Families Count 2024: new resource on family structure now available


Families Count 2024 is now available

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

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

November 9, 2022

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

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

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

Access Families, Mobility, and Work

Chapter abstract

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

About the authors

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

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

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

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

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

November 8, 2022

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

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

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

Access Families, Mobility, and Work

Chapter abstract

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

About the authors

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

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

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


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

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

Diana Gerasimov

March 1, 2021

STUDY: Zossou, C. “Sharing household tasks: Teaming Up During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 45-28-0001 (February 15, 2021). Link: http://bit.ly/3siz9AM

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

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

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

Types of household tasks

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

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

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

Read the full study


Report: COVID-19 and Parenting in Canada

September 3, 2020

Download the report (PDF)

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)


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.


  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: https://bit.ly/2OKYsK0, https://bit.ly/2ZOiF8f.
  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: https://bit.ly/3boEHRe.
  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
  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).


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

Gaby Novoa

May 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The pandemic exacerbates pre-existing difficulties of work camp environments

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


  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: https://bit.ly/2yqH9t1.
  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: https://bit.ly/2wSFdsD.
  5. Statistics Canada, “How Are Canadians Coping with the COVID-19 Situation?,” Infographics, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 11-627-M (April 8, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2wVzkuL.
  6. Minister of Rural Economic Development, High-Speed Access for All: Canada’s Connectivity Strategy, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Link: https://bit.ly/2XQNecT.
  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: https://bit.ly/2zh73Qh.
  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: https://bit.ly/2RSInUN.
  11. Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2018, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-002-X (December 12, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2VlogAG.
  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: https://bit.ly/3cFHDKB.

A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada

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

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

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

Highlights include:

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


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

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

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


Work, Care and the Carer-Inclusive and Accommodating Organizations (CIAO) Standard

Emily Beckett

Download Work, Care and the Carer-Inclusive and Accommodating Organizations (CIAO) Standard

At some point in their lives, most Canadians will provide some type of care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need. Nearly 3 in 10 Canadians (28%) provided care in 2012,1 with age-related needs cited as the single most common reason for care requirements. With more seniors in Canada than ever – 6.6 million in 20192 – and projections showing that the number requiring care will likely double by 2031,3 this population aging means a growing share of Canadians will be stepping up to provide, arrange and sometimes pay for care in the years to come.

While research shows that caregiving can have can positive impacts on caregivers, including (but not limited to) reported personal growth,4 stronger family relationships5 and increased empathy,6 it can also affect their work–family quality and well-being – a topic of growing importance to working caregivers, employers and society.7

Most family caregivers are working caregivers

Nearly three-quarters of caregivers in Canada (6.1 million) are “working caregivers,” who accounted for more than one-third (35%) of Canada’s paid labour force in 2012.8 For some of these people, their time spent providing care amounts to a part-time job’s worth of hours in addition to their paid work, resulting in an “extended workday”: approximately 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men in 2012 reported spending 20 hours or more per week providing care on top of their work hours.9

Difficulties reconciling family caregiving with work responsibilities can have negative consequences for employees, employers and the economy. This can include frequent absences (44% of surveyed working caregivers report missing an average 8 to 9 days of work in the past year as a result of their caregiving responsibilities10) and a variety of indirect costs to employers, such as lost productivity, employee replacement costs and training.

Research shows that Canada loses the equivalent of 558,000 full-time employees every year from the workforce due to the conflicting demands of paid work and care,11 and an estimated 50% of working caregivers are between the ages of 45 and 65, representing the most experienced share of the paid labour market.12 Furthermore, employers across the country lose an estimated $5.5 billion per year due to caregiving-related absenteeism.13

A caregiving standard supports employers in supporting employees

To manage, mitigate and ideally prevent these negative impacts, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Groupa 100-year-old, not-for-profit and non-governmental organization that develops standards to ensure the health and safety of Canadians – collaborated with McMaster University to develop the Carer-Inclusive and Accommodating Organizations (CIAO) Standard.

Released in 2017, the CIAO Standard is an evidence-based, professionally verified framework for workplaces in Canada to support their employees who provide informal caregiving. Its aim is to avoid some of the negative physical and mental health outcomes for employees and their families that can result from role overload while they provide care.

The CIAO Standard was developed through rigorous consultation with a technical committee of experts representing a balanced number of volunteers from government, labour, employers and academia. These stakeholders refined the seed document of the standard, after which an extended public review was performed for critical feedback. The review revealed the value of the standard as an educational tool for employers.

“Even for organizations that don’t apply for the standard,” says Vanier Institute CEO and project advisory team member Nora Spinks, “using the rigorous process for education purposes or for planning and program design can be an effective organization developmental tool.”

Available at no cost from the CSA website, the CIAO Standard was created to offer workplaces a guide to minimizing the negative outcomes of conflict between caregiving and work responsibilities with a guaranteed minimum level of support and protection that goes beyond what’s offered by traditional employee assistance programs (EAPs). It allows employers to select the most appropriate elements for the context of their organization, as the effectiveness of certain standards may depend on the size of the workplace. CIAO provides case examples and stories to show employers how the standards can be implemented in their workplace. In addition to the CIAO Standard, the CSA Group also released the accompanying Implementation Guide: B701HB-18 – Helping worker-carers in your organization.

A caregiving standard can foster employee recruitment and retention

CIAO also addresses the hazards and risks that can be associated with caregiving and how they can affect well-being in the workplace. Since caregiving can be intensive, caregivers can experience increased stress or distraction in their jobs, as well as greater time stress as they accommodate the responsibilities of caregiving.

Depending on their line of work, the consequences of caregiver fatigue at work can vary, as it can lead to reduced vitals skills, such as decision making, communication, productivity or performance, attention, reaction time and ability to handle stress.14 These effects can lead to miscommunication, missed deadlines or lower work performance, or even increased physical risk for workers, their colleagues and clients or customers.

Psychologically safe workplace: A compatible and complementary standard

A psychologically healthy and safe workplace recognizes and eliminates or mitigates exposure to chronic stress. The world of work in Canada is evolving, and both employers and employees are more able and willing to recognize physical and psychological hazards in the workplace. Knowing that a workplace has a set of standards in place can be a determining factor in whether an employee chooses to stay or decides to leave as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.

In 2013, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) developed a standard for Canadian workplaces to support the mental health of employees. Similar to CIAO, the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools and resources intended to guide organizations in supporting their workforce.15 These standards are complementary to the caregiving standard, and organizations can use either or both.

The standards are voluntary, but if they are part of education and awareness training, they can become adopted by the mainstream in workplaces and can help reduce absences, early retirement or quitting. The CIAO Standard fits with existing programs such as EAPs, fitness, medical, family or sick leave and work accommodations.16

A caregiving standard contributes to the growing body of well-being standards in Canada

Similar types of standards have been developed in recent years. In 2010 in Quebec, the Work–Family Standard was released for private and public organizations as a reference on requirements to support work–family quality.

The standard includes guidelines on flexibility in the organization and scheduling, vacation time, flexibility in the workplace and the goods and services provided in the workplace. The goal is to make work–family balance a staple in human resources management in organizations. The Bureau de normalization due Quebec (BNQ) offers certification for employers who apply this standard to their organization.17

Supporting employed carers going forward

The world of work is changing, and workplaces are better equipped to support their employees than ever, supported by a growing body of tools and resources. With the continuous population aging in Canada, more Canadians are going to balance caregiving and work in the years to come. By offering flexible hours at work, accompanied by education, open communication and understanding, workplaces can mitigate the loss of employees and productivity and support caregivers and their families during a transitional period in their lives. As workplaces and employees continue to work to harmonize work and family responsibilities, resources such as the CIAO Standard will play an increasingly important role in supporting working caregivers in Canada.

The Carer-Inclusive and Accommodating Organizations Standard is available on the CSA Group website.

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



  1. New data on caregiving in Canada will be released by Statistics Canada in 2020.
  2. Statistics Canada, “Canada’s Population Estimates: Age and Sex, July 1, 2019,” The Daily (September 30, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/366XpuK.
  3. Chair in Gender, Health and Caregiver-Friendly Workplaces, Webinar: New CSA Standard & Handbook (April 5, 2018).
  4. American Psychological Association, “Positive Aspects of Caregiving,” Public Interest Directorate Reports (January 2011). Link: https://bit.ly/2LoQVzg.
  5. Richard Schulz and Paula R. Sherwood, “Physical and Mental Health Effects of Family Caregiving,” Journal of Social Work Education, 44:sup3, 105–113 (September 2008). Link: https://bit.ly/2rVelFE.
  6. Diane L. Beach, “Family Caregiving: The Positive Impact on Adolescent Relationships,” Gerontologist, 37:2 (1997). Link: http://bit.ly/2jBMu4h.
  7. Learn more about the impact of caregiving on family life and work in A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada.
  8. Employment and Social Development Canada, “When Work and Caregiving Collide: How Employers Can Support Their Employees Who Are Caregivers,” Report from the Employer Panel for Caregivers (January 27, 2016).
  9. Maire Sinha, “Portrait of Caregivers, 2012,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (September 2013). Link: http://bit.ly/1jxgAAm.
  10. Janet Fast, “Caregiving for Older Adults with Disabilities: Present Costs, Future Challenges,” Institute for Research on Public Policy Study (December 2015). Link: http://bit.ly/2jAH6yv.
  11. Ibid.
  12. CSA Group, B701-17 – Carer-inclusive and Accommodating Organizations (August 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2RnEuHH.
  13. Ceridian, “Double Duty: The Caregiving Crisis in the Workplace,” Results and Recommendations from Ceridian’s Working Caregiver Survey (November 5, 2015). Link: https://bit.ly/3653Fmt.
  14. Chair in Gender, Health and Caregiver-Friendly Workplaces.
  15. CSA Group, CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 – Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (January 2013). Link: https://bit.ly/2RmKsZB.
  16. Chair in Gender, Health and Caregiver-Friendly Workplaces.
  17. BNQ, BNQ 9700-820: Work-Family Balance (2016). Link: https://bit.ly/2YjNeAd.


