In 2014, the number of regulated child care spaces across Canada covered less than 25% of children aged 0–5 years. With severe space shortages across the country and high fees everywhere except Quebec, securing child care takes longer than most parents anticipate. Parents may be left scrambling to find something when it is time to return to work after maternity/parental leave. Families are often forced to settle for patchwork arrangements that may be of questionable quality, or they may face going into debt to pay for child care fees.
Purpose of the early outreach project
To better understand how the current child care situation affects postal worker families as well as other Canadian families, the Childcare Resource and Research Unit (CRRU) partnered with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) to conduct a study. The main purpose of the study was to look at how parents might be encouraged to seek out child care earlier in their pregnancy.
How data was gathered
The research team began by reviewing research literature to learn about any past initiatives aimed at encouraging parents to seek child care sooner. We found almost no research on this topic in Canada or in jurisdictions with similar child care issues, such as the United States. In general, there is very little research about how parents learn about or begin the process of finding child care for their new infants.
This “research gap” indicates that our concept of an early outreach strategy encouraging parents to seek out child care sooner appears to be a new one.
CUPW Parent Survey
In 2016, we developed and mailed out a survey to all CUPW member–parents currently on maternal/parental leave. The survey was designed to gather information about how and when CUPW parents arrange child care, and what factors influenced their choices.
The survey was mostly multiple-choice questions with some open-ended questions offering space for written responses. Of the 370 parents invited to participate, 91 usable surveys were received, a response rate of 25%. CRRU researchers uploaded and tabulated survey responses using Survey Monkey.
Overview of Survey Findings
The survey yielded valuable information that can both support CUPW member family needs and provide the basis for more in-depth research. Survey findings covering a number of broad topics are highlighted in this section.
Respondents from Ontario and Quebec were represented most highly, with 25 from Ontario and 27 from Quebec. Other respondents resided in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
Respondents ranged in age from 25 to 49. Of the total number of survey respondents:
When asked about which type of family leave they were currently on and their eligibility for different types of leave, respondents answered as follows:
A number of respondents commented that they would like to take longer maternity/parental leave. We do not know whether this was a personal preference or if it was specifically linked to high child care costs or lack of child care options (as some parents commented it was).
Child care subsidy system
The majority of respondents were not well informed on child care subsidies:
Child care arrangements
Sources of child care information
When asked to specify the source of information they found to be most helpful, respondents first identified Internet sources: Facebook community groups, government websites and "Mom" groups on social media. Other sources identified as most helpful were family members, friends, neighbours and community resource centres.
This group of parents generally does not consult resources such as brochures and videos about finding or choosing child care.
Aspects of child care most important to parents
Health and safety” was the overall number one most important factor to respondents when arranging care for their baby (62%). The most frequently chosen second choice was "caregiver I can trust" and the most frequently chosen third choice was "cost."
Responses to open-ended questions
Respondents were given an opportunity to write in additional information in a number of questions as well as in response to a question asking, "Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?" The majority of these responses were about high costs and inadequacy of subsidies; difficulty finding child care when working non-standard hours; and maternity/parental leave and accommodation.
Survey a broader population
The survey given to CUPW parents has been reformatted as an online survey and was made more widely available in January 2017. Expecting and new parents are already filling it out. Surveying a broader population will allow us to compare CUPW parents to parents in the general Canadian population so we can better support member–parents. We expect to collect online responses until about April 2017, when the new data will be ready for analysis and comparison with the CUPW survey data.
More focused support from the union
The findings of this research suggest that CUPW member families could benefit from more focused support from their union on arranging child care, maternity/parental leave issues and issues related to accommodation.
Building on existing union structures and previous work, this support could be offered in the following ways:
Further research on maternity and parental leave
The comments and responses to our survey suggest that there is much that is unknown about parents' views on maternity/parental leave. There is very little Canadian research or analysis of this issue at a time when the federal government is contemplating making changes to the EI rules pertaining to maternity/parental leave outside Quebec. It is expected that the broader online survey will yield further information that can help us to better understand families' maternity/parental leave situations and preferences. A natural next step would be further research targeted at maternity/parental leave.