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February 7, 2022

COVID-19 IMPACTS: Newcomer and Refugee Mothers in Canada – Final Report

Final report on COVID-19 IMPACTS: Newcomer and Refugee Mothers in Canada survey.

February 7, 2022

Battams, N., & Hilbrecht, M. (2022). COVID-19 impacts: Newcomer and refugee mothers in Canada – Final report. The Vanier Institute of the Family and Mothers Matter Centre.

A growing number of studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has had unequal impacts on the health, well-being and finances of different types of families. Newcomers and refugees, many of whom may face challenging circumstances, may be especially vulnerable as they settle into their new life in Canada.

In spring 2021, the Vanier Institute of the Family partnered with Mothers Matter Centre to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on newcomer and refugee mothers enrolled in their programs in the COVID-19 IMPACTS: Newcomer and Refugee Mothers in Canada survey. The Mothers Matter Centre is a national not-for-profit organization that runs support programs serving socially isolated and low socioeconomic status mothers and their families.

Conducted from April 13 to May 13, 2021, and with data analysis by the Association for Canadian Studies, the survey findings provide insights into how the pandemic has affected the health and well-being, work and household finances, and relationships of mothers enrolled in Mothers Matter Centre’s Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), Supporting Mothers and Raising Toddlers (SMART) and Bond to Literacy (BTL) programs.

Negative impacts on well-being but family relationships are strong

While a slight majority of surveyed mothers (52%) said they were currently satisfied or very satisfied with their lives, this is far lower than the 93% reported by Statistics Canada for women, ages 18 and older in Canada. Many reported a worsening of their mental health (44%), physical health (31%) and family well-being (27%) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly three in 10 (28%) said they had sought help for their own health/mental health or that of a family member at some point during the pandemic, but nearly (45%) said this help was not available to them when needed.

Fortunately, family relationships – an important protective factor for well-being – appear strong, with more than eight in 10 (82%) saying they and their spouse or partner have been supporting each other well. Two-thirds reported that they have been spending more quality time together (65%), have been having more meaningful conversations (66%) and feel closer (67%).

While a majority of mothers (54%) said they have felt more connected to their families at home during COVID-19, many reported feeling less connected to others outside the home, such as friends (64%) and people from their religious/spiritual community (62%).

More than nine in 10 mothers (92%) said they feel safe and secure within their home.

Family roles and responsibilities have shifted as families adapt to the pandemic

Mothers saw a substantial increase in unpaid work. More than eight in 10 (82%) reported caring for children as a main activity during the pandemic, compared with 74% before the pandemic. Similarly, household work as a main activity increased from 65% pre-pandemic to 77% during the pandemic.

When mothers were asked about changes in household work and responsibilities during the pandemic, there was a slight increase in those who said they and their partner cared for their children “about equally” (from 31% before the pandemic to 35% when surveyed), though there was a larger increase in the equal sharing of household tasks (25% to 31%). This coincides with a decrease in those reporting it is “always me” doing household tasks (from 34% to 30%).

Household finances have been affected, particularly among younger mothers

More than one in five mothers (22%) said they have experienced a “major impact” on their family’s ability to meet financial obligations and essential needs because of the pandemic (e.g., rent, utilities, groceries). More of the younger mothers in their twenties (26%) felt the impact, compared with mothers who were older. A similar percentage of participants felt that their family’s financial situation was either worse (43%) or about the same (46%), compared with before COVID-19.

A major financial impact was reported by approximately one in five refugees (18%) and non-refugees (22%); however, non-refugees were almost twice as likely to report no impact to their finances as refugees (32% and 18%, respectively).

The study carried out by the Vanier Institute for the Family revealed some already anticipated findings, including the deepening of the pre-existing economic inequities to the point of hardship and worsening mental health challenges to an already vulnerable population. Yet, we are very encouraged to find that some families valued the time in lockdown together and shared distribution of household tasks, a testament to the resilience developed during their arduous journeys to Canada.

Natasha Vattikonda, Manager of Research and Advocacy, Mothers Matter Centre

Findings from this survey offer unique insights into the experiences and well-being of newcomer and refugee mothers involved with programs offered by the Mothers Matter Centre. As we continue to navigate the pandemic and adapt to new contexts, data on these experiences and adaptations will inform and facilitate evidence-based decision-making to support these mothers.

Visit the Mothers Matter Centre website