Report: Symposium on Women and the Workplace

In May 2019, the Vanier Institute of the Family participated in a two-day symposium hosted by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, where 240 leaders and champions of workplace gender equality and diversity from across Canada shared and discussed leading practices to inspire and advance women’s participation in the workplace.

A report based on these catalytic conversations is now available, and it provides strategies and resources employers can use to advance women’s participation in the workplace with a focus on three key components to advancing workplace gender equality and diversity in Canada:

  • Increasing awareness about gender equality and challenging widespread myths
  • Changing structures instead of people
  • Adopting an intersectional approach to gender equality in the workplace

Women and the workplace – How employers can advance equality and diversity – Report from the Symposium on Women and the Workplace is now available on the ESDC website (also available in PDF format).


Research Recap: Caregiving in Military and Veteran Families

Alla Skomorovsky, Jennifer Lee and Lisa Williams

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

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

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

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

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

Illness and injury affects family well-being and relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caregiving intersects and interacts with other family responsibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communication between partners can mitigate the impact of caregiving

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

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

Communication is the key there, especially in a relationship.

Lessons learned and the way forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Jim Thompson, MD, et al., “Survey on Transition to Civilian Life: Report on Regular Force Veterans,” Veterans Affairs Canada (2011). Link: https://bit.ly/2J8gYex.
  2. Learn more in A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada (November 2018 update). Link: https://bit.ly/31iMC09.
  3. Alla Skomorovsky et al., Pilot Study on the Well-Being of Ill or Injured Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Members and Their Families: Well-Being Model Development (2019). Scientific Report. DRDC-RDDC-2017-R203.
  4. A total of 72 semi-structured interviews were conducted, 16 of which were omitted from further analysis due to ineligibility (e.g., non-medical release, over 5 years since release). Of the remaining 56 interviews, there were 31 individual interviews with CAF members or Veterans, 11 individual interviews with primary caregivers and 14 combined interviews. Participants consisted of CAF Veterans who were medically released within the past 5 years or members who were expecting to be medically released within the near future (i.e., within 24 months of the study) due to a psychological or physical illness and/or injury. Their primary caregivers, operationally defined as the individual who provides the majority of care and/or support (physical or psychological) to the CAF member/Veteran, were also included in the interview process. Primary caregivers were typically a family member (e.g., sibling, parent) and, in the vast majority of cases, the spouse. Eligible participants were interviewed either in person or by phone at a time of their choice.
  5. Linda Van Til et al., “Well-Being of Canadian Regular Force Veterans, Findings from LASS 2016 Survey,” Veterans Affairs Canada – Research Directorate Technical Report (June 23, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2hWHt7y.

Published on July 25, 2019

In Focus 2019: Fathers “Making It Work”

June 16, 2019 is Father’s Day, a time to recognize and celebrate dads and the diverse contributions they make to family life, workplaces and communities across Canada.

Most fathers are in the paid labour force, and research shows that an increasing share is involved in their children’s early years. As more dads are managing multiple responsibilities at home and at work than in previous generations, workplaces and parental leave policies have evolved to support this growing role in family life.

  • According to the 2016 Census, 91% of fathers in couples and 82% of lone fathers in Canada were employed.1
  • In 2017, 81% of new and expectant fathers2 inside Quebec received (or were intending to claim) parental benefits, compared with only 12% in the rest of Canada.3, 4
  • In 2018, the majority of surveyed fathers reported that they are afraid that taking leave will negatively impact their finances (75%) and/or their relationship with their managers at work (51%).5
  • As discussed in the Vanier Institute’s May 14, 2019 webinar on Understanding the Parental Sharing Benefit and the Caregiving Benefits, new and expectant fathers6 in eligible two-parent families have had access to a new use-it-or-lose-it 5- to 8-week employment insurance (EI) parental sharing benefit since March 2019, which they can take at any point following the arrival of their child.7
  • A 2015 study found that fathers in Quebec who took leave spent an average half hour more per day at the family home than those outside of Quebec.8
  • In 2015, 72% of surveyed fathers of children aged 0 to 4 reported that they spent time providing help or care to children that day. Of the total number of reported hours parents spent on these tasks, 35% of this work was done by fathers (28% in 1986).9


  1. Statistics Canada, “Father’s Day… By the Numbers,” The Daily (page last updated June 28, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2xkDOui.
  2. This percentage also includes women second partners in same-sex couples, although they account for a small share of the total.
  3. The share of spouses or partners claiming benefits is typically higher in Quebec, as the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan includes benefits that apply exclusively to the second parent.
  4. Statistics Canada, “Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, 2017,” The Daily (November 15, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2VaYssA.
  5. Legerweb, “Dove Men+Care Data Reveals Persistent Paternity Leave Stigmas,” media release (April 23, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2vfYno3.
  6. The benefit is available to all second partners (i.e. women second parents in same-sex couples, in addition to fathers), and includes adoptive parents.
  7. The transcript, PowerPoint presentation and webinar video stream are available on the Vanier Institute website. Link: http://bit.ly/2WmDl1S.
  8. Ankita Patnaik, “‘Daddy’s Home!’ Increasing Men’s Use of Paternity Leave,” briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families (April 2, 2015). Link: http://bit.ly/1Igwa0Y.
  9. Patricia Houle, Martin Turcotte and Michael Wendt, “Changes in Parents’ Participation in Domestic Tasks and Care for Children from 1986 to 2015,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (page last updated June 7, 2017). Link: http://bit.ly/2rJ4AZL.

Mother’s Day 2019: New Moms Older, More Likely to Be Employed Than in the Past

May 12, 2019 is Mother’s Day, a time to recognize and celebrate the millions of women in Canada who are raising (and co-raising) future generations, often while managing multiple roles at home, in their workplaces and in their communities. The complex relationship between women, work and family across the country has evolved significantly across generations, as new moms are older and more likely to be employed than in the past – trends that are reflected in data recently released from Statistics Canada.

According to recent Vital Statistics data, women across the country are increasingly waiting longer to have children – in fact, the fertility rates of women in their early 20s and late 30s flipped over the past 20 years. Many are instead focusing first on pursuing post-secondary education and career development – continuing a long-term trend observed over the past several decades.

  • In 2017, the fertility rate in Canada for women aged 20 to 24 stood at 36 live births per 1,000 women, down from 58 per 1,000 in 2000.1
  • In 2017, the fertility rate in Canada for women aged 35 to 39 was 56 live births per 1,000 women, nearly double the rate in 2000 (34 per 1,000).2
  • In 2016, the average age of first-time mothers was 29.2 years, up from 27.1 years in 2000.3

Most of these new moms are (and remain) in the paid labour force at the time of birth or adoption of their newborn, often utilizing community supports to facilitate work and family responsibilities.

  • In 2016, the employment rate of mothers whose youngest child was aged 0 to 2 was 71%, up from 66% in 2001. As in previous years, this rate was higher in Quebec in 2016 (80%).4
  • In 2017, 79% of recent mothers across Canada had insurable employment, 90% of whom received maternity and/or parental benefits.5
    • As in previous years, recent moms in Quebec were more likely to have insurable employment (97%) and to have received benefits than their counterparts in the rest of Canada (91%).
  • In 2016–17, women accounted for 85% of all parental benefits claims made, down from 89% in 2002.6, 7

Since December 2017, new and expectant parents have been provided with more flexibility regarding the timing and duration of the benefit period.

  • New and expectant parents are now able to choose an extended parental benefits option, which allows them to receive their EI parental benefits over a period of up to 18 months at a benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings. Compared with the standard parental benefits option, this extends the duration of the benefit period but decreases the benefit rate, which stand at 12 months and 55% of average weekly earnings, respectively.8
  • Expectant mothers are also now able to access benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date – four weeks earlier than the previous eight-week limit (no additional weeks are available).9
  • In 2017, among recent mothers who had worked as an employee within the previous two years, more than 1 in 5 took or planned to take more than 12 months away from work (21%).10


Published on May 8, 2019


1 Statistics Canada, Crude Birth Rate, Age-specific Fertility Rates and Total Fertility Rate (Live Births) (Table 13-10-0418-01), page last updated May 2, 2019. Link: https://bit.ly/2PKZV2S.

2 Ibid.

3 Claudine Provencher et al., “Fertility: Overview, 2012 to 2016,” Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 91-209-X (June 5, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2JUU872.

4 Martha Friendly et al., “Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada 2016,” Child Care Research and Research Unit (CRRU) (April 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2TC1BwL.

5 Statistics Canada, “Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, 2017,” The Daily (November 15, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2VaYssA.

6 Employment and Social Development Canada, “New Five-Week Employment Insurance Parental Sharing Benefit One Month Away,” News Release (February 18, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2TUnXJN.

7 Canada Employment Insurance Commission, Employment Insurance 2002 Monitoring and Assessment Report (March 31, 2003). Link: https://bit.ly/2VRq99k.

8 Learn more in “Webinar Content: Changes to EI Special Benefits,” Transition (January 24, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/302utBQ.

9 Ibid.

10 Statistics Canada, “Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, 2017.”

Work and Family: The Impact of Mobility, Scheduling and Precariousness

Elise Thorburn, PhD (Memorial University)

Download this article in PDF format

There is an immense shift underway in the workforce across Canada that is clear to many people who are working and to those who are looking for work. In recent years, there has been a rise in unstable and precarious employment, as well as a growing number of jobs with long commuting times and those involving long travel times during work. Furthermore, the use of shift-scheduling technology – which automates labour distribution in a workplace – is increasing across a variety of sectors. These evolving contexts can have a significant impact on workers and their families.

The use of shift-scheduling technology – which automates labour distribution in a workplace – is increasing across a variety of sectors.

A recent study conducted as part of the On the Move Partnership1 surveyed and interviewed union representatives and union members in Canada to explore how they manage unpaid family care responsibilities along with their often erratic work schedules and long or arduous commutes. The goal was to explore how these workers reconcile the rhythms of work and life in increasingly mobile and precarious sectors, and what unions are doing to foster harmony for these workers and their families.

