, maybe.” Laplante’s reasoning is that, if women in their 30s were planning to have two children, and then decide to wait until a vaccine becomes available to have their next birth, they might run out of time to have either their first or their second child before they reach a biological limit.

It is therefore possible that some of these birth plans might not be “recovered.” In many Western countries, women are increasingly waiting longer to have their first child, as many choose to develop their professional and educational paths beforehand. Even births at age 40 and older have increased in the past few decades, representing an increasing share of first births.10 In 2014, an estimated that 3.6% of all births in Canada were to mothers aged 40 years and over.11

For women aged 40 years and older, an important proportion of births is facilitated by assisted reproductive technology.12 Given that many of these procedures were interrupted for months on end in the midst of the pandemic, births at older ages might be more acutely impacted. In societies where a higher share of births are occurring among women in their 40s, some of the planned births that were already delayed might not ever happen: the biological clock might run out before both the labour market and health systems go back to previous standards.

Data from Quebec and Ontario show impact on fertility beyond economic recovery

The total fertility rate is a “snapshot” indicator, an estimate of how many children women would have on average, over their lifetime, if fertility conditions at the moment persisted during their entire reproductive life. That is why we can expect a reduction of fertility rates during a period of social and economic turbulence and/or uncertainty, followed by an uptake once the crisis is over: at least a portion of the births that were postponed are simply “caught up with” – so long as reproductive plans and ideals remain intact.

Laplante cautions that in Quebec and Ontario, fertility rates started falling in the 2008 Great Recession,13 and, as happened in European countries, continued falling once the economic downturn was over and unemployment rates were low. He is now investigating why the fertility decline did not reverse in these two Canadian provinces: are there more fundamental changes under way that are not just the product of temporary upheaval?

Only time will tell if the generations impacted by the COVID-19 crisis will have the same number of children they had been planning, but at a later time, or if their ideal number of children will change in these circumstances. If some adults decide to forego childbearing altogether as a response to the new challenges brought about by the pandemic and its associated economic crisis, younger generations might be more likely to not have children. It is currently too early to tell, but research on changes in fertility intentions before and after the pandemic will be of crucial importance to understand this aspect of family life.

Ana Fostik, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

 


Notes

  1. See, for example, “Is the COVID-19 Baby Boom a Myth? How Relationships Might Be Tested During the Pandemic,” CTV News (April 19, 2020). Link: .
  2. Statistics Canada, “Labour Force Survey, May 2020,” The Daily (June 5, 2020). Link: .
  3. Giammarco Alderotti et al. Employment Uncertainty and Fertility: A Network Meta-Analysis of European Research Findings. Econometrics Working Papers Archive 2019_06. Universita’ degli Studi di Firenze, Dipartimento di Statistica, Informatica, Applicazioni “G. Parenti” (2019).
  4. Tomáš Sobotka, Vegard Skirbekk and Dimiter Philipov. “Economic Recession and Fertility in the Developed World,” Population and Development Review 37(2), 267-306 (2011).
  5. Francesca Luppi, Bruno Arpino and Alessandro Rosina. The Impact of COVID-19 on Fertility Plans in Italy, Germany, France, Spain and UK (2020).
  6. Daniele Vignoli et al. Economic Uncertainty and Fertility in Europe: Narratives of the Future. Econometrics Working Papers Archive 2020_01, Universita’ degli Studi di Firenze, Dipartimento di Statistica, Informatica, Applicazioni “G. Parenti” (2020). Link:.
  7. Chiara L. Comolli and Daniele Vignoli. Spread-ing Uncertainty, Shrinking Birth Rates. Econometrics Working Papers Archive Universita’ degli Studi di Firenze, Dipartimento di Statistica, Informatica, Applicazioni “G. Parenti” (2019).
  8. Francesca Luppi, Bruno Arpino and Alessandro Rosina. The Impact of COVID-19 on Fertility Plans in Italy, Germany, France, Spain and UK (2020).
  9. Nina Boberg-Fazlić et al. Disease and Fertility: Evidence from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Sweden, Discussion Paper Series, IZA – Institute of Labor Economics (2017); Sebastian Klüsener and Mathias Lerch. Fertility and Economic Crisis: How Does Early Twentieth Century Compare to Early Twenty-first Century? Paper presented at the Population Association of America, Virtual (2020).
  10. Eva Beaujouan. “Latest‐Late Fertility? Decline and Resurgence of Late Parenthood Across the Low‐Fertility Countries,” Population and Development Review 0(0), 1-29 (2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2AjlOD6.
  11. Eva Beaujouan and Tomáš Sobotka. “Late Childbearing Continues to Increase in Developed Countries,” Population and Societies, no. 562 (January 2019).
  12. Eva Beaujouan. “Latest‐Late Fertility? Decline and Resurgence of Late Parenthood Across the Low‐Fertility Countries.”
  13. Melissa Moyser and Anne Milan. “Fertility Rates and Labour Force Participation Among Women in Quebec and Ontario,” Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 75-006-X. Link: .

 

In Conversation: Lucy Gallo on Access, Adaptation and Resilience Among LGBTQI2S Youth

Gaby Novoa

June 29, 2020

The financial, physical and mental well-being of LGBTQI2S communities in Canada has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A national survey found that 42% of the LGBTQI2S community reported significant impacts on their mental health amid the crisis, compared with 30% of non-LGBTQI2S people.

On June 23, 2020, we connected with Lucy Gallo, Youth Services and Housing Director of Friends of Ruby, to learn about how LGBTQI2S youth in Toronto have been navigating the past few months, and how their organization has adapted to continue to serve and support these youth.


Tell us about how Friends of Ruby has adapted and reacted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to continue serving and supporting LGBTQI2S youth. 

We closed our drop-in on a Friday and, on the Monday, our counsellors were on the phone connecting with our youth – they jumped right into service and care. Counsellors quickly moved online and have been offering – and are still quite busy doing – phone sessions and video sessions, and we are excited to have just launched a chat counselling program. All staff have now been fully trained to also provide counselling through chat.

We realized there were youth who still live with their families, some of whom they’re not out to, and so they did not have private space to access counselling over the phone. This chat option is now giving them the opportunity to be able to access support, with maybe their parents thinking they’re just texting a friend. This was a feature that we have always wanted to do but never went there because we didn’t have the resources. So, COVID made the push and provided the opportunity to say “we have to react to this right now.” I quickly got the staff trained in two half-days, and they can continue to receive assistance by someone experienced in chat counselling.

As our drop-in program wasn’t available to the youth we serve, one of the themes that we heard in conversations with them at the beginning of the pandemic was the difficulty of accessing food. We responded by providing gift cards, and we were also able to send meals in partnership with an organization, which allowed us to deliver two meals a week to some of our youth.

In adapting to the pandemic, we’ve also tried to provide virtual groups daily to allow youth to continue to have as much access to us as possible. It gave us a chance for people to come together online, connect and share what was going on in their lives. Our Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) discussion group has been a very important one to be running, especially given the amount of racism and what is happening right now in the world. It’s been a difficult time for Black youth. When Toronto started announcing that they were going to card people if they were outdoors when the pandemic first started, and that people could tell on others, a lot of BIPOC youth did not want to come out to the centre; they did not want to experience more racism. We’ve also added some extra check-in times, specifically with our Black staff to support our Black youth.

Some of the other programs we’ve been continuing to run include our art therapy group, virtual drop-ins, gaming and art for change. Also, with the support of the Centre for Mindfulness Studies, two of our counsellors successfully ran a group called Mindfulness-Based Skills for Coping with Stress and Anxiety.

We have begun moving to doing some in-person supports and opportunities for interaction as well. We’ve opened the drop-in again, operating under our own version of “phase two.” We’re providing essentials so people can come in to pick up things like takeaway meals, harm reduction kits, menstrual kits and more. They can now access case management in person – we’ve created a room with enough distance – and plexiglass – and we’ve set up the space in such a way that we could have at least up to six people right now. We’ve also realized that if a youth can’t access their counsellor from home or they don’t want to chat online, they can come to our space and have the privacy to connect with their counsellor virtually.

A lot of the services we’ve been developing or strengthening in the past few months will now also be available post-pandemic. The goal is to offer this new form of modality to all of our youth and also for youth anywhere in Canada who want to access our counselling and/or connect online.

Tell us about any common themes that you’ve observed during the pandemic among the LGBTQI2S youth you serve.

I think a big one is a sense of loneliness. With not being able to access our space, there was a lot of anxiety in the beginning around what does this all mean. How does this affect everyone? Not being able to have our regular sense of community has been difficult, especially when not all youth feel they have the privacy, space or safety at home with their families.

Tell us about some of the lessons you’ve learned while adapting Friends of Ruby to continue serving youth. Have there been any surprises or “aha” moments?

One thing that was interesting, and I’ll just use this as one example of many, is that if someone is experiencing suicidal ideation and you have them in the space, you can do an assessment and hopefully you can de-escalate, as you have them there safe with you. But what I realized was when you’re online and you don’t know where somebody is, how do you provide a sense of safety?

We had to quickly create documents and ask the youth to read them over first and agree to provide information on where they are – such as their address and how to contact them if the line gets disconnected. This protocol also applies in many cases. Even when running our virtual therapeutic groups, how do we know if it was just that someone’s line broke out and that they’re not upset – that they didn’t purposefully drop the call because of something in the group that upset them. So, these are just some of the “aha” moments. When you have someone in person, it’s such a different way of working. These were some of the things that we had to adopt and make available for everyone’s safety.

Tell us about any unique experiences and/or stories of adaptation or resilience from the youth you serve.

There’s been incredible resilience among our youth throughout all this. The folks that we’ve had trouble accessing have been our most transient youth, because they didn’t have contact information for us to reach them when we closed. Because they usually come to see us just by dropping in, being closed made that hard, although a couple of them did come in to say hi and to tell us they’re doing quite well. Obviously, we haven’t been able to see everyone, but the folks we have seen have been demonstrating lots of resilience and coping.

The counsellors have spoken about how a lot of the youth weren’t so sure about doing online counselling. However, one person, for example, has still been working during the pandemic and said they actually liked this option because they can commit to counselling without having to travel to and from the organization. It makes accessing counselling easier for some.

What do you hope to see or do you anticipate in the months ahead?

Right now, we’re planning on opening the drop-in a little bit more, as the city opens more things. The goal is that we will let more people into the space and hopefully foster a greater sense of community again. Each counsellor has a couple of people who are waiting to be seen in person. We’re looking at planning for those counsellors to come in, just to see the specific people who can’t or don’t want to do online counselling. For the BIPOC discussion group, we’re looking at running it virtually, but also in person.

People could come into the space during that time to be part of the group, while others are also connected virtually, so we can meet the needs of people both offline and online. As mentioned earlier, we’re looking to start running another round of Mindfulness-Based Skills for Coping with Stress and Anxiety, hopefully around mid-July. In the next few weeks, staff will continue to talk about the ways that we can expand, and we will continue on with takeaway meals and case management, in person and virtually.

Connect with Friends of Ruby on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) to stay up to date as they continue to offer more services and programs. 

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

This interview has been edited for length, flow and clarity. 

 

Getting Out, Getting Active and Family Well‑Being

Gaby Novoa and Nathan Battams

June 22, 2020

Summer 2020 will be a unique one for families, as communities across Canada cautiously continue to relax public health measures and restrictions and families manage major transitions at home, at work and in their communities.

Many parents are working from home for the first time, which can present some challenges but also opportunities to spend more time with their children and to foster healthy physical activity behaviours, which, after months of being in physical isolation, will likely be a welcome pursuit for many.

Families are shifting summer plans to manage uncertainties

People typically make family decisions based on choice and circumstance, and the coronavirus pandemic and public health measures have had an impact on both. Responding to a variety of factors related to the pandemic – including financial insecurity, a need or desire to remain close to manage work and family, some continued mobility restrictions and uncertainty whether restrictions will return – it’s not surprising that nearly 6 in 10 (59%) parents surveyed in late April reported that they have changed their vacation plans due to the pandemic, and 72% say that it’s unlikely that they will take a holiday this year.