Research from On the Move has shown that a large but difficult-to-document number of Canadians work in municipalities, provinces and even countries far from their homes and families, and their employment-related mobility often follows complex and nuanced patterns.2 These workers often invest considerable time and other resources managing and negotiating the impacts of this mobility.

This study focused on two particular types of mobility:

1. Lengthy and/or complex commuting, such as jobs that involve travelling an hour or more each way per day to the place of work (including the time it takes to drop off or pick up children, spouses, parents, etc.).

2. Mobility during/for work, such as jobs in which workers move around from worksite to worksite throughout the day, as with personal support workers or homecare nurses.

These categories aren’t exclusive; for some workers, these two categories – long commutes and mobility throughout the day – overlap. Study participants were all in the Greater Toronto Area, and they either worked in or represented employees within in the home health care sector, the airport and airline sector, or the higher education sector. While these workplaces differ greatly in the wages, skill sets and demographics of the workers, their diversity serves to highlight how the issues presented here can appear in different settings with different employee characteristics.

Unpaid idle time can represent “time taken from family”

One of the impacts of modern shift-scheduling practices and mobility is a greater amount of unpaid idle time for these diverse types of workers: time when they are not at home but not officially on the clock. Many of them referred to this as time taken from family, and it can have an impact on family finances. For example, if an employee was paying for child care but stuck with unpaid idle time, it could actually result in negative earnings. One airport worker, for example, recalled being scheduled for a shift that began at 2:30 a.m., but the last bus to leave from his neighbourhood to work left at midnight. Therefore, he regularly arrived at work an hour or more before his start time to ensure he was on time, and would then sleep or wait around at the airport – unpaid – until his shift began.

Home health care workers with long waits between clients also experience unpaid idle time, as reported by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Barbara Neis.3The workers in their study were paid only for direct care time and the travel time between clients, regardless of how long they had to wait between scheduled visits. For example, one personal support worker said:

I start at 9:30 in the morning, work with a client for two hours, and then wait until 1:30 to see another client. When it’s not cold outside I sometimes sit on a park bench, but most of the time I find a Tim’s or a mall to sit in. I don’t have money to buy coffee at Tim Hortons every day while I wait for another shift to begin, but I am too far from home to go back there.

Her mobility between clients pulled her far from her home in her unpaid time, and for workers like her with children in daycare or with babysitters, that two hours of unpaid time between patients represented even greater negative earnings.

Aside from lost or negative earnings, idle time also represents unpaid time away from family. Some workers reported trying to resolve this lost family time by multi-tasking – for example, some parents of older children often “parent by phone” during long commutes, in idle time between clients or as they moved between worksites. One union representative in the home health care sector spoke of a member who texted constantly with her daughter throughout the workday. Another spoke of workers talking to their children about general life issues through meal preparation, homework and while commuting. During long commutes or drives between clients, the phone becomes a lifeline to more engaged parenting for many, helping to alleviate some of the stress of “leaving your children alone when you would not otherwise,” as one worker put it.

Aside from lost or negative earnings, idle time also represents unpaid time away from family.

University workers in the study reported that long commutes to rigidly scheduled classes can serve as time to catch up on sleep or to engage in preparatory work, reading or marking student papers. One university worker with a very young child, whose commute often stretched to more than 3.5 hours, said that the travel time by train was often the only time he could find to catch up on uninterrupted sleep. That said, he and other university workers also found that the long commutes and rigid schedules were the cause of significant mental health issues and troubled familial and social relationships.

Mobility and scheduling can affect employee and family well-being

The mental health ramifications of precarious work, as well as work with extended commuting and demands of child care, are well documented.4 The convergence of scheduling and mobility, paired with the responsibilities of family, had a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of interviewed university workers (e.g. stress, fatigue, anxiety). One said that his mental health was severely impacted by the pressures of the commute and the schedule, causing things at home to become “bad.” He noted, “I was feeling so very desperate earlier in the fall, even just seeking therapy became difficult.” The convergence of scheduling, onerous mobility and family care responsibilities made finding the time and energy needed to manage his mental health was an insurmountable task. The schedule and commute mitigated the rejuvenating aspects of his work, and he said exhaustion was very common by the end of the term. As well, maintaining his social circle outside of his immediate family was almost impossible and, he noted, “It [took] intense planning to even schedule a haircut.”

Accessing child care – quality, affordable child care that works for non-traditional schedules – is a major issue for mobile workers.

Another university and union worker noted that the time spent on transit exacerbated exhaustion and made the transition for children from daycare or school to home that much more fraught. “You are tired and cranky, and so is your child,” she said, and “you are never really able to honour the schedule of your child or yourself, which leads to you feeling guilty and just bad.” The need to always be up early and rushing to a long and onerous commute also caused her to have residual anxiety issues – issues she says stayed with her long after she left that particular job. “I always feel like everything is being done at the last minute and I’m constantly anxious about that,” she explained. The anxiety that she felt had an effect on her children, she believed, giving them their own sense of urgency or anxiety, and the feeling that the adults around them – those that are caring for them – are constantly in a state of heightened stress. This mirrors what Stephanie Premji found in her research on precarious immigrant workers in Toronto – the worry about work-related economic insecurity caused the children of these precarious workers to become depressed and it contributed to familial stress.5

Other union representatives and workers I spoke to also noted that family responsibilities and mobility paired with schedules that are out of one’s control increased their unpaid caring labour in the home, which in turn contributed to social isolation and the loss of support networks. They also spoke of their frustration in being unable to address or alter the situation they felt trapped in – they could not move closer to their workplace because it may often change, for example, or because they could not afford to live in areas with better employment opportunities. Other On the Move researchers have found that many aren’t able to overcome these barriers and improve their labour market experiences (and hence mental health) over time.

Non-standard work hours often don’t align with child care availability

All of the worksites in this study operate on non-traditional, often 24-hour schedules. Non-standard work hours include a variety of now-common schedule possibilities and working patterns – from slightly extended hours (beginning from 6 a.m. and ending around 7:30 or 8 p.m.) to later shifts (e.g. those that last until 11 p.m. or later) as well as full overnights and weekends.6

Non-standard hours of work have been steadily increasing in Canada, and Statistics Canada reports that the period from 2005 to 2015 saw a growing shift from traditional to more flexible, non-standard work schedules.7 Yet both transit systems and child care centres have been set up to meet the needs of a standard 9-to-5 work schedule, and have done little to change over this same time period. Many of the interviewed workers and union representatives said that the standard hours of transit and child care conflicted with the rhythms of their workplaces, meaning that daycare centres – formal, regulated and licensed to ensure quality and safety – were not an option for them.

Accessing child care – quality, affordable child care that works for non-traditional schedules – is a major issue for mobile workers. For many low-income, precarious workers on non-standard schedules, informal child care providers are the only accessible option. Such providers may be available by negotiation at a moment’s notice and during non-traditional hours, leading to situations of “trickle-down precarity.” These workers may also supplement child care providers with occasional help from family, friends and neighbours, or rely entirely on them – one union representative and worker at Toronto Pearson International Airport noted that his wife’s parents moved into their home for five years to care for their young children while he and his wife worked non-standard schedules for an airline.

For many immigrant workers, the social support systems they may have had in their home countries are absent, and thus accessing child care becomes a significant source of anxiety.

However, this reliance on family is not an option for everyone. For many immigrant workers, the social support systems they may have had in their home countries are absent, and thus accessing child care becomes a significant source of anxiety, especially as mobility and scheduling disrupt the rhythms of necessary care work in their home.8 Even with formal child care, long commutes and worker mobility paired with unpredictable or non-standard schedules can have emotional and mental health impacts on workers who engage in unpaid caring labour at home. One worker noted that her schedule and commute paired with traffic meant she was often arriving very close to the daycare’s closing time and, she noted, “There is the horrible shame of being the last person to pick your kids up.”

This was especially acute for women workers, who felt that their tardiness to collect children from care was a reflection of their quality as a parent. This shame and even fear is not entirely unwarranted: while most daycares have fines for picking children up after closing time – often in the range of $1 per minute – in 2016, a daycare in Etobicoke, Ontario instituted fines as high at $300 per hour, as well as a possible call to Children’s Aid Society if no parents or emergency contacts could be reached.9

One worker noted that punitive measures such as these are an enormous source of stress for her as she commutes between worksites on the subway, because while underground she has no cellphone access. She continually fears a subway delay or breakdown, since she would not be able to call and alert the daycare if she was going to be late. For her, this is a source of anxiety and stress that does not end when her commute does, but that carries with her into her interactions with her children and at home. Thus, to add to the sense of shame, anxiety and stress associated with mobility, family and non-standard schedules, the possibility of losing access to one’s children entirely is introduced, as well as the potential complication to immigration applications if Children’s Aid Society is ever involved.

Non-standard work scheduling can be complex and time-consuming

The challenges of non-standard work schedules, mobility and limited incomes, and the friction between schedules and child care, means that workers often spend unpaid time outside of work scheduling and coordinating work and family responsibilities, which further encroaches upon family time. In her research on call centre workers in Quebec, Karen Messing found that parents made use of eight different babysitting resources to fill caregiving needs over a two-week period, and spent considerable unpaid leisure time trying to switch shifts with co-workers to make up for the rest.10

When some workers cannot harmonize their schedules, commutes and family responsibilities, the only option may be to take fewer shifts or remain in casual positions – even if they are entitled to a full-time or permanent job.

When some workers cannot harmonize their schedules, commutes and family responsibilities, the only option may be to take fewer shifts or remain in casual positions – even if they are entitled to a full-time or permanent job. Some union representatives said their members in the home health care sector, for example, “choose” to remain in more precarious positions, because family life simply cannot be coordinated around work life. But as one mentioned, “It’s a tricky thing to say when it’s a choice and when it’s an obligation.” Another union representative said, “I’ve seen people quit entirely over this,” and reiterated that if not quitting, remaining casual was often a way that workers sought to assert more control over their work schedule and life.

Questions remain on mobility and the “duty to accommodate”

One avenue to support those balancing work and family responsibilities has been the human rights codes. In the Canadian Human Rights Act and in all provincial acts aside from New Brunswick (where reviews to add the ground are ongoing), “family status” is considered a prohibited ground for discrimination.11 This means that employers have a “duty to accommodate,” which means that employers “have an obligation to adjust rules, policies, or practices to enable you to participate fully.”12 But “family status” and “duty to accommodate” are ill-defined across the human rights acts and codes in Canada, and accommodation does not guarantee a new or similar position with similar wages for a worker, or reassignment to a job with similar duties and a more amenable schedule. As well, accommodation requests can be rejected due to “undue hardship” on the part of the employer, the definition of which is equally vague.

Awareness of the duty to accommodate as an avenue for mitigating the impacts of scheduling on work and family was low among workers and union representatives, and few had tried to use the legislation. Among those who had attempted to make use of family status accommodations, some representatives for home health care workers, for example, said that the legislation had not been particularly useful to them, suggesting that its relative lack of usefulness “speaks to certain biases within the document around what people’s relationships to the employer are.”

One union representative in the study explained that a member of their union had been moved from her position due to layoffs in the organization. The new position the member was bumped into required hours and commuting times that would not allow her to be home for her child either before or after school. As a single parent, newly immigrated and without extended family in the country, she had no one to share caregiving responsibilities with, and so her union made an accommodation request on her behalf. The employer made an undue hardship claim, and then offered the member a different position with significantly reduced hours. Weighing her hourly wage against the cost of child care before and after school meant that the original job with more hours wasn’t going to be financially worth it, so in the end, the member simply “didn’t have a choice,” according to the union representative. As a result, the member “had to take the reduced hours and now struggles financially.” Another union representative with a similar case said that this is “an example of how the system means well but operates on the basis of older forms of employment relationships.”

It remains unclear how mobility specifically converges with human rights code recommendations around the duty to accommodate.

Further, it remains unclear how mobility specifically converges with human rights code recommendations around the duty to accommodate. Can a homecare worker or any other worker request a schedule that takes commute time and work time in relation to family status into account? Can a worker cite rush-hour traffic or winter travel or transit delays and overcrowding as part of a duty to accommodate application? Can poor transit options converging with inconvenient schedules be grounds for a request for accommodation? Can workers cite the likelihood of commuting times from certain work schedules causing increased child care late-pickup fees? These are questions that have no clear answer in the current human rights legislation but are serious concerns for workers today.

Unions adapting to evolving work and family contexts

What emerges from this research is that workers in jobs across multiple sectors have complex lives and multiple, evolving demands on their time. The voices of union representatives and workers presented here highlight the need for labour representatives to begin to consider mobility and care work as an aspect of their negotiations, especially as it converges with increasingly erratic, unpredictable and around-the-clock work schedules.

What emerges from this research is that workers in jobs across multiple sectors have complex lives and multiple, evolving demands on their time.

Several union representatives who were involved in collective bargaining said that they often felt at an impasse, unsure of how to deal with the impacts of work on their members’ after-work lives. Because there seemed little in the way of other options, most union representatives put the focus on increasing wages for workers, so as to alleviate some of the stressors of mobility and unpaid care work. But a focus on wages to the exclusion of other options may allow untenable situations for some workers to persist.

There are some interesting examples of possible models for unions to consider. One worker who was active in his union said that all gains cannot be won at the bargaining table, and that workers and unions need to build relationships with non-unionized workers, their neighbours and community members, and community-based organizations to help build holistic solutions to the problems mobile workers on erratic schedules with caregiving responsibilities face. He cited the example of the Toronto Airport Workers Assembly (TAWC), which is made up of unionized and non-unionized airport workers, and partnered with community environmental and transit groups to ultimately win a reduced rate on the UP Express train line to the airport. Originally priced at $27.50 per ride, the efforts of the TAWC in alliance with community partners contributed to the decision to lower the price to $3.50 for airport workers and $12 for regular riders.

As well, the Ontario Human Rights Code recommends considering inclusive design in workplaces.13 Usually understood as “Universal Design,” inclusive design asks employers to consider the ways that workplaces can become more family-friendly. How are schedules, workloads and descriptions of work designed, and how can the beneficial elements of mobile work on flexible schedules be emphasized while the negative impacts are mitigated? How might inclusive design be implemented within collective agreements is a question union leaders could begin to consider as the landscape of work continues to shift and change.

Download Work and Family: The Impact of Mobility, Scheduling and Precariousness (PDF)

Elise Thorburn is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Sociology at Brock University and a researcher with the On the Move Partnership. On the Move is a research project involving the Vanier Institute of the Family and universities across Canada and abroad investigating workers’ extended travel and related absence from their places of permanent residence for the purpose of (and as part of) their employment.

Published on August 21, 2018



  1. The On the Move Partnership (OTM) is a project of the SafetyNet Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research at Memorial University. It is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through its Partnership Grants funding Opportunity, Innovate NL, CFI and multiple universities and community partners. This research was also supported by an internship with the Vanier Institute of the Family.
  2. Learn more on the On the Move Partnership website. Link: https://bit.ly/2I0nijg.
  3. Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Barbara Neis, “On the Move and Working Alone: Policy Implications of the Experiences of Unionised Newfoundland and Labrador Homecare Workers,” Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 13(2) (January 2016). Link: https://bit.ly/2tmVC30.
  4. Stephanie Premji, “‘It’s Totally Destroyed Our Life’: Exploring the Pathways and Mechanisms Between Precarious Employment and Health and Well-being Among Immigrant Men and Women in Toronto,” International Journal of Health 48(1) (January 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2K3j2Vl.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Shani Halfon and Martha Friendly, Work Around the Clock: A Snapshot of Non-Standard Hours Child Care in Canada (Toronto: Childcare Resource and Research Unit, 2015). Link: https://bit.ly/2K4vyDZ.
  7. Statistics Canada, “Labour in Canada: Key Results from the 2016 Census,” The Daily (November 29, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2yl9VL1.
  8. See Stephanie Premji, “Precarious Employment and Difficult Daily Commutes,” Relations Industrielles / Industrial Relations, 72(1) (January 2017).
  9. Amanda Ferguson, “Etobicoke Daycare Hikes Late Fees for Parents Who Don’t Pick Up Kids on Time” City News Toronto (October 4, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2yi15O2.
  10. Karen Messing, Pain and Prejudice: What Science Can Learn About Work from the People Who Do It (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2014).
  11. Learn more with Family Caregiving in Canada: A Fact of Life and a Human Right (Vanier Institute of the Family, 2016).
  12. Canadian Human Rights Commission, What Is the Duty to Accommodate? (n.d.). Link: https://bit.ly/2JORML1.
  13. Ontario Human Rights Commission, Inclusive Design and the Duty to Accommodate (Fact Sheet) (n.d.). Link: https://bit.ly/2I1pmYm.

Infographic: Fathers and Work in Canada

Most fathers in Canada are in the paid labour force, and research shows that a growing share are involved in their child’s early years, and are more likely to assume household management responsibilities than in the past. As fathers manage multiple responsibilities at home, at work and in their communities, parental leave and flexible work arrangements can play an important role in facilitating their growing role in family life.

Using current Census and Labour Force Survey data, our new infographic provides a statistical glance at evolving work–family experiences for fathers in Canada.

Highlights include:

  • In 2016, 91% of fathers in couples and 82% of lone fathers were employed.1
  • In 2016, new and expectant fathers inside Quebec were roughly 6 times as likely to report having received (or were intending to claim) parental benefits than fathers in the rest of Canada (80% and 13%, respectively).2
  • As of June 2019, new and expectant fathers in eligible two-parent families3 will have access to a new “use-it-or-lose-it” employment insurance (EI) parental sharing benefit, which they can take at any point following the arrival of their child.4
  • In 2016, when asked whether they had asked for flex work in the past five years, 73% of surveyed Canadians said they had.5
  • In 2012, full-time working fathers with a flexible schedule were more likely to report satisfaction with their work–life balance (81%) than those without a flexible schedule (76%).6


Download the Fathers and Work in Canada infographic from the Vanier Institute of the Family.



  1. Statistics Canada, “Father’s Day… By the Numbers,” The Daily (page last updated June 28, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2xkDOui.
  2. Employment and Social Development Canada, Employment Insurance Monitoring and Assessment Report for the Fiscal Year Beginning April 1, 2016 and Ending March 31, 2017 (page last updated June 5, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2LA9WgG.
  3. Including adoptive and same-sex couples.
  4. To learn more about pending changes to parental leave, see Canada’s New Parental Sharing Benefit, a backgrounder from the Department of Finance Canada (n.d.). Link: https://bit.ly/2CMmKuX.
  5. Employment and Social Development Canada, “When Work and Caregiving Collide: How Employers Can Support Their Employees Who Are Caregivers,” Report from the Employer Panel for Caregivers (February 16, 2015). Link: https://bit.ly/2sf0QOv.
  6. Statistics Canada, “Satisfaction with Work–Life Balance: Fact Sheet,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (April 14, 2016). Link: http://bit.ly/1S7H2nb.

Modern Mothers in Canada “Making It Work”

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, a time when Canadians of all ages recognize and honour mothers, grandmothers and, increasingly, great-grandmothers. As women across Canada – including new and expectant mothers – continue to increase their presence in the workforce, families, communities and policy-makers are adapting and reacting to provide flexibility for working moms.

Flexible workplaces helping working moms manage caregiving responsibilities

New and expectant mothers in Canada are increasingly engaged in the workforce, many of whom also provide care to ill and injured family members. Research shows that workplace flexibility is helping moms manage their multiple responsibilities, which in turn can have a positive impact on family well-being.