Children and youth will also be adapting their plans and activities, as many summer camps and organized sports or activities will either be postponed or not taking place. While some organizations are set or pending announcements to open, the impact of the pandemic on family finances may deter some parents from registration in order to carefully manage expenses. Others may avoid sending their kids anywhere due to health concerns or anxiety, particularly if their children live with any immunodeficiency.

With more families spending time at home this summer and plans being changed and adapted, there are growing opportunities for many families to get outdoors and be active together.

Family support critical to children’s levels of physical activity

The newly released Family Influence: The 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth reports that less than 1 in 5 children and youth in Canada meet national guidelines for physical activity, sedentary and sleep behaviours.1 The report underlines the role of families in promoting healthy habits in its guiding Consensus Statement, which was developed through a national multidisciplinary expert panel:

Families can support children and youth in achieving healthy physical activity, sedentary and sleep behaviours by encouraging, facilitating, modelling, setting expectations and engaging in healthy movement behaviours with them. Other sources of influence are important (e.g., child care, school, health care, community, governments) and can support families in these pursuits.2

As the report states, youth’s physical activity levels, is greatly influenced by family social support – particularly during early childhood. This support is shown to be most effective when taking self-regulatory approaches and when grounded in specific actions, such as setting goals together. Studies assert that parents who make clearly defined plans – how, when, where – to encourage their child’s healthy movement behaviours are more likely to follow through. As role models, parents can have a significant impact: every additional 20 minutes of physical activity by a parent can mean an additional 5 minutes in their child’s daily physical activity.3

Outdoor play and location linked to well-being

A growing body of research demonstrates the link between well-being and access to parks and green spaces. In 2017, the majority of households in Canada (87%) reported having a park within 10 minutes of their home. Of these households, almost all (85%) reported that they had visited the park within the previous 12 months. Among households that reported that they did not have nearby access (13%), 39% nevertheless reported visiting a park or green space in the previous 12 months.4

Research has shown that a neighbourhood’s built environment can have an impact on the time children spend outdoors, with lower traffic volumes, access to a yard and neighbourhood greenness all associated with more time spent by children playing outdoors in one study.5

Research from Statistics Canada has found a strong association between time spent outdoors and levels of physical activity among children, as well as a positive impact on psychosocial health and lower likelihood of experiencing peer relationship problems.6 More than one-third (36%) of surveyed parents with children aged 5–17 said that they play active games with their kids.7 Since the start of the pandemic, nearly two-thirds (62%) of youth in Canada cited exercising outdoors.8

Outdoor play can foster “freedom, fun, creativity, and skill- and confidence-building.”9 Whether it’s walking through a park, playing a game in the front yard or going for a jog, getting outdoors and practising healthy behaviours with family can play an important role in supporting physical activity and wellness at any time, but are particularly important as families continue to navigate the COVID‑19 pandemic and new and/or adapted ways of coming together.

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

Nathan Battams is Communications Manager at the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Notes

  1. ParticipACTION, Family Influence: The 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth (June 17, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2Zser6r.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Gordon Dewis, “Access and Use of Parks and Green Spaces: The Potential Impact of COVID‑19 on Canadian Households,” COVID‑19: A Data Perspective (June 9, 2020). Link: .
  5. Amalie Lambert et al., “What Is the Relationship Between the Neighbourhood Built Environment and Time Spent in Outdoor Play? A Systematic Review,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (October 11, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2N8nan1.
  6. Richard Larouche et al., “Outdoor Time, Physical Activity, Sedentary Time, and Health Indicators at Ages 7 to 14: 2012/2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey,” Health Reports, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-003-X (September 21, 2016). Link: .
  7. ParticipACTION, The Brain + Body Equation: Canadian Kids Need Active Bodies to Build Their Best Brains. The 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth (2018). Link: .
  8. Rubab Arim, Leanne Findlay and Dafna Kohen, “The Health and Behavioural Impacts of COVID‑19 on Youth: Results from the Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1,” COVID‑19: A Data Perspective (May 15, 2020). Link: .
  9. Lambert et al.

Food Insecurity and Family Finances During the Pandemic

Nadine Badets

June 12, 2020

The COVID‑19 lockdown and ensuing economic repercussions have created a significant amount of financial stress for families in Canada. Between February and April 2020, about 1.3 million people in Canada were unemployed, with approximately 97% of the newly unemployed on temporary layoff, meaning they expect to go back to their jobs once the pandemic restrictions are relaxed.1

Research has shown that financial insecurity can severely limit access to food for low income families and exacerbate socio-economic inequities.2 Other factors, such as health and disability status, level of social support and the limited availability of certain food products, also contribute to food insecurity during the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Financial inequities intensified during physical distancing and economic lockdown

Overall, 5.5 million adults in Canada have either been affected by job loss or reduced work hours during the COVID-19 lockdown, meaning these people and their households have a significant reduction in income for necessities such as food and shelter.3 In 2018, about 3.2 million people lived below Canada’s official poverty line,4 and the economic impacts of the pandemic have likely increased these numbers.

The pandemic is also amplifying existing financial inequities.5 In Canada in 2015, the national prevalence of low income was 14%, however it was much higher among some groups, such as immigrants (Arab, West Asian, Korean, Chinese), Indigenous Peoples (First Nations people, Inuit, Métis), and Black people.6, 7 These groups were more likely to be living with low income before the COVID‑19 lockdown, and have been more likely than others to report that the pandemic has had a negative effect on their finances. According to recent survey data from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association of Canadian Studies and Leger,8 over half of visible minorities (51%) had a decrease in their income during the lockdown, and Indigenous peoples (42%) were most likely to report having difficulty meeting financial obligations, such as being able to pay bills on time.9, 10

Food banks across Canada have seen surges in use since the beginning of the COVID‑19 pandemic

Prior to the COVID‑19 pandemic, Food Banks Canada estimated that food bank use across the country had stabilized, with 2019 having almost the same number of visits as 2018, remaining at levels similar to 2010. In the month of March 2019, there were close to 1.1 million visits to food banks across Canada, with more than 374,000 visits for feeding children.11

Statistics Canada estimates that in 2017–2018 about 9% of households (1.2 million) in Canada were food insecure, meaning  they struggled financially to get food and did not have enough for all household members to eat regular and nutritious meals.12, 13 As with financial insecurity, food insecurity disproportionately affects certain population groups in Canada. For example, in 2014 food insecurity among Black people (29%) and Indigenous people (26%) was more than double the national average (12%).14

Research has consistently found that people living in remote and Northern communities are more likely to experience food insecurity, such as Inuit communities in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland.15 It has also been found that Indigenous populations living in urban areas experience high levels of food insecurity. In 2017, 38% of Indigenous peoples 18 years and older living in urban areas were food insecure.16

Since the COVID‑19 pandemic started, Food Banks Canada reported that there has been an average increase of 20% in demand for services from food banks across the country, alarmingly close to the 28% increase seen during the Great Recession. Projections by Food Banks Canada estimate that demand could continue to rise to between 30% and 40% higher than pre-pandemic levels. Some food banks – such as The Daily Bread in Toronto, one of the largest food banks in Canada – have seen increases of over 50% in use.17

Increases in grocery sales associated with the receipt of financial support through CERB

Early in the pandemic (late March to early April 2020), 63% of people reported that they stocked up on essential groceries and pharmacy products as a precaution.18

Grocery sales across Canada saw a sharp increase in March 2020, rising 40% toward the end of the month and continued to remain high in mid‑April.19 The delivery of federal financial supports for unemployed people, such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB),20 appear to be directly linked with an increase in grocery sales, which is likely helping to mitigate food insecurity for some Canadians.21

However, CERB currently only allows recipients to claim the benefit four times for a total of 16 weeks. As July 2020 approaches, many Canadians will be using up their final installment of CERB, and not all will be eligible to be transferred to EI, which could have a serious impact on food insecurity in Canada.

Single parents and seniors with low levels of social support struggle the most to get groceries

Physical (social) distancing measures have also created new barriers for individuals and families trying to navigate new rules of when, how and with whom they can or should buy groceries. For some, such as seniors, single parents, people with disabilities and those who have (or are caring for someone with) compromised immune systems, having limited finances and little social support can seriously restrict access to food.

In 2017–2018, single parents with children under 18 years reported the highest levels of food insecurity in Canada. Female single parents had the highest rate of food insecurity at 25%, followed by male single parents at 16%.22 This compares with 12% among men and women living alone, 7% of couples with children under 18, and 3% of couples without children.23

Physical distancing measures can be particularly complex for single parents without access to child care, who may have to decide between bringing children to grocery stores, thereby breaking physical distancing rules and potentially exposing children to the virus, or turning to organizations like food banks for support.24

Seniors living with low income are less likely to have a high level of social support (77%) compared with seniors living in high income (89%). In periods of isolation such as the current lockdown, access to essentials like food can be challenging, especially for low income seniors who are ill, concerned for their health or unable to get groceries on their own due to physical or financial restrictions.25

Hoarding of certain foods limits supply and access for low income families and food banks

The COVID‑19 pandemic brought a series of panic-buying trends around the world, most notably of hand sanitizer and toilet paper.26 Many grocery stores and pharmacies have had their stock of certain food items depleted several times during the pandemic.

In mid-March 2020, sales of dry and canned foods in Canada surpassed those of fresh and frozen foods. Rice sales rose 239% compared with the same period in 2019, sales of pasta rose by 205%, canned vegetables by 180% and sales of infant formula by 103%.27 Shelf-stable foods such as these are usually a major part of food bank products,28 but are more difficult to come by during the pandemic and thus limit supplies for food insecure families.29

More research is needed to better understand the effects of the pandemic on hunger, nutrition and food insecurity in households across Canada in order to support and develop programs aimed at reducing inequities in access to food.

To find a food bank nearby or make a donation, visit the Food Banks Canada website.

Nadine Badets, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

 