  • In 2016, the labour force participation rate of mothers whose youngest child was under age 6 was 73%, more than double the rate in 1976 (36%).1
  • In 2012, 72% of surveyed women said they were satisfied with their work–life balance – the rate was significantly higher for those with a flexible schedule (75%) than for those without a flexible schedule (63%).2
  • In 2012, 3 in 10 women were caregivers, 1 in 6 of whom spent 20 or more hours per week providing care.3
  • In 2012, 63% of working mothers who were also caregivers said they were satisfied with their work–life balance (compared with 73% among fathers).4

New benefit options providing flexibility to new and expectant working mothers

A number of changes to Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) maternity and parental benefits5 program went into effect December 3, 2017, providing more flexibility to working mothers (and fathers) through more options regarding the timing and duration of the benefit period.6

  • Parents can now choose an extended parental benefits option, which allows them to receive their EI parental benefits over a period of up to 18 months at a benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings. This extends the duration of the benefit period but decreases the benefit rate, which stand at 12 months and 55% of average weekly earnings, respectively.7
  • Expectant mothers are also now able to file for benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date – four weeks earlier than the previous eight-week limit (no additional weeks are available).



  1. Canadian Institute of Child Health, “Module 8, Section 2: Labour Force Participation Rate,” The Health of Canada’s Children and Youth: A CICH Profile (2018). Link: http://bit.ly/2oq4xyZ.
  2. Statistics Canada, “Satisfaction with Work–Life Balance: Fact Sheet,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (page last updated August 12, 2016). Link: http://bit.ly/1S7H2nb.
  3. Maire Sinha, “Portrait of Caregivers, 2012,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (page last updated November 30, 2015). Link: http://bit.ly/1jxgAAm.
  4. According to Statistics Canada, this is in part because “women are more likely than men to provide care to a family member or friend suffering from a long-term health condition. In addition, those caregivers provide more hours of care on average.” Link: https://bit.ly/1S7H2nb.
  5. These changes do not apply in Quebec, which has followed the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) since 2006.
  6. Qualifying standards remain in place: workers require 600 hours of paid employment in the previous year to be eligible, and benefits are generally paid at 55% of average weekly earnings, up to a cap. As of January 1, 2018, the maximum yearly insurable earnings is $51,700 (a maximum amount of $547 per week). Link: https://bit.ly/2IMJv5g.
  7. The potential overall benefit hasn’t changed: they either can be used up over 12 months or the same amount of money can be stretched out over 18 months. Parents must choose between the standard or extended option when they first apply for EI benefits, and are “locked in” once they do so.

Families in Canada Interactive Timeline

Today’s society and today’s families would have been difficult to imagine, let alone understand, a half-century ago. Data shows that families and family life in Canada have become increasingly diverse and complex across generations – a reality highlighted when one looks at broader trends over time.

But even as families evolve, their impact over the years has remained constant. This is due to the many functions and roles they perform for individuals and communities alike – families are, have been and will continue to be the cornerstone of our society, the engine of our economy and at the centre of our hearts.

Learn about the evolution of families in Canada over the past half-century with our Families in Canada Interactive Timeline – a online resource from the Vanier Institute that highlights trends on diverse topics such as motherhood and fatherhood, family relationships, living arrangements, children and seniors, work–life, health and well-being, family care and much more.

View the Families in Canada Interactive Timeline.*


Full topic list:

  • Motherhood
    o Maternal age
    o Fertility
    o Labour force participation
    o Education
    o Stay-at-home moms
  • Fatherhood
    o Family relationships
    o Employment
    o Care and unpaid work
    o Work–life
  • Demographics
    o Life expectancy
    o Seniors and elders
    o Children and youth
    o Immigrant families
  • Families and Households
    o Family structure
    o Family finances
    o Household size
    o Housing
  • Health and Well-Being
    o Babies and birth
    o Health
    o Life expectancy
    o Death and dying

View all source information for all statistics in Families in Canada Interactive Timeline.


* Note: The timeline is accessible only via desktop computer and does not work on smartphones.

Published February 8, 2018

A Snapshot of Men, Work and Family Relationships in Canada

Over the past half-century, fatherhood in Canada has evolved dramatically  as men across the country adapt and react to social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts. Throughout this period, men have had diverse employment experiences as they manage their multiple roles inside and outside the family home. These experiences have been impacted by a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) cultural norms and expectations, family status, disability and a variety of demographic characteristics, as well as women’s increased involvement in the paid labour force.

While many fathers in previous generations acted exclusively as “traditional” breadwinning father figures, modern fathers are increasingly likely to embrace caring roles and assume more household management responsibilities. In doing so, dads across Canada are renegotiating and reshaping the relationship between fatherhood and work.

Highlights include:

  • Men are less likely than in previous generations to fulfill a breadwinner role exclusively. In 2014, 79% of single-earner couple families with children included a breadwinning father, down from 96% in 1976.
  • Men account for a growing share of part-time workers. One-quarter (25%) of Canadians aged 25 to 54 who worked part-time in 2016 were men, up from 15% in 1986.
  • The proportion of never-married men is on the rise. In 2011, more than half (54%) of men in Canada aged 30 to 34 report never having been married, up from 15% in 1981.
  • Canada is home to many caregiving men. In 2012, nearly half (46%) of all caregivers in Canada were men, 11% of whom provided 20 or more hours per week of care.
  • Many men want to be stay-at-home parents. Nearly four in 10 (39%) surveyed men say they would prefer to be a stay-at-home parent.
  • Many men engage in household work and related activities. Nearly half (45%) of surveyed fathers in North America say they’re the “primary grocery shopper” in their household.
  • Flex at work can facilitate work–life balance. More than eight in 10 (81%) full-time working fathers who have a flexible schedule say they’re satisfied with their work–life balance, compared with 76% for those without flex.


This bilingual resource will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Download A Snapshot of Men, Work and Family Relationships in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

A Snapshot of Women, Work and Family in Canada

Canada is home to more than 18 million women (9.8 million of whom are mothers), many of whom fulfill multiple responsibilities at home, at work and in the community. Over many generations, women in Canada have had diverse employment experiences that continue to evolve and change. These experiences have differed significantly from those of men, and there is a great deal of diversity in the experiences among women, which are impacted by a variety of factors including (but not limited to) cultural norms and expectations, family status, disability and a variety of demographic characteristics.

To explore the diverse and evolving work and family experiences of women in Canada, the Vanier Institute of the Family has created A Snapshot of Women, Work and Family in Canada. This publication is a companion piece to our Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada timeline, providing visually engaging data about the diverse work and family experiences of women across Canada.

Highlights include:

  • The share of all core working-aged women (25 to 54 years) who are in the labour force has increased significantly across generations, from 35% in 1964 to 82% in 2016.
  • Employment rates vary among different groups of core working-aged women, including those who are recently immigrated (53%), women reporting an Aboriginal identity (67%) and those living with a disability (52% to 56%, depending on the age subgroup).
  • On average, women without children earn 12% more per hour than those with children – a wage gap sometimes referred to as the “mommy tax.”
  • Nearly one-third (32%) of women aged 25 to 44 who were employed part-time in 2016 said that they were working part-time because they were caring for children.
  • 70% of mothers with children aged 5 and under were employed in 2015, compared with only 32% in 1976.
  • In 2013, 11% of all recent mothers inside Quebec and 36% in the rest of Canada, respectively, did not receive maternity and/or parental leave benefits – a difference attributed to the various EI eligibility regimes in the provinces.
  • 72% of all surveyed mothers in Canada report being satisfied with their work–life balance, but this rate falls to 63% for those who are also caregivers.
  • 75% of working mothers with a flexible work schedule report being satisfied with their work–life balance – a rate that falls to 69% for those without flexibility.

This bilingual resource will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

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


Published on May 9, 2017

Employment Mobility and Family Gentrification in Montreal

Steven High (Concordia University)
Lysiane Goulet Gervais (Concordia University)
Michelle Duchesneau (Concordia University)
Dany Guay-Bélanger (Carleton University)

As Canada’s economy evolves, along with the opportunities and constraints it provides, family members adapt to fulfill their responsibilities at home and at work. For many family members, this can involve travelling long distances for work and being away from home for days, weeks or even months at a time. Since 2012, the On the Move Partnership1 has been exploring this phenomenon of employment-related geographic mobility (E-RGM) and has found that more Canadians than ever before are regularly commuting to work over longer distances in “complex and nuanced” patterns.2

Most people think of rural work environments such as northern gas and oil or mining worksites when examining the impact of mobile work and rarely consider Canada’s inner-city regions, yet these emerging labour patterns are shaping the social and economic environments of communities of all kinds.

As part of the On the Move Partnership, we have explored the impact of mobile work in urban centres through extensive interviews over the past two years with Canadians engaged in mobile work, which ranged from extended daily commutes to extended travel across Quebec and around the world. The workers and families in this study were living in Montreal’s Southwest neighbourhoods of Little Burgundy, Saint-Henri and Pointe-Saint-Charles. Once heavily industrialized, these inner-city areas experienced social and economic change as a result of the rapid deindustrialization and out-migration that occurred during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. This was followed by a period of family gentrification, as middle-class people moved into the areas with their loved ones.

Families “localize” resource access to manage responsibilities despite absences

Our interview findings suggest that there is a connection between employment mobility and family gentrification. Families with sufficient financial resources are choosing to live in inner-city neighbourhoods in order to “localize” other aspects of their lives. This localization includes (but is not limited to) ensuring that community resources such as neighbourhood daycares and schools, playgrounds, stores and public transportation (especially the city’s metro system and the airport express bus) are readily accessible to households in which a family member is engaged in mobile work.

One parent’s mobility often leads to the relative immobility of other family members, who then often become more dependent on proximity to community resources.

Proximity to the central city serves to counterbalance the prolonged absences of family members resulting from work-related mobility. Among two-parent families, since this mobility results in an absence from the family home, one parent’s mobility often leads to the relative immobility of other family members, who then often become more dependent on proximity to community resources.

Mobile work adds complexity to family life and relationships

In this study, interviewed parents shared their reflections on the impact of mobile work on their children and on family life. One mother, Imane,3 expressed concern about the impact of the work-related mobility on her children’s physical health: “The funny thing is that young kids tend to stress without letting you know. And the only way that they let you know is that they get sick. So, when he travels a lot, they get sick a lot. It is their way of saying that they are not happy about this situation.”

“… young kids tend to stress without letting you know. And the only way that they let you know is that they get sick. So, when he travels a lot, they get sick a lot. It is their way of saying that they are not happy about this situation.” (study participant)

Family members engaged in mobile work expressed concerns about managing their parenting roles when they are often away from home. Some shared feelings of sadness and a longing to be more involved in their children’s lives and frustration around having to schedule their children’s activities according to their travel plans – something that surfaced repeatedly in the interviews.

One mobile-working mother, Kate, told us that returning home after being away for weeks at a time made her feel as though she had missed large chunks of her son’s development and growth. With both Kate and her partner, Russell, being mobile workers, even when one is home, the other is frequently away. Life in not quite the same in those moments, she says, “Whether it is Russell or whether it is me, we are always waiting a little bit to live.”

Among our interviewees, Imane had the most to say about the impact of mobile work on family life. If her interview had a recurring theme, it would be that her family life in the context of mobile work is “complicated.” Asked about the effect of her husband’s travels on the family, she replies, “That’s kind of complicated, because we need help with the kids. I have to get the girls ready.” The eldest is sent to school with friends, while Imane takes her youngest to daycare. She picks them up at the end of the day and prepares dinner without her partner being there. “It’s not just taking care of the kids, it’s doing everything like taking care of the home yourself, doing groceries, meals, plus the activities, the school and daycare. Life gets complicated.” Her husband’s absence leaves her with little flexibility and a significantly increased family workload. “I can’t even get sick,” she says.

Parents who stay “back home” adapt to accommodate their partners’ mobility

As she is self-employed, Imane usually has to work after the kids are asleep: “But when he’s away, I am so tired that I can’t really work when the girls sleep.” As a result, her own work is often left undone, something she finds stressful. Luckily, Imane’s mother lives in Montreal and helps manage family roles and responsibilities, such as cooking, laundry or picking up the girls. She stressed the importance of maintaining a routine, even when her husband is away for extended periods: “Life doesn’t change when he is away… [so] we continue living our life as usual.” Summing up things, Imane says, “You continue the routines and the busy schedule of having kids.”

Family life moves on even when a parent is away at work. One mobile worker, Pierre, explained that travelling for work wasn’t an issue before his daughter was born. Now, he is concerned about spending time with her, since his long commutes mean that when he leaves and arrives from work she is usually asleep. He is also worried that travelling for work will affect his capacity to take on his share of familial responsibilities. Several interviewees also said that they used to travel as a family when one of them had to work away from home, but that they stopped once their children reached school age. Imane’s family used to travel together but didn’t want to take the children out of school too often, so they now only rarely accompany their father when he travels for work.

Families use technology to maintain and manage family relationships

Families are increasingly using technology and new media to bridge the distance and remain present in family life. While not all families have access to these tools, these “virtual intimacies” are a growing reality and can help provide continuity in family rituals and relationships in the context of family absences.4

“Virtual intimacies” are a growing reality and can help provide continuity in family rituals and relationships in the context of family absences.

A number of study participants spoke of the importance of FaceTime, Skype and other social media in maintaining a connection to home while away. For example, while he’s away, Russell “continues to participate in some of the rituals of life with a child, such as bedtime stories and goodnight songs via Skype.” His partner, Kate, elaborates, “This didn’t exist before, 12 years ago, let’s say. It wasn’t possible – it was phone bills through the roof [laughs]. Nowadays, it is possible to communicate for a small charge or no cost at all; it really, really, really helps to save the day.” Imane says that when her husband travels internationally, communication can be difficult. If he is in India or Pakistan, there is a 10- or 11-hour difference, which can make it hard to find the right time to connect. Also, she says that “the girls don’t like the phone so much, so yeah, it’s not easy.” Her eldest would “barely say ‘Hi, I’m good, everything’s good. Here’s Mom.’” At only 3 years of age, her youngest child doesn’t really speak on the phone yet.

Children notice routine changes resulting from mobility

In order to gain an intergenerational understanding of how work mobility affects family life, we interviewed four children ages 5 to 7 as part of the study. Much of what these children shared reinforced what the parents said, while other elements of the interviews revealed a different perspective. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the children mainly recall the disruptions in their routine.

They fondly remember staying up late or eating certain foods as joyous occasions when the travelling parent is away. June talked about being sad that her mom, Laura, was away but also appreciates the extra time with dad and the extra privileges she receives, “I’m sad when mom is gone, but I am also happy because I get to stay up late.” Some of the children remember receiving and giving gifts upon return and other people caring for them: grandparents, family friends and others.

Families adapt to fulfill their responsibilities

By focusing on three different locations, our place-based approach to the issue of employment mobility allowed us to view mobility from another perspective. This approach highlighted some of the impacts on family life while considering the full spectrum of mobile work, from extended daily commuters to regular travellers who leave home for extended periods. It also encouraged us to consider the relationship between employment mobility and family fixity (aspects of family life that are geographically bound or fixed), particularly as it plays out in “local” processes of urban gentrification. Our research highlighted that while families experience a number of impacts resulting from mobile work, they evolve and adjust in diverse ways – including living close to community resources, adapting family relationships and using technology – to manage their multiple responsibilities.



  1. On the Move is a cross-sectoral partnership involving 40 researchers from 17 disciplines and 22 universities across Canada and around the world that is funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
  2. Michael Hann, Deatra Walsh and Barbara Neis, “At the Crossroads: Geography, Gender and Occupational Sector in Employment-Related Geographical Mobility,” Canadian Studies in Population, 41:3–4 (2014).
  3. First names have been changed to ensure privacy.
  4. R. Wilding, “‘Virtual’ Intimacies? Families Communicating Across Transnational Contexts,” Global Networks 6:2 (February 28, 2006), doi:10.1111/j.1471-0374.2006.00137.x.


Steven High is a Professor of History at Concordia University and co-founder of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.

Lysiane Goulet Gervais recently graduated from Concordia University’s art therapy program with a master’s degree.

Michelle Duchesneau is a graduate student at Concordia University’s School for Community and Public Affairs.

Dany Guay-Bélanger is currently working toward a master’s degree in the public history program at Carleton University.

Photo: New condominium complexes now line Montreal’s Lachine Canal. Photograph by David W. Lewis.

Download this article in PDF format.

Published on April 25, 2017


Infographic: Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada

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

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

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

Highlights include:

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


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

Circuits of Care: Mobility, Work and Managing Family Relationships

January 10, 2017

Sara Dorow, PhD, and Shingirai Mandizadza, PhDc

Fort McMurray and the oil sands industry of northern Alberta have become a quintessential destination for long-distance labour commuters: workers who regularly travel from and to a distant home base on rotational work schedules, usually of a week or more, and who more often than not stay in work camps located near bitumen extraction and processing projects. They come from as far away as Halifax and Detroit to work at jobs ranging from safety coordination to pipe maintenance to camp catering. In 2015, the more than 100 work camps in the area had the capacity to house some 70,000 workers.1

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

Communication helps to ease emotional challenges of being away from family

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

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

Communications were thus, in many ways, about managing the time away from home. Sometimes this involved counting down the rotation together. As one male camp cook put it, “What I do with my wife is, for instance,] [each day when we talk] we will count down the days till I’m coming back.” For some workers, schedules for making contact are followed rigorously, at the same time every day. A construction worker named Derek called his wife four times a day. And for Phyllis, a camp housekeeper, the fact that she could regularly call her husband and “see” her grandchildren made everything “all good.”

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

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

Communication facilitates remote parenting and alleviates “FOMO”

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

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

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

“Too much” communication can be distracting

However, managing and maintaining one’s mental health and well-being in camp can also mean keeping long-distance family and social relations “in their place.” For a portion of these workers, and more commonly for men in the trades, family life was a distraction that needed to be held at bay if one was to stay in work mode. Sometimes it was the heartache of being too regularly reminded of distance from family that was distracting.2

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

Community “back home” helps workers manage family responsibilities

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

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

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

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

Flexible circuits of care help accommodate employee mobility

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

Our research thus addresses some of the existing research on long-distance labour commuting and family in ways that we hope open up further inquiry. First, we start from the perspective of mobile workers while they are away from home. Second, we include both resource sector workers and service sector workers, thus broadening the gendered scope of analysis and complicating the normative imagery of mobile work (man on the move, wife and children back home). And finally, we do not assume that mobility has only or mostly negative impacts on care or family relations. Such arrangements can have both advantages and disadvantages for workers and their families3 and entail a mix of transformations and entrenchments of gender and family arrangements of care.4

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


  1. Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, “The Municipal Census 2015 Report” (2015).
  2. Christopher Jones and Chris Southcott, “Mobile Miners: Work, Home, and Hazards in the Yukon’s Mining Industry,” The Northern Review 41 (June 15, 2015).
  3. Mark Shrimpton and Keith J. Storey, The Effects of Offshore Employment in the Petroleum Industry: A Cross-National Perspective (Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Environmental Studies Program, 2001).
  4. Brenda S. A. Yeoh and Kamalini Ramdas, “Gender, Migration, Mobility and Transnationalism,” Journal of Applied Statistics 21:10 (November 2014).

About the On the Move Partnership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key findings include:

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

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

Timeline: Fifty Years of Men, Work and Family in Canada

Over the past half century, fatherhood in Canada has undergone a significant evolution as men are increasingly sharing the “breadwinning” role, embracing caring responsibilities and integrating their responsibilities at home, at work and in their communities.