Notes

  1. Statistics Canada, “COVID‑19 and the Labour Market in April 2020,” Infographics (May 8, 2020). Link: .
  2. Visit the PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research website for more on food insecurity and social inequities. Link: .
  3. Statistics Canada, “COVID‑19 and the Labour Market in April 2020.”
  4. Statistics Canada, “Health and Social Challenges Associated with the COVID‑19 Situation in Canada,” The Daily (April 6, 2020). Link:.
  5. Learn about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on inequalities in Canada, see Canadian Human Rights Commission, Statement – Inequality Amplified by COVID-19 Crisis (March 31, 2020).
  6. Statistics Canada, “Visible Minority (15), Income Statistics (17), Generation Status (4), Age (10) and Sex (3) for the Population Aged 15 Years and Over in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link:.
  7. Statistics Canada, “Aboriginal Identity (9), Income Statistics (17), Registered or Treaty Indian Status (3), Age (9) and Sex (3) for the Population Aged 15 Years and Over in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data,” Data Tables, 2016 Census (updated June 17, 2019). Link:.
  8. The survey, conducted by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, on March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5, April 10–12, April 17–19, April 24–26, May 1–3 and May 8–10, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. All samples, with the exception of those from March 10–13 and April 24–26, also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. In addition, from about May 1 to 10, there was an oversample of 450 Indigenous peoples. 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. It is important to emphasize that there is a great deal of diversity within visible minority groups and Indigenous populations, all groups have unique and distinct experiences of financial and food insecurity, as well as histories, geographies, cultures, traditions, and languages.
  10. For more on the impact of the COVID-10 pandemic on immigrant families and First Nations people, Métis and Inuit, see Laetitia Martin, Families New to Canada and Financial Well-being During Pandemic (May 21, 2020) and Statistics Canada, “First Nations people, Métis and Inuit and COVID-19: Health and social characteristics,” The Daily (April 17, 2020). Link: .
  11. Food Banks Canada, “Hunger Count 2019.” Link: .
  12. Ibid.
  13. Statistics Canada, “Household Food Security by Living Arrangement,” Table 13-10-0385-01 (accessed May 27, 2020). Link: .
  14. Health Canada, Household Food Insecurity in Canada: Overview (page last updated February 18, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/30JLCDh.
  15. Valerie Tarasuk, Andy Mitchell and Naomi Dachner, “Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2014,” PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research (updated May 12, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/3eJ0mpl (PDF).
  16. Paula Arriagada, “Food Insecurity Among Inuit Living in Inuit Nunangat,” Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 75-006-X (February 1, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2maW9oN.
  17. Paula Arriagada, Tara Hahmann and Vivian O’Donnell, “Indigenous People in Urban Areas: Vulnerabilities to the Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID‑19,” STATCAN COVID‑19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada (May 26, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2zuTgWT.
  18. Beatrice Britneff, “Food Banks’ Demand Surges Amid COVID‑19. Now They Worry About Long-Term Pressures,” Global News (April 15, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3boEHRe.
  19. Statistics Canada, “How Are Canadians Coping with the COVID‑19 Situation?,” Infographic (April 8, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2WKdx21.
  20. Statistics Canada, “Study: Canadian Consumers Adapt to COVID‑19: A Look at Canadian Grocery Sales Up to April 11,” The Daily (May 11, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3cj58Jz.
  21. In April 2020, Canada’s federal government established the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which provides $2,000 every four weeks to workers who have lost their income as a result of the pandemic. This benefit covers those who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID‑19. It applies to wage earners, contract workers and self-employed individuals who are unable to work. The benefit also allows individuals to earn up to $1,000 per month while collecting CERB. As a result of school and child care closures across Canada, the CERB is available to working parents who must stay home without pay to care for their children until schools and child care can safely reopen and welcome back children of all ages. Government of Canada, “Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.” Link: https://bit.ly/2AhY1DD.
  22. Statistics Canada, “Study: Canadian Consumers Adapt to COVID‑19: A Look at Canadian Grocery Sales Up to April 11.”
  23. Statistics Canada, “Household Food Security by Living Arrangement.”
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ottawa Food Bank, “COVID‑19 Response Webinar – The First 5 Weeks” (May 13, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2AWXF55.
  26. Kristyn Frank, “COVID‑19 and Social Support for Seniors: Do Seniors Have People They Can Depend on During Difficult Times?,” StatCan COVID‑19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada (April 30, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3biLMmp.
  27. Statistics Canada, “Canadian Consumers Prepare for COVID‑19,” Price Analytical Series (April 8, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2WO1r86.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Food Banks Canada, “Support Your Local Food Bank.” Link: https://bit.ly/3gqmYwG.

 

Families in Canada Adapting: A Wedding at a Distance

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected families across Canada and the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that impact their well-being, it hasn’t stopped family life by any means.

Whether it’s managing work–family responsibilities, connecting to celebrate milestones or providing support in difficult times, people are finding diverse and creative ways to keep doing what families do.

As families in Canada continue to manage these transitions, the Vanier Institute of the Family is gathering, compiling and sharing these “stories behind the statistics” to provide insights and into family strengths, resilience and diverse experiences across the country.


A Wedding at a Distance

Edward Ng, PhD

June 1, 2020

In early May, I had my first experience attending an online wedding. The event was planned long ago, well before the COVID‑19 pandemic had been declared. Once the restriction order was imposed in mid-March, the couple adjusted the wedding plan so that the event could be held online instead.

The ceremony, which was held in Montreal at the home of the bride, was ultimately broadcast through YouTube all over the world. Will this be the trend of the future? Before this, my only “virtual family gathering” was a funeral for my uncle who passed away a few years ago in Sydney, Australia.

The ceremony started at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning (or wherever it happened to be for the online guests). After introductory music, the flower girl and the ring bearer made their entry into the broadcasting not by walking down the aisle in a church but rather their own corridor at home, throwing flowers and small decorations along the way. Then followed the well-arranged performance by a quartet, assembled online playing musical pieces for the occasion. The quartet was followed by a choir singing separately yet harmoniously, from wherever they were. Then came the sharing from ministers, followed by exchanging of vows and of rings and the signing of the marriage certificate. The ceremony took just more than an hour, and concluded with selfie-taking (so to speak).

In the joy of the moment, though, neither the family nor the guests – nor the bride and groom – cared whether we were there virtually. Not everything was the same – when it came to attire, some of us still chose to dress up for the occasion with formal dress or suit jacket, while others chose to dress casually. People were adapting as they saw fit as we all experienced this together, while apart.

The YouTube broadcasting feature was used, which allowed for viewers all over the world to contribute to the occasion in live time. From the beginning of the online ceremony, we observed many congratulatory wishes and comments beaming through. Family, friends and loved ones from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, as well as the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia, left their wishes to the couple. One guest commented that this was the first time that people at a wedding were able to contribute their comments and appreciation of the occasion so instantaneously.

By bringing the wedding online, more people were able to attend, some of whom wouldn’t have been able to come otherwise. For my own family, Montreal is at least a two- to three-hour drive each way; for those observing from Asia, however, that would be at least two days of travel to and from (with much higher fares, if flying has been allowed). Furthermore, these international travellers would have had to quarantine for at least 14 days. That would have made attending this wedding from overseas quite impossible.

At the end of the event, the newlyweds expressed their appreciation to the online wedding planning team, and promised that there will be wedding celebration activities after the restriction order has been lifted. We all looked forward to this day, and ultimately had a positive experience with this online family event. In this case, moving the wedding ceremony online was necessary, practical and sensible, especially in view of pandemic. Time will tell whether online family milestones will be a norm in the future.

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

 

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

 


Notes

  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).

Family Finances and Mental Health During the COVID‑19 Pandemic

Ana Fostik, PhD, and Jennifer Kaddatz

May 26, 2020

In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic suddenly brought social and economic activities to a halt across Canada, with data showing serious impacts on labour market activity. Recent estimates from Statistics Canada show that 1 million fewer Canadians were employed in March than in February, and the usual labour market activity of 3.1 million Canadians was affected (i.e. worked fewer hours or lost their job).1

According to survey data for April 10–12, 2020 from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) and Leger,2 38% of men and 34% of women aged 18 and older said that they lost their job temporarily or permanently, or experienced pay or income losses, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, 27% of men and 25% of women reported a negative financial impact (i.e. ability to pay mortgage or rent and/or their bills).

Not surprisingly, Statistics Canada recently found that adults who suffered a major or moderate impact of the pandemic were much more likely to report fair or poor mental health than those who were less impacted (25% and 13%, respectively).3

Data collected in mid-April by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger show that younger adults have been particularly affected: more than half (52%) of those aged 18–34 reported a negative impact on their labour market activity (job or pay/income losses), compared with 39% of those aged 35–54 and 21% of those aged 55 and older. This is reflected in the shares of adults experiencing immediate negative financial outcomes, which were reported by 33% of adults under 55 and 15% of those over 55.

Adults in financial difficulty are more likely to report mental health issues

Among the core working age population (aged 18–54), just over half reported feeling anxious or nervous (53%), irritable (49%) or sad (48%) often or very often during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Vanier Institute/ACS/Leger survey. Four in 10 reported difficulty sleeping (40%) and having mood swings (40%) often or very often.

Among those who experienced immediate negative outcomes, such as not being able to pay rent or mortgage and/or their bills, about 6 in 10 reported anxiety or nervousness (63%), irritability (60%) or sadness (57%) often or very often, whereas half said they have had difficulty sleeping (50%) or experience mood swings (52%) often or very often (fig. 1).

Women in financial difficulty suffer from mental health issues in higher shares than men

According to the 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey, women were slightly less likely than men to report excellent/good mental health (66% and 71%, respectively).4 During the coronavirus pandemic, however, Statistics Canada found a much larger difference, at 49% of women and 60% of men.5

Vanier Institute/ACS/Leger survey data show women aged 18–54 reporting specific mental health issues often or very often in much larger shares than men of the same age. About 6 in 10 women reported experiencing anxiety or nervousness, irritability or sadness often or very often, compared with 4 in 10 men. Similarly, about half women experienced difficulty sleeping or mood swings often or very often, compared with 3 in 10 men (fig. 1).

This difference by gender in reporting mental health issues is maintained even when examining the proportions of men and women who suffered immediate negative financial outcomes and those who did not. For instance, three-quarters of women (76%), compared with half of men (51%), who had difficulty paying mortgage or rent and/or their bills reported feeling nervous or anxious often or very often. Almost 7 in 10 women in financial difficulty experience irritability (67%) or sadness (67%), compared with about half of men in the same situation (53% and 48%, respectively) (fig. 1).

About 6 in 10 of women in financial difficulty (55% and 62%) suffered difficulty sleeping and had mood swings often or very often, compared with 4 in 10 men in the same situation (45% and 42%, respectively) (fig. 1).

Adults with financial difficulties report similar mental health issues, whether living with young children or not

If women are significantly less likely than men to report positive mental health during the pandemic, even when financial outcomes are controlled for, what factors might be at play in creating these gender differences? Could these mental health challenges be related to family responsibilities?

An analysis of the April 10–12, 2020 data indicates that heightened symptoms of poor mental health do not appear to be linked to the presence of children in the home. Women who live with children aged 12 and younger in the household report experiencing anxiety (69%), irritability (60%), sadness (59%), difficulty sleeping (51%) and mood swings (51%) often and very often in similar proportions as women who do not live with children (63%, 57%, 60%, 47% and 48%, respectively). Men who live with young children also report these problems in similar proportions as those who do not (fig. 2).

Among women in financial difficulty, there is little difference in the share reporting any of these mental health problems whether they have young children living in the household or not. This is also true among women who did not experience immediate negative financial outcomes: living with children aged 12 and under in the household does not appear to make a difference (fig. 2).

Analysis of self-reported mental health status shows that some of the differences by gender persist when controlling for province of residence, age, financial difficulty, job/pay loss, presence of children aged 12 and under, household income, marital status and educational attainment. Controlling by these variables and compared with men who are in financial difficulty, women in financial difficulty are about twice as likely to suffer from anxiety, sadness or mood swings. Among adults who have not suffered financial negative outcomes, there are no significant differences between men and women in mental health outcomes once controlling for these factors.

While this analysis could not pinpoint potential reasons why women are more likely than men to report poor mental health symptoms, future research may seek to focus on psychological differences between women and men in crisis situations in order to determine whether or not women and men react differently in crisis situations or when there is an immediate threat to personal or family health and well-being. More research on the impact of gendered aspects of household work and caregiving, including the mental burden associated with these types of unpaid work, might also shed light on these differences.

Ana Fostik, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada


Notes

  1. Statistics Canada, “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Canadian Labour Market,” Infographics (April 9, 2020). Link: .
  2. A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5, April 10–12, April 17–19 and April 24–26, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. All samples, except for the March 10–13 and April 24–26 samples, also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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.
  3. Statistics Canada, “Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1: Impacts of COVID-19 on Job Security and Personal Finances, 2020,” The Daily (April 20, 2020). Link: .
  4. Leanne Findlay and Rubab Arim, “Canadians Report Lower Self-Perceived Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” STATCAN COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 45280001 (April 24, 2020). Link: .
  5. Ibid.

 

Families New to Canada and Financial Well-being During Pandemic

Laetitia Martin

May 21, 2020

In 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations Organization, including Canada, adopted 17 sustainable development goals. Over a 15-year time frame, the plan aims to “end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere.”1 Eradicating poverty is ranked first because of the extreme vulnerability that it causes, especially in a time of crisis such as the pandemic that we are experiencing now.

Given this period of increased vulnerability, it is even more important to monitor the evolving economic situation and well-being of the most disadvantaged families. Whether one thinks of Indigenous, immigrant, single-parent or other types of families facing poverty, analyzing regularly updated data is vital to follow developments in the situation. In this way, our public decision makers will be able to implement effective policies and programs to reduce poverty, even in a time of crisis.