To explore these trends and the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that shape – and are shaped by – fatherhood and family relationships, we’ve created a 50-year timeline for Father’s Day 2016. Some highlights include:

  • More fathers are taking time off to care for their newborn children. More than one-quarter (27%) of all recent fathers in Canada reported in 2014 that they took (or intended to take) parental leave, up from only 3% in 2000.
  • The number of “stay-at-home” fathers is on the rise. Fathers accounted for approximately 11% of stay-at-home parents in 2014, up from only 1% in 1976.
  • Fathers of young children are absent from work more frequently for family-related reasons. Fathers of children under the age of 5 report missing an average 2.0 days of work in 2015 due to personal or family responsibilities, up from 1.2 days in 2009.
  • Fewer “lone fathers” are living in low income. In 2008, 7% of persons in lone-parent families headed by men lived in low income, down from 18% in 1976.
  • Fathers are increasingly helping with housework. Men who report performing household work devoted an average 184 minutes on these tasks in 2010, up from 171 minutes in 1998.
  • Fathers with flex are more satisfied with their work–life balance. More than eight in 10 (81%) full-time working fathers with children under age 18 who have a flexible schedule reported in 2012 being satisfied with their work–life balance, compared with 76% for those without a flexible schedule.
  • A growing number of children find it easier to talk to dad. In 2013–2014, 66% of 11-year-old girls and 75% of boys the same age say they find it easy to talk to their father about things that really bother them, up from 56% and 72%, respectively, two decades earlier.

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and it will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Enjoy our new timeline, and happy Father’s Day to Canada’s 8.6 million dads!

Download the Fifty Years of Men, Work and Family in Canada timeline.


Modern Fathers Reshaping the Work–Family Relationship

Nathan Battams

Canada’s “family landscape” is constantly evolving, with social, economic, cultural and environmental forces shaping and redefining family roles and relationships. Fatherhood is no exception, and today’s increasingly diverse 8.6 million dads in Canada are now taking a much greater role in family life than in previous generations.1 Many are moving away from the “traditional” breadwinning father figure to embrace a more caring role and are assuming more household management responsibilities. In doing so, modern dads are renegotiating and reshaping the relationship between fatherhood and work.

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

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

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

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

Family relationships benefit from dads increasing involvement at home

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

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

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

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

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

Work–life balance on modern fathers’ minds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



1 Caryn Pearson, “The Impact of Mental Health Problems on Family Members,” Health at a Glance (October 7, 2015), Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-624-X.Link: http://bit.ly/1Lio1HL

Public Policy Brief – Flex: From a Privilege to a Right

Sara MacNaull

Working family members are multi-taskers, managing a variety of responsibilities at home, at work and in their communities. While family members demonstrate a great deal of adaptability in managing multiple roles, they benefit from workplaces that are respectful of their lives outside of work and responsive to their requests for flexibility and autonomy.

Workplace flexibility continues to be a topic of great interest to individuals, families, employers and policy makers. There are many approaches to creating flexible work environments, including modifications, adaptations and accommodations that impact when, where and how work gets done.

Workplace flexibility: A win-win-win strategy

Families are not the only ones who benefit from workplace flexibility as family members strive to effectively manage their multiple roles. Employers are embracing workplace flexibility as a key lever to attract and retain top talent in a competitive job market. Society benefits by having a stable workforce and an economy fuelled by organizations operating at peak performance.

Recently the Prime Minister of Canada identified workplace flexibility as a “top priority” in the mandate letter to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. In particular, the Minister was instructed to:

Work with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to fulfill our commitments to provide more generous and flexible leave for caregivers and more flexible parental leave.

… and to

Amend the Canada Labour Code to allow workers to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employers and consult with provinces and territories on the implementation of similar changes in provincially regulated sectors.

The proposed amendments to the Labour Code would mean that employees would be given the legal right to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employers.

Currently, in Canada there is no formal, legal mechanism for employees to request flex, and supervisors/managers are not legally required to consider such requests – the response is at the discretion of the employer. The right to request flex is considered by some to be a privilege for employees, and depends on the supervisor/manager’s personal perspective. Responses to requests are shaped by the culture of their organization. Right-to-request-flex legislation would change this by formalizing and normalizing this process while ensuring that employers justify why they refuse to grant the request, should they need to do so.

The Vanier Institute recently studied workplace flexibility in a benchmarking initiative that included a survey of employers and HR professionals. This survey found that employers offering flex is no longer considered optional, and is in fact key to attracting and retaining top talent in today’s competitive labour market. Many participants in the study also said that flex is already a right in their organization, as opposed to an employee privilege.

Flex is already a right elsewhere

Countries such as Australia and the U.K., as well as parts of the U.S., have implemented the right to request flex in their respective employment/labour legislations and/or regulations. However, eligibility requirements vary and, depending on the jurisdiction, it may not be available to all employees.

In Australia, the right to request flexible work arrangements (FWAs) was introduced through the Fair Work Act 2009, which provides employees who meet the eligibility requirements the legal right to request flexible work. Eligible employees include those:

  • Who are parents or who have the responsibility to care for a child who is school-aged or younger
  • With caregiving responsibilities (as defined by the Carer Recognition Act 2010)
  • With a disability
  • Who are aged 55 years and up
  • Who are experiencing family violence or caring for someone who is experiencing family violence
  • Who have worked for the employer for at least one year (though long-term casual employees may also be eligible)

In the U.K., the right to request flex was extended to all employees in 2014. Previously, this right had been limited to parents and carers, similar to some of the eligibility requirements in Australia.

In the U.S., eligibility requirements vary depending on the legislation within a particular jurisdiction. For example, employees within the state of Vermont were granted the right to request flex in 2014, the same year in which both the city of San Francisco employees and all federal U.S. employees were granted such a right.

Right to request differs from right to flex

In Australia and the U.K., the employer must provide, in writing, specific reasons for refusing a request for flex. The refusal must be due to reasonable business grounds, such as extra costs to the employer; significant loss in productivity, quality or performance; resulting inability to meet customer demands; or inability to reorganize work among other staff members.

While details of the pending right to request flex legislation are not public as of publication date, measures to facilitate flexible work could provide families with further support as they strive to manage their various responsibilities, commitments and obligations. For families, this means that work–life quality may be improved by having the time and energy to care for others and care for oneself while remaining a productive and committed employee.


Alternative work arrangements (AWAs) are temporary arrangements that differ from the norm within an organization (i.e. standard “9-to-5” workdays) and are case-by-case “one-offs” tailored to an employee’s short-term needs. These arrangements focus on the employee’s time in the office. Examples may include a phased return from maternity or parental leave for a pre-defined period of time or an adjustment to start and end times during the recovery period following an illness or injury.

Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) allow employees more flexibility and autonomy around when, where and how works gets done. FWAs help employees manage their multiple roles inside and outside the office. Though some employees may find it daunting to ask their supervisors for flex, as it may be perceived as an employee privilege, for many families it’s a necessity in order for them to manage the everyday needs of family. Examples of FWAs include remote work, compressed work weeks, job sharing and flex hours.

Customized work arrangements (CWAs) are individualized and personalized work arrangements that tailor when, where and how work gets done. Unlike AWAs and FWAs, these arrangements are fluid, extend over long periods or are modified as circumstances change. Employees are evaluated on output and productivity through a results-based approach, rather than a “clock-in/clock-out” approach focused on time spent physically present in the workplace. Examples include Mass Career CustomizationTM, for example, workload dial-up or dial-down, depending on an employee’s situation.


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

This article can be downloaded in PDF format here.


Timeline: Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada

While mothers in Canada have always played a central role in family life, there’s no question that the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that shape – and are shaped by – motherhood have evolved over time.

A growing share of mothers are managing paid work and family responsibilities compared with previous generations, and the dynamic relationships between women, work and family continue to evolve. To explore these relationships through a broader lens, we’ve created a 50-year timeline for Mother’s Day 2016 that explores some of the long-term trends over the past half century, including:

  • An increase in women’s participation in the paid labour force, which has grown from 40% in 1968 to 82% in 2014 for those aged 25 to 54
  • A growing share of “breadwinning” moms among single-earner couple families, which has steadily increased from 4% of earners in these families in 1976 to 21% in 2014
  • A significant drop in the low-income rate among single mothers, which has fallen from 54% in 1976 to 21% in 2008
  • A declining fertility rate, which stood at 3.94 women per children in 1959 during the peak of the baby boom, but has since dropped to 1.61 in 2011
  • A continually rising average age of first-time mothers, up from 24.3 years of age in 1974 to 28.5 in 2011
  • A greater amount of time mothers are spending with family, with women reporting 421 minutes (7 hours) per day with family in 2010, up from 403 minutes (6.7 hours) in 1986

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and it will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Enjoy our new timeline, and happy Mother’s Day to Canada’s 9.8 million moms!

Download the Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada timeline.

Work–Family Conflict Among Single Parents in the Canadian Armed Forces

Alla Skomorovsky, PhD

The demands of military life can be particularly stressful for military families due to deployments, relocations, foreign residency, periodic family separations, risk of injury or death of the military member, and long and unpredictable duty hours.

Although military families can usually manage demands individually, research has shown that competing and intersecting demands leave some feeling overwhelmed. This can be particularly true for single parents in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), who often manage these multiple roles with fewer resources. This could help explain why enlisted single parents (men and women) have been shown in previous research to be less satisfied with military life than their married counterparts.

Work–family conflict occurs when demands in the work domain are incompatible with demands in the family domain. Despite growing evidence that work–family conflict could be a considerable problem in Canada’s military families, the number of studies examining this topic is relatively small. In a recent qualitative study, the majority of single CAF parents reported that they were able to balance work and family life, but they admitted it was a challenge, primarily because many single parents are often the sole caregivers and financial providers for their families. As one study participant put it,

“So far, the balance between my professional life and my personal life has been quite good. But it’s difficult of course when it’s just me – having to stay late, for example, and still having to work on my phone. I have to have a BlackBerry because I can’t stay late – not as late as I used to anyway. But pretty good, overall.”