Based on data from the 2016 Census, almost 1 in 3 immigrant children (32.2%), one of the most economically vulnerable groups in the country, lives in poverty.2 What are the economic difficulties currently facing these families?

Three out of 10 immigrants had difficulty meeting their immediate financial obligations

In a time of pandemic, the entire population may experience financial losses, regardless of the prior level of economic vulnerability. Data collected during a recent survey conducted over a six-week period by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger show this clearly.3

Regardless of their immigrant status, nearly 4 to 5 out of 10 respondents stated that they had experienced a decrease in their income because of the pandemic. Immigrants were represented to a higher degree, however, among those for whom this decrease in income caused difficulty in meeting their short-term financial obligations (fig. 1). In the first weeks following implementation of social distancing measures, almost 3 out of 10 immigrants (29%) stated that they had difficulty paying their rent or mortgage due to the crisis. This was almost 1 out of 10 persons higher than their Canadian-born counterparts (20%). The gap appears likely to persist over the coming weeks.

Similarly, a greater proportion of foreign-born versus Canadian-born individuals experienced other short-term financial difficulties, such as paying bills on time. These financial stress indicators make the foreign-born population all the more vulnerable when they encounter difficulty meeting their basic needs, such as having a roof over their heads and accessing related public services, the minimum needed for their well-being and that of their family.

More than 1 out of 2 immigrant parents experienced a loss of income

Looking more closely at the economic impact of the crisis on immigrant families, one sees that the negative effects were immediate (fig. 2). In late March, more than 1 out of 2 immigrant parents stated that they had experienced a loss of income because of the pandemic, resulting in a reduced capacity to assist other family members financially. This support might not only have proven even more useful during this difficult time, but its decrease might also have a snowball effect within the most economically vulnerable ethnic communities.

Downward trends of immigrant parents experiencing immediate financial difficulties

On a more positive note, trends observed over recent weeks have shown a decrease in the proportion of immigrant parents who experienced immediate financial impacts. After reaching a high during the first week of April, the proportion of immigrant parents who had difficulty paying their rent or mortgage, as well as those who had difficulty meeting their other financial obligations, decreased by more than 15 percentage points in the following four weeks. While it is too early to determine the precise cause of the decrease, these results suggest that businesses that have adapted in an ongoing effort to maintain services despite distancing rules, coupled with the financial measures put in place by governments, may be helping lessen the economic vulnerability of immigrant families in the immediate term.

Financially vulnerable immigrant families visit the grocery store more often

Beyond direct financial impacts, economic vulnerability can also limit the ability to adopt certain behaviours that promote good health. For example, some parents of immigrant families may have to make difficult choices between the basic needs of their family and the resources they have to reduce their exposure to COVID-19. Furthermore, some economically vulnerable families do not have any credit cards to shop online, cannot pay the added cost imposed by grocery stores for delivery or packaging of items, or do not have the necessary financial resources to buy provisions to last them over several days. Not to mention that it might be more difficult for individuals without a car to transport a large amount of provisions on foot or on public transit.

These constraints might explain why twice as many immigrant parents who experienced immediate financial difficulties (46%) went to the grocery store more than once a week, compared with their Canadian-born counterparts, who had not experienced the same difficulties (23%) (fig. 3). No significant difference was observed between the two groups regarding compliance with other safety measures, such as social distancing and frequent hand washing, which suggests that this increased exposure cannot be explained by a lack of awareness.

In instituting sustainable development goals in 2015, the 193 States around the world recognized that “inequality threatens long-term social and economic development.”4 Often called a land of immigrants, Canada nevertheless remains a country in which immigrant families face a high risk of economic vulnerability. Data collected at the start of the pandemic show that inequalities persist in a time of crisis. Immigrants are harder hit financially in the immediate term than their Canadian-born counterparts.

Six weeks of collecting weekly data would seem to bear witness to a national resiliency or capacity to adapt to this extraordinary situation by mitigating certain negative effects. The downward trend in the prevalence of immigrant families that experienced difficulty paying their mortgage or rent, or meeting their other financial obligations, can be seen as a positive. But if the past weeks have taught us one lesson, it is that the situation changes rapidly in a time of pandemic. It is therefore more important than ever to closely monitor the situation and to be sure to identify, in a timely manner, the needs of the most vulnerable families, be they Indigenous, immigrant, single-parent or other. Eradicating poverty is an even greater challenge in a time of crisis.

Laetitia Martin, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada


Notes

  1. United Nations Organization, “Sustainable Development Program,” Sustainable Development Goals. Link: https://bit.ly/35ZOi07.
  2. Statistics Canada, Data Products, 2016 Census, Data Tables, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 98-400-X2016206. Link: .
  3. The survey, conducted by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger on March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5, April 10–12, April 17–19, April 24–26 and 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. All samples, with the exception of those from March 10–13 and April 24–26, also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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 compahttps://bit.ly/3mQFdPdrative purposes, a probability sample of 1,512 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.52%, 19 times out of 20.
  4. United Nations Organization, “Reduced Inequalities: Why It Matters,” Sustainable Goal #10: Reduced Inequalities. Link: https://bit.ly/3mQFdPd (PDF).

 

Parents’ Thoughts on Post-Pandemic Future in Canada

Nadine Badets

May 6, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have transformed family life in Canada. With the closure of schools, daycares, restaurants and many businesses, as well as major job losses and new work-from-home measures, many parents and children are spending a lot more time together.

So how do families feel about life after the pandemic? Six weeks of data from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger show that families with children are not ready to send them back to school this year, but parents are ready to go back to their workplaces after the pandemic, among other findings from this ongoing series of surveys.1

Fear of coronavirus greater among families caring for children

As of May 6, 2020, children and youth 19 years and younger represent a small portion of COVID-19 cases in Canada (5%).2 Nevertheless, almost 30% of adults living with children and youth under 18 are very afraid that someone in their immediate family will contract COVID-19, compared with 22% of people not living with children3 (fig. 1).

Even so, more than half of adults living with children (56%) said they would support a government policy that relaxes social (physical) distancing restrictions for everyone under 65, whereas 42% of people living without children said they would support this policy.

Most parents don’t want children to attend summer school to catch up

Over 80% of parents are living with their children during the pandemic, and 7% are sharing custody of their children with a parent in a separate household. Six in 10 parents (60%) reported they are now talking to their children more often than before the lockdown. Parents of school-aged children are also navigating the education system with their children as newly instated teachers, tutors and homework helpers. Home schooling is challenging for many families,4 raising concerns about students falling behind.

Most provinces have not yet announced plans to reopen schools, whereas all three territories have confirmed they will keep schools closed until September. However, Quebec has pledged to reopen most elementary schools on May 11 and, as of April 29, 2020, Ontario and Nova Scotia have tentative opening dates closer to June, but their deadlines keep shifting.5 When surveyed, two-thirds (66%) of parents indicate that even if schools in Canada open before the end of June, they would prefer for their children to return to school in September, rather than attend school over the summer (July and/or August) to catch up for missed time.

More than half of parents are ready to return to work but don’t want to use public transit

The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous job losses across the country,6 and parents living with children who view the COVID-19 outbreak as a “major threat” to their jobs were more likely to report feeling sad and anxious or nervous, compared with people living without children.7

Of those still employed, people living with children were more likely to report satisfaction with the measures their employer put in place to fight COVID-19 (59%) than people without children (37%). This could be because they can work from home and care for their children given that daycares and schools are closed. About 55% of adults living with children reported they are now working from home (fig. 2). People living with children were also more likely to say they would be comfortable returning to their workplace once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted (54%) than people without children (37%).

However, more than 60% of parents said they would not be comfortable riding public transit, even when COVID-19 restrictions start being relaxed, which could have implications for commuting once people return to their workplace (fig. 3). Adults living with children were more likely to say they would prefer to commute to work only when needed (39%) than people without children (27%).

 

Parents abandoning vacation plans, most won’t travel in 2020

In addition to expressing discomfort with commuting in public transit, parents are also not comfortable with travel. About 6 in 10 (59%) adults living with children reported that they had to change vacation plans due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, which was likely affected by Canada’s lockdown and borders closing around March break. When asked if they now plan to take a vacation during 2020, 72% of parents said it was unlikely.

Nadine Badets, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

 


Notes

  1. A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5, April 10–12, April 17–19 and April 24–26, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. All samples except for the March 10–13 and April 24–26 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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.
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Epidemiology Update (accessed May 6, 2020). Link: .
  3. See note 1.
  4. Jessica Wong, “Frustrated Parents in Ontario Pivot from Official Distance-Learning Program Amid COVID-19,” CBC News (April 30, 2020). Link: .
  5. CBC Kids News, When Will Your School Reopen? Check Out This Map (April 29, 2020). Link:.
  6. Statistics Canada, “Labour Force Survey, March 2020,” The Daily (April 9, 2020). Link:.
  7. Jennifer Kaddatz, “Families Struggle to Cope with Financial Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Vanier Institute of the Family (April 9, 2020).

 

Who Is Your COVID‑19 Crisis “Extended and Chosen Family”?

Jennifer Kaddatz

May 1, 2020

My family moved to Ottawa from British Columbia for my job, nearly eight years ago now. It still feels like yesterday. Moving was a big, scary life change. There was considerable upset in the wake of the extraction of our three young boys as we left the kids’ grandparents and their aunt on the West Coast. The rest of our relatively small extended family is spread between three countries, with the majority residing in the South Pacific, so there were no grandchildren left in BC to be hugged.

My husband and I were pretty much left to fend for ourselves in Ontario after we relocated, but we have now settled, after eight wonderful years. During this time, we have developed strong relationships with our new neighbours and, while it’s no substitute for family, our relationships with our neighbours are a precious alternative.

Always know where to go in a zombie apocalypse

Within a year of moving to Ottawa, my family and I made some of the most amazing new friends – adults and kids we met through our involvement with Scouts Canada. These friends – our “chosen family” – are the ones my family now celebrates with every holiday or special event, including Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving and birthdays in between.

These are the friends with whom we play, boil maple syrup, have new adventures (axe throwing and/or karaoke, anyone?) and vacation during the summer. We know each other’s biological extended families and our kids have grown together (like siblings or cousins), watching the youngest morph out of his baby fat and diapers and watching the eldest get his driver’s licence and embark upon a committed relationship with a girlfriend.

These three families are the friends that we always joked we would team up with in a zombie apocalypse. Turns out it was a COVID‑19 apocalypse, but at least we were ready! Need toilet paper or flour? Someone will bring it. Need a smile? Someone will make you laugh. Mid-pandemic, the boys are in contact with one another virtually 24/7 online, chatting through homework and gaming sessions alike.


  • 90% of adults in Canada agree that they currently have people to count on in case of an emergency.1
  • 44% of Canadians say that one of the main precautions they have taken as a result of the COVID‑19 situation is to make a plan for communicating with family, friends and neighbours.2

Get close to your neighbours, but no closer than 2 metres

But that’s not my only local community. I think I’ve pretty much got the most awesome neighbours on the planet. My ruralish neighbourhood has fairly quickly changed from a place where most of the “kids” were in their early 20s to a place where every second house and yard is now home to the noise and energy of approximately three children and youth, most of whom are under 12. We have skating in winter, an annual Easter egg hunt, campfires, bike rides, an informal “tick and wild animal” alert system, a vegetable-seed sharing club and a diverse group of incredibly hard-working, compassionate, giving and, let’s not forget, pretty darn tired mothers and fathers.

When I was undergoing cancer treatment earlier this year, it was these neighbours who took care of me, making sure my family had everything we needed, including some of the most delicious homemade meals ever shared. This morning, my breakfast was bread, freshly baked in gratitude by one of my neighbours who works in health care, because I’ve been sewing personal protective equipment for her during the pandemic.


  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the population feels very attached (35%) or somewhat attached (39%) to their neighbourhood.3
  • Four in five (80%) people in Canada say that their neighbours are strictly (29%) or somewhat strictly (51%) following the guidance of public health authorities to social distance from others.4

Stay in touch with family and friends using technology

Thanks to technology, my community doesn’t end at the Ontario border. I grew up in a farming and fishing village, where the high school mascot was a horse and blackberries were a dominant feature on the main road. This kind of childhood can make for long-lasting ties and my best friends from childhood are still with me now. During the COVID‑19 pandemic, we chat via text messaging and social media apps throughout the day every day, even though they are living way out west under the cherry blossoms, while I’m still feeling kind of shivery out here in eastern Canada.

These beautiful women make me laugh, give me hope and get me exercising. They are the ones I share with when I need a shoulder to lean on. We are all experiencing different aspects and effects of the pandemic – and in quite different ways – but we support one another through everything and anything.


  • 41% of people in Canada have been on social media more often since the start of the COVID‑19 pandemic.5
  • 88% of adults in Canada are very attached or attached to their friends, a share just lower than the 93% of adults who are very attached or somewhat attached to their family.6

But it’s not just for the fun and games

For me, staying in touch with my long-time besties, my Ottawa axe-throwing friends and my amazing-but-tired neighbours isn’t just about having a good time. This inner circle of people form my “extended extended family” and my relationships with them are critical for my positive mental health. During a time of crisis, like the COVID‑19 pandemic, they are my lifeline.


  • Half (50%) of Canadians report a worsening of their mental health during the COVID‑19 period, with 1 in 10 (10% overall) saying it has worsened a lot.7
  • Asked to describe how they have been primarily feeling in recent weeks, Canadians are most likely to say they are worried (44%), anxious (41%) and bored (30%), although fully one-third (34%) also say they are grateful.8

Where else can you go for support?

The Canadian government has acknowledged that COVID‑19 results in varying degrees of stress for many people who do not have ready access to the friend, community and neighbourhood networks for which I am grateful.

As a result, they have developed Wellness Together Canada, which provides an entire suite of tools offering different levels of support depending on need.9 It even offers an opportunity to chat with peer support workers and other professionals.

Visit Wellness Together Canada to connect with others during difficult times.

Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada


Notes

  1. A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5, April 10–12 and April 17–19, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. All samples except for the March 10­–13 sample also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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.
  2. Statistics Canada, “How Are Canadians Coping with the COVID‑19 Situation?” Infographics (April 8, 2020). Link: .
  3. April 17–19 survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger (see note 1).
  4. Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,013 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, March 14–17, 2020. The margin of error for this survey is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
  5. April 10–12 survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger (see note 1).
  6. April 17–19 survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger (see note 1).
  7. Angus Reid Institute. Worry, Gratitude & Boredom: As COVID‑19 Affects Mental, Financial Health, Who Fares Better; Who Is Worse? (April 27, 2020). Link: .
  8. Ibid.
  9. Health Canada. Government of Canada Connects Canadians with Mental Wellness Supports During COVID‑19 (April 15, 2020). Link:.

Families in Canada Express “Major Concern” for Senior Health and Well-being During COVID-19

Nadine Badets and Ana Fostik, PhD

April 30, 2020

The Public Health Agency of Canada identifies older adults as being particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and at high risk for severe illness and death.1 In 2019, 9.1 million people in Canada were aged 60 and older, representing about one-quarter of the total population.2

As of April 27, 2020, about 37% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada were diagnosed in adults aged 60 and older, and this age group accounted for more than half (56%) of all coronavirus cases with pneumonia. Adults aged 60 and older had the highest proportions of severe outcomes with 66% of reported COVID-19 hospitalizations, 63% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions and 95% of deaths.3

The higher susceptibility of older adults to the virus has created heightened levels of stress for seniors and their families and caregivers as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key facts and statistics

  • Approximately 37% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada were diagnosed in adults aged 60 and over (April 27, 2020).
  • Adults aged 60 and over have accounted for 66% of reported COVID-19 hospitalizations, 63% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions and 95% of deaths (April 27, 2020).
  • 70% of adults aged 18 and older indicated that they are somewhat/very afraid that a member of their immediate family will contract COVID-19 (April 27, 2020).
  • 15% indicated that some senior relatives are currently living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, 85% of whom expressed concern about the health of these family members (April 27, 2020).
  • Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) of coronavirus deaths in Canada occurred in nursing and long-term care homes (April 28, 2020).

Families with senior relatives in nursing homes are most concerned

In a survey conducted on April 17–19, 2020 by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, close to 70% of adults aged 18 and older indicated that they are somewhat or very afraid that a member of their immediate family will contract COVID-19.4 For context, in 2018 Statistics Canada found that about 7.8 million adults aged 15 and older provided care to a family member or friend,5 and almost 4 in 10 care recipients in Canada 2018 were aged 65 and older.6

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 11% of adults reported that at least one senior relative was living with them.7 Close to 47% indicated that the seniors in their family live in their own separate homes, and 15% indicated that some senior relatives are currently living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

Most adults (85%) whose senior family members live in care facilities expressed concern about the health of these family members, while a slightly lower share of adults who live with seniors (77%), or whose senior family members live in separate homes (72%), expressed concerned for their health.

Seniors in long-term care facilities are struggling to cope with pandemic restrictions

A large part of the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been occurring in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, announced in mid-April 2020 that about half of COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been linked to outbreaks in long-term care homes for seniors,8 and, as of April 28, 2020, nearly 8 in 10 (79%) of coronavirus deaths in Canada occurred in nursing and long-term care homes.9

Almost 61% of relatives reported that they are somewhat or very worried about the quality of care seniors are receiving in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Furthermore, close to two-thirds (63%) of adults whose senior relatives live in long-term care homes think these family members are having a somewhat or very difficult time coping with COVID-19 restrictions, such as staying in their rooms and no contact/visits from others. About 12% aren’t sure how their relatives are coping with the restrictions.

Nadine Badets, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

Ana Fostik, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

 


Notes

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada, People Who Are at High Risk for Severe Illness from COVID-19 (April 20, 2020). Link: .
  2. Statistics Canada. Population Estimates on July 1, by Age and Sex (Table 17-10-0005-01). Link: .
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Epidemiology Update (April 29, 2020). Link:.
  4. A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5, April 10–12 and April 17–19, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. All samples except for the March 10–13 sample also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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.
  5. Statistics Canada, “Caregivers in Canada, 2018,” The Daily (January 8, 2020). Link:.
  6. Statistics Canada, “Care Counts: Care Receivers in Canada, 2018,” Infographics, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 11-627-M (January 22, 2020). Link:.
  7. April 17–19 survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger (see note 4).
  8. Olivia Bowden, “Long-Term Care Homes with the Most Coronavirus Deaths in Canada,” Global News (April 17, 2020). Link:.
  9. Beatrice Britneff and Amanda Connolly, “Coronavirus Spread Slowing in Canada; Death Rate Rises Due to Long-Term Care Fatalities,” Global News (April 28, 2020). Link: .

 

Health Habits During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jennifer Kaddatz and Nadine Badets

April 27, 2020

Canada’s lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic has placed heavy restrictions on individuals and businesses, which have altered many commonplace activities, from preparing and consuming foods to shopping, exercising and spending time outdoors. The health of adults in Canada is changing, and not just because of the virus, but also because of pre-existing and newly emerging health habits.

Throughout this period of social isolation, adults are spending more time preparing meals and drinking alcohol at home, but spending less time exercising and going outside, according to four weeks of recent survey data from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger1 and other pandemic data sources.

These patterns will be important to watch throughout the duration of the pandemic, given the potential impacts on both physical and mental health among families across the country.

About 4 in 10 adults spend more time preparing meals at home

Healthy eating is fundamental to good health, is a key element in healthy human development and is important in reducing the risk of many chronic diseases. Preparing and cooking food at home can reduce the amount of sodium, sugar and saturated fat in meals while at the same time increasing the intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and plant-based proteins. On the other hand, eating out or ordering in can negatively impact a person’s health because of the potential for the meals to be more highly processed, with lower quantities of vegetables, fruits and whole grain foods.2

Not surprisingly, during COVID-19 isolation more people in Canada are eating home-cooked meals. In fact, 41% of adults say that they are spending more time preparing meals now than they were before the pandemic, according to April 9–12 data (fig. 1). Women, in particular, seem to be spending more time in the kitchen, with 44% saying they are preparing meals “more often” as compared with 38% of men. In fact, nearly half (48%) of women aged 35–54 are spending more time preparing meals, as are 44% of men in that age group.

In contrast, a lower share of women (18%) than men (24%) picked up take-out food from a restaurant in the week before the April 9–12 survey, although women are about equally as likely (18% vs. 16%) to get food delivered to their home or business (figs. 2 and 3). Young men, aged 18–34, are most likely to pick up take-out food (24%) in the past week, whereas young women aged 18–34 are the gender/age group most likely to order in (27%).

One in 5 adults are drinking more alcohol at home

Alcohol can have significant consequences for physical and mental health if consumed in large quantities, by exacerbating pre-existing mental health issues, increasing the short-term risk of injury or acute illness, and increasing the long-term risk of serious diseases like liver disease and some cancers.3 Accordingly, if alcohol consumption goes up during the coronavirus crisis, there could be significant post-pandemic impacts on individual and family health and on the health care system in Canada.

A survey by Statistics Canada carried out March 29–April 3 found that 20% of Canadians aged 15–49 are drinking more at home during the COVID-19 pandemic than they were before it started.4 Similarly, a March 30–April 2 poll by Nanos/Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction found that 21% of adults aged 18–34 and 25% of those aged 35–54 have started drinking more at home since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.5

Respondents to the Nanos poll who report staying home more and consuming more alcohol say that their drinking has increased most often because of the lack of a regular schedule (51%), boredom (49%), stress (44%) and/or loneliness (19%).

According to data collected April 9–12 by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, 14% of adults had gone to a liquor store in the previous week, with more men (18%) having done so than women (11%).

Nearly 4 in 10 are exercising less often

Although being confined to home may have increased the amount that adults are drinking, it does not seem to have increased the amount that they are exercising.

On the contrary, nearly 4 in 10 women (38%) and 33% of men say as of April 9–12 that they are exercising “less often” now than they were before pandemic. People living in Quebec (42%) most commonly report a decrease in their frequency of exercise as compared with those in the other provinces.

Notably, it appears that younger families may be spending more time exercising. A greater share of adults who live with children (23%) report they are exercising more often since the pandemic began compared with those who were not living with children (18%) (fig. 4). Additionally, nearly 3 in 10 adults aged 18–34 (28%) say that they were exercising more often since the start of the crisis compared with 14% of adults 55 years and older.

Increased COVID-19 anxiety and decreased exercise may be linked

According to the Canadian Psychological Association, regular physical activity can reduce day-to-day stress, can prevent depression and anxiety disorders, and may be as effective as psychological and pharmaceutical treatments for depression and anxiety.6 At the same time, however, mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression, can also make it difficult to adopt or continue with an exercise program, particularly during unusual times.

In fact, April 9–12 data reveal that people who “very often” report anxiety or nervousness during the COVID-19 crisis are more likely to say they are exercising “less often” (20%) now than they were before the pandemic, whereas 13% say they are exercising “equally as often” as before the COVID-19 crisis started.

In comparison, adults who say that they have felt anxious or nervous “not often at all” since the beginning of the pandemic are more likely to say that the frequency with which they exercise has not changed since the start of the pandemic (24%) than to say that they are exercising more often (17%) or less often (17%) now.

Almost half of adults are going outside less often

Spending time outdoors in nature has a significant impact on mental health and wellness.7 Furthermore, in 2016, Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey found that 7 in 10 Canadians participated in one or more outdoor activities, showing that spending time outdoors is an important part of Canadian lifestyles.8

Nevertheless, during the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half of women (46%) and men (45%) say that they are going outside less often now than they were before the crisis. The shares of those saying they are going outside less often vary by province, from a low of 39% in Quebec and Manitoba/Saskatchewan to a high of 49% in Ontario.