Little research exists about work–family conflict in Canada’s military families

Single CAF parents may face multiple deployments and must deal with being separated from their children and not being able to care for them. Caregiver arrangements may be more complicated in these families, as, for example, the children may have to relocate to another city to live with grandparents when their mother or father leaves for a mission. In addition, single parents who experience frequent relocations may find it challenging to establish or re-establish local social networks, which are often a valuable source of support.

A few studies have suggested that single-parent military families have unique military life-related challenges and substantial work–family conflict, but there isn’t much research about this topic in a Canadian context. Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA) conducted a study to address this gap and explore the main concerns of single CAF parents. An electronic survey was distributed to a random sample of Regular Force CAF members who had children 19 years of age or younger and were single, divorced, separated or widowed. In total, the results were available for 552 single parents.

Single parents identified financial strain as a top concern; this is consistent with previous research showing that economic hardship is a leading cause of stress for single parents, both military and civilian. The second challenge for single parents was the worry about their child’s health and well-being. Although it has not been previously identified in research of civilian single parents, it is possible that this type of strain was high due to frequent parental absences related to deployment, training, unpredictable/inconsistent hours of work or overtime, common aspects of a military lifestyle. More than 60% of respondents identified financial strain and worry about health and well-being to be of considerable or extreme concern for them (see Figure 1). A large number of these parents (over 50%) were also concerned about dealing with adolescent years, doing the right thing for their children and their heavy demands and responsibilities.



Managing parental and work responsibilities is not impossible, but it is hard

Single parents were asked to rate the extent to which their responsibilities as a service member and as a parent are in conflict. Most do not find it impossible to meet both parental and work responsibilities (see Figure 2). However, about 55% of respondents believe that it is not easy to be both a good parent and service member and feel divided between work and family responsibilities. About 44% of these parents believe it is hard to balance military and parental roles. This is consistent with previous research showing that single military parents are susceptible to experiencing work and family conflict.




Further, participants were asked two questions about family life challenges due to occupational demands. When asked about the influence of work on family life, the vast majority of single military parents reported that work interferes with family life to at least some extent (see Figure 3). Approximately 70% of respondents noted that occupational demands sometimes conflicted with their family life, and 64% disclosed that they had missed family events due to occupational requirements.

In order to examine organizational support available to single parents in greater detail, single parents were asked whether they were aware of CAF programs and policies that could assist them in managing family and work demands. The results demonstrate that many single CAF parents are not aware of services available to them. For example, less than 10% of the participants mentioned that they were aware of Military Family Resource Centre services available to single military parents. This feeling was shared by a participant in the previously-mentioned qualitative study:

“Not everything is well advertised; you need to go and ask. If you are moving to the larger city, look for housing close to a [Military Family Resource Centre].”



Single CAF parents would benefit from work–family supports and greater awareness

Many single CAF parents are thriving, but the work–family conflict remains a considerable concern for some. A qualitative study participant expressed:

“I’m mainly concerned that being in the Canadian Forces may throw something unexpected at me, where I will be left in a position to choose between my career or my children.”

Single CAF parents could benefit from an increased awareness of, and access to, family assistance programs (e.g., Family Care Plans) and other programs, including counselling services. Furthermore, increasing awareness among managers and leaders about the work–family conflict challenges of single CAF parents could foster a more flexible and accommodating work environment. Finally, the ability of these parents to manage work and family responsibilities could be enhanced by tailoring programs and services to single parents (e.g., support groups) in order to increase emotional and instrumental support.

Although this research examines the main challenges and work–family conflict among single-parent CAF families, this is only a first step toward a full understanding of their well-being and unique needs. To further address the current gaps in knowledge, DGMPRA has developed a comprehensive research program related to military families, collaborating extensively with academia (e.g., via Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research). This body of research seeks to enhance the lives of Canadian military personnel, Veterans and their families. Supporting families is codified in the Canadian Forces Family Covenant, which acknowledges the immutable relationship between the state of military families and the CAF operational capacity.


We recognize the important role families play in enabling the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Forces and we acknowledge the unique nature of military life. We honour the inherent resilience of families and we pay tribute to the sacrifices of families made in support of Canada…

Canadian Forces Family Covenant


Consistent with the Family Covenant, it is important to continue developing the expert knowledge necessary to care for these families and to find ways to best meet their unique needs and ensure their individual and family well-being.


Dr. Alla Skomorovsky is a research psychologist at Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA), where she is a leader of the Military Families Research team. She conducts quantitative and qualitative research in the areas of resilience, stress, coping, personality and well-being of military families.

Dr. Skomorovsky received the inaugural Colonel Russell Mann Award for her research on work–family conflict and well-being among CAF parents at Forum 2015 – an event hosted by the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research.

This article can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking here.


Suggested Reading

T. Allen, D. Herst, E. Bruck and M. Sutton, “Consequences Associated with Work-to-Family Conflict: A Review and Agenda for Future Research,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5(2), 278–308 (2000).

G.L. Bowen, D.K. Orthner and L. Zimmerman, “Family Adaptation of Single Parents in the United States Army: An Empirical Analysis of Work Stressors and Adaptive Resources,” Family Relations, 42, 293–304 (1993).

A.L. Day and T. Chamberlain, “Committing to Your Work, Spouse, and Children: Implications for Work–Family Conflict,” Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68(1), 116–130 (2006).

A. Skomorovsky and A. Bullock, The Impact of Military Life on Single-Parent Military Families: Well-Being and Resilience (Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis Technical Report DRDC-RDDC-2015-R099), Ottawa, ON: Defence Research and Development Canada (2015).

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

Nathan Battams

This article can be downloaded in PDF format here.

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

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

Accommodation under human rights requires flexibility from employees and employers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caregiving accommodation reduces costs for employees and employers

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

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

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

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

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

Many diverse approaches can facilitate family caregiving

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

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

Family caregiving rates expected to grow

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

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

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

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

Family caregiving is diverse and complex – just like families

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

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

Click to enlarge

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

Work–care reconciliation benefits families and employers

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

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

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


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


Caring Enough to Flex, Flexing Enough to Care

Sara MacNaull

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

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

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

Aging and Caregiving in Canada

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

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

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

Source: Statistics Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dads Play a Greater Role at Home: Family Life Benefits

Nathan Battams

(Updated March 21, 2016)

As Canadians prepare to celebrate Father’s Day, modern fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers are redefining what exactly fatherhood means to families and society. Canada’s 8.6 million increasingly diverse dads are taking on a greater role in their children’s lives. This evolution in fatherhood has had positive impacts inside and outside the family home.

“This is one of the biggest social changes in our time,” says Vanier Institute of the Family CEO Nora Spinks. “The ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family model accounts for fewer and fewer of Canada’s families as family forms and relationships become more diverse and complex.”

There’s no question that fatherhood has become more diverse over the past 50 years. A growing share of Canada’s dads was born outside the country, bringing with them ideas of what fatherhood means. More same-sex couples are raising children, one in five being male couples. Over the past two decades, there has been an increase in lone-parent families headed by men. The number of indigenous fathers is growing at a faster rate than those in the general population. This evolution of Canada’s family portrait means that there is no single “fatherhood experience.”

The classic father figure has traditionally been portrayed as an emotionally distant figure whose primary role was to earn the family income. This depiction overlooks the diversity that has always existed. Historically, many women have played a role in managing family finances and generating income inside and outside the paid labour force. In 1976, one-third of Canadian families with at least one child under age 16 had two earners in the paid labour force. By 2014, this accounted for 55% of these families.

A growing number of dads now play a bigger role in their children’s lives. In fact, an increasing number of dads are leaving the breadwinning to their partners altogether so they can focus on raising children. In 2014, 11% of single-earner families with a “stay-at-home” parent had a father who was staying at home – up from only 1% in 1976.

Whether they’re working or not, fathers are spending more time with their families than in the past. According to Statistics Canada, men spent 360 minutes per workday with family members in 1986. By 2010, this reached 379 minutes. Three-quarters of surveyed Canadian dads say that they’re more involved with their children than their father had been with them.

Fathers who decide to play a greater role in the lives of their children aren’t anomalies. In a recent study comparing parental leave in Quebec with the rest of Canada, author Ankita Patnaik found that when given the option, most men embrace paternal leave. Since 2006, the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) has offered non-transferable leave for men, making Quebec the only province where father-specific leave is available.

Patnaik found that before QPIP, Quebec fathers took an average two weeks of leave. After the parental leave policy was reformed, the average Quebec father took the full five weeks available under the paternity leave program. In addition, the share of Quebec fathers taking parental leave jumped from 27.8% in 2005 to 78.3% in 2014. Outside Quebec, only 9.4% of recent dads report taking leave.

Patnaik’s study also found that in Quebec, there was a “large and persistent impact” on gender dynamics in the three-year period following parental leave. Fathers remained more likely to do housework, while mothers were more likely to engage in paid work. Quebec dads also spent an average half-hour more per day at the family home.

Father involvement can have a positive impact on child development and well-being. Literature reviews from the Father Involvement Research Alliance (FIRA) have found many benefits of “highly involved” fathers. Children in these families experience higher levels of cognitive development and resilience. They tend to perform better in school. They also report higher levels of life satisfaction and psychological well-being.

Modern fathers continue their involvement in the lives of their children even after a marriage or common-law relationship has come to an end. More than one-third of divorced or separated parents share or alternate major decision making related to their children. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of divorced or separated parents report that their children either spend equal time living with mom and dad, or live primarily at the father’s residence.

In a 2014 report from the Involved Father and Gender Equity Project, interviews with new fathers revealed that family life benefited from their expanding involvement. Many said that their entry into fatherhood was a “transformational journey” that gave them a new outlook on life and relationships. They also reported that greater participation in housework and child-rearing promoted equality within their relationships. Many said that community supports and connections with other fathers encouraged their increased involvement.

“While modern fatherhood today consists of many diverse experiences, today’s generation of fathers is certainly taking on a greater, broader role in family life than in the past,” says Spinks. “As they’re sharing the breadwinning role, spending more time with family and taking more parental leave, these dads are changing what fatherhood means in Canada.”


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