What is of particular interest, however, is the variation in the share of people going outside less often by urban or rural area of residence. More than half (54%) of urban dwellers indicate that they are going outside less often now than before the pandemic, compared with 45% of suburban adults and 29% of people living in rural areas.

At the other end of the spectrum, when it came to those who say they are going outside more often, a higher proportion of women (25%) than men (15%) report a positive change.

It will be interesting to see, as spring changes to summer, whether the shares of people in Canada who are going outside, and who are exercising more often, increase with the warmer temperatures.

Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

Nadine Badets, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada


Notes

  1. The survey, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. The March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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.
  2. Health Canada, Canada’s Food Guide. Link: .
  3. Peter Butt, Doug Beirness, Louis Gliksman, Catherine Paradis and Tim Stockwell, Alcohol and Health in Canada: A Summary of Evidence and Guidelines for Low Risk Drinking. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (November 25, 2011). Link:  (PDF).
  4. Statistics Canada, “How Are Canadians Coping with the COVID-19 Situation?” Infographics (April 8, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2wVzkuL.
  5. Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,036 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between March 30 to April 2, 2020 as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. The margin of error for this survey is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The research was commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and was conducted by Nanos Research. Link: (PDF).
  6. Canadian Psychological Association, “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Physical Activity, Mental Health, and Motivation (November 2016). Link: (PDF).
  7. Canadian Parks Council, Connecting Canadians with Nature: An Investment in the Well-Being of Our Citizens (2014). Link: .
  8. Statistics Canada, Canadians and the Outdoors (March 26, 2018). Link: .

Do Adults in Couples Have Better Mental Health During the COVID‑19 Pandemic?

Ana Fostik, PhD, and Jennifer Kaddatz

April 22, 2020

Nearly half of adults aged 18 years or older in Canada report feeling anxious/nervous (47%) or sad (45%) “very often” or “often” since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, according to survey data from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, which was collected from April 9 to 12, 20201 (fig. 1).

Four in 10 report feeling irritable (39%) and about one-third report experiencing sleep-related problems (35%) and mood swings (32%) “very often” or “often” since the start of the crisis (fig. 1).

But are adults currently in a couple – whether common-law or married – as likely as those who are single or separated, divorced or widowed to experience feelings of unsettledness?

Anxiety/nervousness and difficulty sleeping during the pandemic don’t appear to be linked to marital status

Feeling anxious or nervous very often/often is equally likely to be reported by adults who are part of a couple (48%) as by those who are single (47%) or separated, divorced or widowed (43%) (fig. 1).

Similarly, very often/often having difficulty sleeping is equally likely among those in a couple (35%) as among single adults (36%) or those who are separated, divorced or widowed (35%).

Whether single or in a couple, anxiety and sleeping problems are reported more by women than by men

Previous studies of mental health have found that women are more likely to experience anxiety disorders and depression compared with men.2 This appears to be the case in a pandemic environment as well.

Women are far more likely than men to report very often or often experiencing anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic: almost 6 in 10 women who were in a couple (58%) or were single (59%)3 report feeling anxious or nervous very often/often, compared with fewer than 4 in 10 men who were either in a couple (37%) or single (37%) (fig. 2).

As for challenges during the night, more than 4 in 10 women report difficulty sleeping very often/often since the beginning of the pandemic, whether or not they are in a couple (44%) or single (44%). This compares with fewer than 3 in 10 men, whether in a couple (26%) or single (29%).

Single people are more likely to experience irritability and mood swings

Irritability and mood swings are more common among individuals who are currently single (fig. 1). Almost half of single adults (48%) report feeling very often/often irritable since the start of the pandemic, compared with 37% of those in a couple and 30% of those who are separated, divorced or widowed. Single adults (39%) also report mood swings in higher shares than those in a couple (31%) and those who are separated, divorced or widowed (27%).

Again, women, regardless of their marital status, are more likely than men to experience irritability or mood swings. About 6 in 10 single women (59%) and 42% of those in a couple report feeling irritable very often/often since the start of the pandemic. Men report being irritable very often/often in lower proportions than women, whether single (38%) or in a couple (32%) (fig. 2.).

Single women (46%) are the most likely to report mood swings very often or often since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, followed by women in a couple (38%). Men are less likely than women to report frequent mood swings, but those who are single (31%) tend to report mood swings very often/often in higher shares compared with men in a couple (23%).

Separated, divorced or widowed women most likely to feel sad

Feeling sad very often/often during the coronavirus crisis is more commonly reported among separated, divorced or widowed (51%) and single (48%) adults, compared with those in couples (43%) (fig. 1).

Frequently feeling sad is also more common among women, whether single (59%) or in a couple (53%) than among men, whether single (37%) or in a couple (33%) (fig. 2).

Mental health impacts the well-being of families

Mental health trends, by marital status and gender but also by other factors, will be important to monitor in the short, medium and long term of the COVID-19 pandemic. An initial analysis has shown that income or job loss and immediate financial strain also affect mental health symptoms, such as anxiety and difficulty sleeping during the pandemic. Furthermore, mental and physical health are linked – people with a mood disorder are at much higher risk of developing a long-term medical condition than are those without.4

Problems with mental health can have a serious impact on an individual’s education, work, social life and interactions with their family.5 Among Canadians who had at least one family member with a mental health problem in 2012, over one-third (35%) thought that their lives had been affected by their family member’s mental health and approximately 71% of those who perceived that their lives were affected by a family member’s mental health problem reported they had provided care to their family member.6

As such, the well-being of families in Canada is dependent upon on the mental health of the individuals who make up those families. Evidence-based decision making will better drive targeted social supports both for individuals and for families as the coronavirus progresses, as well as after the present crisis is over.

Ana Fostik, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada


Notes

  1. A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. The March 27–­29, April 3–5 and April 9–12 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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.
  2. Caryn Pearson, Teresa Janz and Jennifer Ali, “Mental and Substance Use Disorders in Canada,” Health at a Glance, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-624-X (September 2013). Link: .
  3. Comparisons by sex are not possible for separated, divorced or widowed adults in this case due to low response counts.
  4. Patten et al. (2005). “Long-Term Medical Conditions and Major Depression: Strength of Association for Specific Conditions in the General Population,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 50:195–202 (2005). As cited on Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics. Link: .
  5. Mental Health Commission of Canada. Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada (Calgary, Alberta, 2012). Link: (PDF).
  6. Caryn Pearson, “The Impact of Mental Health Problems on Family Members,” Health at a Glance, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82‑624‑X (October 7, 2015). Link: .

 

Parenting in a Pandemic: A Story and the Stats

Jennifer Kaddatz

April 21, 2020

While trying to ensure that their children are safe, showered and schooled during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents in Canada, as in other countries, are currently experiencing stress and sleepless nights. According to a survey conducted April 9–12, 2020,1 42% of surveyed adults living with children or youth said that they often/very often had difficulty sleeping since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am one of those parents.

My own family includes three boys (pre-teen and teen), and soon I will be faced with a big credit card bill and some added stress, since the boys left their running shoes in their school lockers on March 12. Having worn boots to school that day, they now having nothing appropriate to wear on a warm Ottawa spring day.

My family has, so far, been extremely lucky in this pandemic. I continue to have a paid job and, like approximately 6.8 million Canadians surveyed by Statistics Canada in the last week of March (39%),2 I’ve been working from home, where it’s easier to avoid germs.

My parents and in-laws are living in isolation on the other side of the country, well cared-for within each of their relationships, like 81% of those in committed couples who say they and their spouse are supporting each other well during the crisis.3 My husband and I also count ourselves within the 79% of couples with kids at home who are supporting each other well during these unusual times.

For my family, the biggest ongoing stressor during the COVID-19 pandemic has, in fact, been related to school – or, more precisely, homeschooling. There are three generations of teachers on my maternal side, but I am not one of them. My boys are attending homeschool on their own for the duration of this pandemic. Elementary and secondary school teachers represent only about 2% of Canada’s labour force,4 which means that the rest of us are not likely qualified for the job.

According to Statistics Canada, 32% of Canadians are very or extremely anxious about family stress resulting from confinement due to the coronavirus.5 I can’t help but wonder what proportion of this anxiety is directly or indirectly related to the effort involved in trying to be a teacher, as well as a parent, while schools are closed.

Some families do not have the resources to enable stress-free homeschooling

Fortunately – or unfortunately, from the perspective of my 14-year-old son – a “pandemic” home education can now be delivered online in most parts of Canada. However, getting this education requires a) a stable, high-speed Internet connection with adequate bandwidth; b) access to a device or, preferably, multiple devices; c) a child who can focus, concentrate and be self-directed; or d) all of the above. The answer here is, of course, d). The question that remains is, therefore, “Is an online education achievable for children in all families across this country?”

A review of available data from official sources provides insight into the family characteristics that may result in greater challenges when it comes to obtaining an online elementary or post-secondary school education during the COVID-19 pandemic and, accordingly, where increased vulnerability might result in a long-term educational gap:

  • Low-income households, rural households and Indigenous households are less likely to have the Internet access/speed required to complete online school activities at home. In 2017, only 24% of households in Indigenous communities and 37% of rural households had access to Internet at the minimum speed required to take full advantage of online opportunities, whereas 97% of urban homes had access at that speed or higher.6 In 2018, approximately 4% of households in the lowest income quartile did not have any Internet at home.7
  • Low-income families are less likely to have a device other than a mobile device, which could make doing online school work challenging. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of households in the lowest income quartile reported using only mobile devices for accessing the Internet in 2018, three times higher than the share among households in the highest income quartile (8%).8
  • Many families have more than one child who is required to complete school work at home, and yet the majority of households may not have enough devices to accomplish this easily. Close to 6 in 10 households (58%) that had Internet access as of 2018 had less than one device per household member.9 This figure was highest (63%) among households in the lowest income quartile.
  • Like shoes, assistive devices may not have been sent home before schools were closed, which could impact the ability of children and youth with disabilities to undertake certain educational activities at home. Half of youth with a disability require at least one aid, assistive device or educational accommodation to follow their courses, according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability.10
  • Some children do not live in families were the environment is conducive to online learning:
    • Almost 19,000 children were victimized by a family member in Canada in 2018 and in 59% of cases, the child was victimized by one of his or her own parents, who most often lived in the same residence.11
    • Household food insecurity, which contributes to both poor mental and physical health, is when households cannot afford the quality or quantity of food needed for good health. Not surprisingly, data from 2017–2018 show high rates of food insecurity among households reliant on social assistance (60%) and Employment Insurance or Workers’ Compensation (32%).12

The statistics above only just begin to cover the myriad of intersecting barriers that can impede home learning, not to mention overall well-being, for families in Canada.

For many children and parents, school provides benefits over and above an education – benefits like social and emotional support, nutrition, increased physical exercise and a safe space to be themselves.

I, for one, have seen how many advantages my boys are missing out on since the start of the COVID-19 crisis just by virtue of the fact that they are no longer in school. And, as much as I love having them here at home with me, I cannot wait for them to go back.

Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada


Notes

  1. The survey, conducted by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger on March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. The March 27–­29, April 3–5 and April 9–12 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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.
  2. Survey data from Statistics Canada show that during the week of March 22–28, 6.8 million Canadians worked from home (39%), including 4.7 million who don’t usually do so. Link: .
  3. April 9–12 survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger (see note 1).
  4. Statistics Canada, Occupation – National Occupational Classification (NOC) 2016 (693A), Highest Certificate, Diploma or Degree (15), Labour Force Status (3), Age (13A) and Sex (3) for the Labour Force Aged 15 Years and Over in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data, 2016 Census data tables, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 98-400-X2016295. (November 29, 2017). Link: .
  5. Statistics Canada, “How Are Canadians Coping with the COVID-19 Situation?,” Infographics, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 11-627-M (April 8, 2020). Link: .
  6. Minister of Rural Economic Development, High-Speed Access for All: Canada’s Connectivity Strategy, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Link:.
  7. Statistics Canada, Data to Insights for a Better Canada COVID-19 Pandemic: School Closures and the Online Preparedness of Children, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 45-28-0001 (April 15, 2020). Link:.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Statistics Canada, “Educational Experiences of Youth with Disabilities,” Infographics, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 11-627-M (September 10, 2019). Link:.
  11. Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2018, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-002-X (December 12, 2019). Link:.
  12. Valerie Tarasuk and Andy Mitchell, Household Food Insecurity in Canada 2017–2018, Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF) (March 2020). Link: .

Canadians Turning to Their Screens to Keep Busy During COVID-19 Isolation

Jennifer Kaddatz, Ana Fostik, PhD, and Nathan Battams

April 17, 2020

In some ways, Canadians are making the best of their time in social isolation, according to four weeks of March and April 2020 survey data1 from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger.

As of the April long weekend (April 9–12, 2020), half of the country’s population aged 18 or older say they are relaxing “more often” now than they were before the pandemic.

Six in 10 adults are watching movies, television and videos or listening to podcasts more often than before the COVID-19 crisis started. Four in 10 are on social media more frequently.

More than 2 in 10 adults in Canada have increased the amount of time they spend listening to music, reading and playing games during the pandemic.

Half of adults are relaxing more, but some families report decreases in down time

Good news in these challenging times: people in Canada report that they are relaxing more.

Nearly half (49%) of Canada’s population aged 18 and older say that they are relaxing more often now than they were before the pandemic started, according to survey data from April 9 to 12, 2020 (fig. 1). Another 38% say that they are relaxing equally as often, while 13% say they are relaxing less often.


A slightly higher share of men (50%) than women (47%) report relaxing “more often” since the start of the crisis, with most of the difference attributable to younger adults aged 18­–34: 64% of young adult males say they are relaxing more often since the start of the pandemic, compared with 56% of young adult females (fig. 2).

Perhaps not surprisingly, adults with young children at home (43%) are less likely than with no children or youth at home (48%) to say that they are relaxing more during the COVID-19 pandemic (fig. 3).

Almost 1 in 4 (24%) of adults who were living in the same home as at least one child under the age of 13 actually reported relaxing less often than before the crisis began.

Three in 10 are listening to music and reading for pleasure more often

About 3 in 10 adults in Canada are listening to music more often now (28%) than before the start of the COVID-19 crisis (fig. 1). This is similar to the share of those saying that they are reading for pleasure more frequently (27%).

According to an analysis of trends over time during COVID-19, there is a significant upwards tendency toward reading, with 23% of the population having said they were reading more often as of March 27–29 compared with 27%, who reported reading more often as of April 9–12.

Women are about as likely as men to spend more time listening to music (27% and 29%, respectively), but a larger share of women than men (29% and 24%) report reading more often since the start of the crisis.

Electronic- or screen-based pastimes are popular and show biggest increases in uptake

Survey data from April 9–12 show that many adults in Canada are turning to their screens to keep busy, as public health measures are keeping them at home.

Of all the activities for which adults were surveyed, “watching movies, television, videos or listening to podcasts” and “being on social media” had highest shares of adults, at 59% and 41% respectively, who say they do these activities “more often” since the start of the COVID-19 crisis (fig. 1).

The share of people saying they had increased the amount of time spent watching movies, television, videos or listening to podcasts was more than double the share of people saying they were reading for pleasure (27%) or listening to music (28%) more often now than in the past.

Furthermore, there appears to be an increasing tendency toward screens as the pandemic continues:  53% of adults in Canada had said they were watching movies, television, videos or listening to podcasts more often in week 2 of the survey (March 27–29) compared with 59% in week 4 (April 9–12).

The playing of electronic games also appears to be on the rise: 24% of all adults, or 26% of men and 22% of women, say that they are playing electronic games more now than they did before the pandemic started, according to the April 9–12 survey (figs. 4 and 5). These findings were similar to those published by Statistics Canada for the period of March 29–April 3, based on data collected in a web-based panel, which reported that 22% of all Canadians were now spending more time playing video games.2

Younger adults, especially men, have significantly increased the time they spend playing electronic video games since the start of the pandemic. More than half of men (54%) and one-third of women (36%) aged 18–34 report that they play electronic video games more often now than they did before (figs. 4 and 5).

As well, adults who had at least one child under the age of 13 living in their household (28%) were slightly more likely than those who had only teenagers at home (26%) and those who did not live with children at home (22%) to report playing video games more often since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Women increase time playing board games and doing puzzles, men increase time playing electronic games

Despite the apparent popularity of screen time in general among adults in Canada, the share of those who report having increased their electronic gaming time since the start of the pandemic (24%) is only slightly higher than the share who have increased the amount of time they spend playing board games or doing puzzles (21%) (fig. 1). The share of adults who say that they now undertake these activities “less often,” at 22% and 22%, respectively, is also very similar. However, differences exist by gender and the presence of children and youth in the household.

Similar shares of women say that they play electronic games more often now than they did before the pandemic (22%) say they play non-electronic video games or do puzzles (23%). In comparison, for men there was an 8 percentage point difference in the uptake of the two pastimes, with 26% of men reporting they were electronic gaming more often now and 18% of men saying they were playing board games or doing puzzles more often now than they were before the pandemic.

Furthermore, a slightly larger share of younger women than men have increased the time they spend on non-electronic games or puzzles: about one-third of women (33%) and about one-quarter of men (27%) aged 18–34 report spending more time on this type of activity.

Relatively few older people in Canada report playing board games or doing puzzles more now than before the coronavirus pandemic: about 1 in 10 (9%) men aged 55 or older and 1 in 7 women (15%) of women aged 55 or older.

A significant proportion of women (54%) and men (55%) reported that they play video games “equally as often” as before the COVID-19 pandemic (figs. 4 and 5), though it is important to note that, in some instances, this could just reflect that they didn’t play video games to begin with.

Families with children more often play board games and do arts and crafts

Adults who had at least one child under the age of 13 living in their household (28%) or teenagers at home (22%) are considerably more likely than those who did not live with children (14%) to say that they have been playing non-electronic games and doing puzzles more often now than before the coronavirus pandemic started (fig. 6).

Furthermore, when young kids were in the house, adults are almost twice as likely as those with no children or youth at home to have increased their time spent making arts, crafts or music since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. As of April 9–12, 3 in 10 (31%) adults who lived in a home with at least one child under the age of 13 say that they have been making arts, crafts or music more often since the start of the pandemic, compared with 27% of those with only teenagers at home and 17% of those with no children under 18 at home (fig. 7).

Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

 Ana Fostik, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

Nathan Battams is the Communications Manager at the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Notes

1. The survey, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. The March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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. Figures may not add up to 100% as a result of rounding.

2. Statistics Canada, “How Are Canadians Coping with the COVID-19 Situation?” Infographics, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 11-627-X (April 8, 2020). Link: .

 

Survey Finds Gender Gaps in COVID-19 Pandemic Experiences and Responses

Jennifer Kaddatz

April 16, 2020

In a pandemic, as in life in general, women and men often have different experiences and behaviours. According to three weeks of survey data1 from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, a higher proportion of women than men view the COVID-19 pandemic as a threat and have experienced physical, emotional and social impacts as a result of social distancing and home isolation.

  • Women are considerably more likely than men to have experienced anxiety or nervousness, sadness, irritability or difficulty sleeping during the pandemic.
  • Women are also more likely to follow safety precautions, say that they are satisfied with federal and provincial measures put in place to flatten the curve, and say that they would be accepting of more strict enforcement measures.

Women are more likely to view coronavirus as a threat but, over time, differences are converging

Women generally view COVID-19 as a bigger threat than men with regard to its impact on society. In the most recent cycle of the survey, conducted from April 3 to 5, 2020, a higher share of women than men say they perceive that the virus is a threat to the Canadian economy (94% vs. 91%), a threat to day-to-day life in their community (81% vs. 75%) and a threat to the health of the population as a whole (83% vs. 74%). Equal shares of women and men (53%) say in that COVID-19 is a threat to their personal financial situation.

When it comes to personal impacts on health,* too, women tend to express greater concern. Nearly seven in 10 (68%) of women aged 18 and older report that they are “very afraid” or “somewhat afraid” of contracting the coronavirus themselves, compared with 63% of men (fig. 1). Eight in 10 (80%) women are afraid that a family member will become sick compared with 73% of men.

When asked if they felt that the worst of the crisis was behind us, was now, or was yet to come, 69% of women say they feel that the worst is yet to come, compared with 64% of men. At the other end of the spectrum, 11% of women and 18% of men say they feel that the virus is not a real threat and is being “blown out of proportion”*; nevertheless, data for women and men over the past three weeks suggest that over time, these gaps have been converging (figs. 1 and 2).

The gender gap is more pronounced among young adults regarding relationships with family and friends

Data show that women and men in Canada have been working diligently to flatten the COVID-19 curve. Nearly 9 in 10 of women and men say that they practise social distancing, keep a safe distance of 2 metres away from other people, wash their hands more frequently than usual and only go out for necessities (fig. 3).

Little difference was found between women and men regarding reported shopping activities over the past week. Women are slightly less likely to have gone grocery shopping (69% vs. 72%), to a liquor store (13% vs. 17%) or to get take-out food from a restaurant (20% vs. 22%). However, there are bigger gaps in the shares of women and men who have been to a convenience store in the past 7 days (15% vs. 22%).


Larger gender differences are noticeable with respect to managing relationships with family and friends during the pandemic, especially when age is taken into account. Women were more likely than men to report that they have asked others to practise social distancing (86% vs. 79%), as seen in figure 3. The gender gap is most noticeable among women and men aged 18–24 (13 percentage point difference) but continues to exist on a smaller scale among those aged 35–54 (2 percentage point difference) and those aged 55 and older (8 percentage point difference), as seen in figure 4.

On the other hand, men – particularly younger men – are more likely to visit to friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic: 30% of men aged 18–34 say they have visited friends or family since the start of the coronavirus crisis, more than double the share (14%) of women in the same age group and about four times the share of men aged 55 and older (8%) and women aged 55 and older (6%) (fig. 5).

Women are more accepting of potentially stricter measures to flatten the curve

Almost three-quarters of women in Canada (74%) are satisfied with the measures put in place to fight COVID-19 by the federal government, and 84% with measures put in place provincially, according to the April 3–5, 2020 survey results. This compares with 69% and 79% of men, and revealing a similar gender gap found in the March 10–13 cycle of the survey.

Women also more commonly report that they agree with potentially stricture measures which could be put in place to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 3–5, 7 in 10 (68%) of women totally agree that they would give permission for police officers to issue fines to citizens who do not respect the measures put in place, compared with 62% of men, and 49% of women and 46% of men would allow police to arrest people. If it came to a complete city quarantine, 43% of women say that they would totally agree with that measure, compared with 36% of men.

Higher shares of women experiencing anxiety, sadness, irritability and difficulty sleeping

Women are more likely than men to say that they have “very often” or “often” felt anxiety or nervousness, sadness, irritability or difficulty sleeping since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it is on these indicators where the greatest gender differences appear in the April 3–5 survey, with a 9- to 15-percentage point larger share of women compared to men reporting these experiences. (fig. 6).

Younger women, aged 18–34, are especially likely to report anxiety or nervousness “very often” or “often” compared with their male counterparts (63% vs. 40%), although they are also considerably more likely to report sadness (56% vs. 36%) and irritability (61% vs. 41%). Nearly half (45%) of 18- to 34-year-old females report difficulty sleeping, compared with fewer than 3 in 10 (29%) of men in the same age group.

Men feel closer to their partners but are also less likely to have someone they can count on in an emergency

Despite some gender differences in feelings and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, women and men report in equal shares that they are managing life better (7%), about the same (65%) or worse (25% to 26%) than they were before the pandemic.

Interestingly, though, a higher share of men who are in a married or common law relationship say that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought them closer to their spouse (49%) and/or resulted in more meaningful conversations (52%), compared with women (41% and 49%).

When it comes to having someone to count on in an emergency, almost 9 in 10 women and men (85% of each) agree that they have people they can count on. However, 6% of men, compared with 3% of women, totally disagree that they have anyone they can count on in a time of crisis.

Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

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Notes

1. The survey, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29 and April 3–5, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. The March 27–29 and April 3–5 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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.

*Data on threats related to their own health, threats to the health of a family member and whether or not the virus is a real threat or being blown out of proportion exclude women and men who reported that they or a family member already has/had the virus or who answered “Don’t know” when asked the relevant threat question. (These people were included in the data for other survey questions examined in this report.)

Families Struggle to Cope with Financial Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jennifer Kaddatz

April 9, 2020

When it comes to personal and family finances, Canada as a whole has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Early estimates indicate that more than 3 million people in this country have applied for the government’s emergency relief and Employment Insurance since March 16, 2020.

The financial downturn has been felt by virtually all families, many indicating that the financial stress is having an impact on their mood, mental health and sleep. People who have immigrated to Canada within the past 10 years and families with children and youth at home are among those most likely to say that they have been challenged financially as a result of the pandemic.

Families see coronavirus as a threat to their financial well-being

According to April 3–5, 2020 survey data1 from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, more than half (53%) of adults aged 18 and older report that the coronavirus outbreak poses a major threat to their personal financial situation, while 36% view the crisis as a minor threat. In contrast, 11% of adults say that the outbreak is not a threat to their finances.

More than 7 in 10 (73%) recent immigrants to Canada (i.e. those who arrived in Canada in the past 10 years) report that their financial well-being is threatened by the pandemic in a “major” way. This compares with 58% of immigrants who came to Canada 10 or more years ago and half (50%) of those born in Canada (fig. 1).

Fig 1. Percentage of the population aged 18 and older who say that the COVID-19 outbreak is a threat to their personal financial situation, by immigrant status.

Adults who say that the pandemic poses a “major threat” to their financial situation commonly report “very often” or “often” feeling anxious or nervous (58%), feeling sad (56%) or having difficulty sleeping (44%) since the beginning of the COVID crisis. Families with children at home were the most likely to report heightened anxiety and reduced sleep (fig. 2).

What is particularly interesting among those who see the outbreak as a “major threat” to their financial situation is that parents of teenagers, rather than parents of younger children, most frequently report feeling anxious or sad “very often” or “often.” It is conceivable that this reflects parents’ concern about youth missing school, having to be home schooled, losing their jobs or work experience, and having an uncertain future with respect to a post-secondary education, in addition to concerns about the overall financial well-being of the family.

Fig. 2. Percentage of the population who view the COVID-19 outbreak as a “major threat” to their financial situation and who “very often” or “often” feel anxious or nervous, feel sad or have difficulty sleeping, by presence of children in the home.

Recent immigrants, low-income families and families with children are disproportionately impacted by income loss

Nearly half (45%) of people in Canada say that their income has decreased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Income losses are impacting some more than others, however. For example, adults who had reported a total household income, before taxes, under $19,999 in 2019 are more commonly reporting lost income in 2020 as a result of the crisis, at 56%, compared with 37% to 48% of those in higher income groups.

A striking 7 in 10 (68%) recent immigrants say that they have had a decrease in income since the start of the coronavirus crisis, compared with about 4 in 10 earlier immigrants (45%) and Canadian-born adults (43%) (fig. 3).

Families with children and youth at home report a negative impact on their income more frequently than families without anyone under the age of 18 at home. Specifically, 54% of adults with children and youth living in their household indicate that at the moment the current crisis is having a negative impact on their income, compared with 41% of those without children.

Fig. 3. Percentage of the population aged 18 and older who report that their income has decreased as a result of the current crisis, by immigrant status.

Families report decline in retirement savings and other investments

Although decreases in total income due to job loss may have the biggest or most significant impact on families in Canada, the most prevalent negative financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has not been a loss of wages but rather a decline in retirement savings and other investments. More than half (54%) of adults report that their retirement funds or other investments have been impacted negatively since the current crisis started, and the proportion saying so increases with age (fig. 4).

More than 6 in 10 (63%) of those age 65 and older report a negative impact on their retirement funds or investments, as do 62% of 55- to 64-year-olds and 58% of 45- to 54-year-olds.

Negative financial impacts on retirement savings and other investments are likely just one of several factors influencing feelings of anxiety or nervousness since the beginning of the pandemic. Although 63% of those aged 65 and older reported that their savings are negatively affected, they in fact had the lowest share of those reporting increased anxiety or nervousness compared with other age groups who had experienced negative impacts on retirement and investments (fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Percentage of the population aged 18 and older who report that the current crisis has had a negative impact on retirement savings or other investments, by age and feelings of anxiety or nervousness.

Recent immigrants, young adults and families with children struggle to pay bills and rent or mortgage

Given losses in income and the value of investments, it is not surprising that nearly 3 in 10 adults in Canada say that the COVID-19 pandemic has already had a negative impact on their capacity to pay bills on time (28%) and 2 in 10 to cover their rent or mortgage (22%).

Just over half (51%) recent immigrants are having difficulty in paying bills on time in the current crisis. This compares with 30% of earlier arrivals and 25% of Canadian-born. Nearly half (46%) of recent immigrants say that the crisis has had a negative impact on their ability to pay their rent or mortgage (fig. 5).

Younger people are more likely than those over the age of 45 to report having difficulties in meeting their housing costs, with 31% of those under age 45 reporting difficulty in paying their mortgage or rent, compared with 24% of 45- to 54-year-olds, 17% of 55- to 64-year-olds and only 4% of those aged 65 and older.

About 3 in 10 adults (27%) with children under the age of 18 living in their household saying the COVID-19 pandemic poses challenges to their capacity to pay rent or mortgage, compared with 2 in 10 adults without children in the home. Those with young children, under age 12, were slightly more likely to report this difficulty, at 29%.

Fig. 5. Percentage of the population aged 18 and older who report that the COVID-19 crisis has had a negative impact on their capacity to pay bills on time or to pay their rent or mortgage, by immigrant status.

Not being able to pay bills, rent or mortgage may be having a considerable impact on the mental well-being of many people in Canada. More than 6 in 10 adults who can’t pay their bills (61%), rent or mortgage on time (63%) say that they have been feeling anxious or nervous “very often” or “often” since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis (fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Percentage of the population aged 18 and older who report feeling anxious “very often” or “often” since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and report that the COVID-19 crisis had a negative impact on their capacity to pay bills on time or to pay their rent or mortgage.

Jennifer Kaddatz is a Senior Advisor at the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Note

  1. The survey included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, plus a booster sample of 500 immigrants, 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.

 

Couples Find Support in One Another During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ana Fostik, PhD, Jennifer Kaddatz and Nora Spinks

April 21, 2020

A family is a system of relationships with actions and reactions that occur over time. Family well-being hinges on the capacity of all members of a family to love, care and support one another in times of hardship as well as in times of ease. Like any and all systems, the strengths and tensions in those family relationships are magnified, amplified and intensified when put under stress.

While the COVID-19 pandemic marks one of the most potentially challenging times in Canada’s history, couples in this country seem to be faring relatively well to date. Data collected over four weeks during the pandemic[i] reveal that most people in committed relationships have strengths in those relationships and that they are leaning on each other and are having positive actions/reactions as they manage social distancing together.

Most couples in Canada are supporting each other, having meaningful conversations and arguing about the same amount as before home isolation.

Eight in 10 adults in couples say they have been supporting one another well

According to data collected April 9–12, 2020, 8 in 10 people aged 18 or older (80%) who are married or living common-law agree that they and their spouse are supporting one another more since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These shares are about the same for those with children or youth at home (77%) as for those without children under 18 years of age in the household (82%).

Adults have been supporting one another more than before regardless of how the pandemic has affected their labour market situation: 82% of those whose job situation deteriorated (lost their job temporarily or permanently, or lost income or salary) and 81% of those whose job situation was not affected report more support from their partners.

Middle-aged people were less likely than older people to agree that they and their partner are supportive of one another, with 75% of 35- to 54-year-olds agreeing with the statement, compared with 84% of those aged 55 and older.

Interestingly, men agree in larger numbers than women (84% and 77%, respectively) that they have a supportive relationship with their partner.

More than 4 in 10 adults are having more meaningful conversations with their significant other

Clear communication is a key component of family well-being. More than 4 in 10 (43%) of adults in committed relationships in Canada report that they have been having more meaningful conversations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to April 9–12 data. This is especially true among those whose labour market situation deteriorated since the start of the pandemic: 51% of them report having more meaningful conversations with their partners, compared with 36% of those whose job and/or income was not impacted by the pandemic. Just 10% of adults disagree that they are having more meaningful talks with their spouse.

Men are slightly more likely than women to agree that they have been having more meaningful conversations with their spouse or partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, at 45% versus 40%. Younger people, too, report this in higher numbers (52% of 18- to 34-year-olds) than older adults (40% of 35- to 54-year-olds and 41% of those 55 and older).

People who were married or common-law and had children or youth in the house were about as likely as those without kids to agree that they are having more meaningful conversations with their partner since the start of the crisis, at 44% and 42%, respectively.

Four in 10 adults feel closer to their spouse

Perhaps because they are supporting one another well and having meaningful conversations, nearly 4 in 10 adults in committed relationships (41%) agree that they feel closer to their spouse or partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This share is even higher among Canadians who lost their job or who lost income or salary due to the pandemic: 48% of them report increased closeness in their relationship, compared with 34% among those whose job was not impacted by the pandemic.

The share of those feeling closer to their spouse is about the same for men (44%) as for women (38%) and is also relatively stable by age group and by whether or not children were living in the home. As of April 9–12, 43% of people in married or common-law relationships with kids under 18 years of age in the house agree they feel closer to their spouse since the start of the pandemic.

By region, the percentage agreeing that they now feel closer to their spouse is highest in Ontario and B.C., at 48% and 43%, respectively, and lowest in the Prairies, at 30%.

Ontario is the only province currently showing an increase in the share of adults feeling closer to their spouse now as compared with earlier in the pandemic, the proportion having risen from 39% in the March 10–13 survey to 48% in the April 9–12 survey.

Fewer than 2 in 10 adults in committed relationships have been arguing more

Only 18% of those who are married or living common-law reported that they have been arguing more with their spouse or partner since the start of the pandemic. In fact, approximately 54% disagree that they are arguing more and 28% neither agree nor disagree with that statement.

However, young adults in committed relationships – either with someone their own age or someone older – were more likely to report that they are arguing more with their partner than were those in older age groups. Nearly 3 in 10 (28%) of 18- to 34-year-olds say that they have been arguing more with their spouse or partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 19% of those aged 35- to 54-year-olds and only 12% of those aged 55 and older.

Canadians who experienced job or income loss due to the pandemic tend to argue more than before in greater proportions than those whose job remained unchanged: 26% and 16% report increased arguing.

Arguing with a partner is often linked to stress and other well-being indicators and, according to the data from April 9–12, about 6 in 10 younger women, aged 18–34, report “very often” or “often” feeling anxious or nervous (64%), irritable (64%) or sad (59%) and 45% report difficulty sleeping. These shares were significantly higher than for their male counterparts and were also higher than for women over the age of 55, among whom about 5 in 10 are “very often” or “often” experiencing anxiety or nervousness (46%) or sadness (50%), fewer than 3 in 10 (28%) are feeling irritable and 36% are having difficulty sleeping.

Ana Fostik, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada

Nora Spinks is CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Note

  1. The survey, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. The March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. 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.