Family Week draws attention to strains at home

First published:
Oct. 8, 2003

Juggling work, children, a partner and aging parents can be overwhelming, but research shows time and again the importance of strong, healthy families.

This week is National Family Week, organized by Family Service Canada. The non-profit group hopes to raise debate and, in turn, present some solutions around creating and keeping a balance between personal and professional demands.

The timing is excellent. Businesses, organizations and schools need to address the stress families face. With economists, business leaders and society pushing an agenda focusing on productivity, efficiency, cost-savings and profitability, it is increasingly difficult for workers to bare the burden.

This is confirmed by investigations done by the Canadian Policy Research Network, who undertook several major studies over a 10-year period with the help of Carleton University and the University of Western Ontario.

Nearly 30,000 employees were surveyed in a diverse number of organizations across all sectors of the economy. Between 1991 and 2001, there was a 12 per cent rise in the number of people who felt overloaded by work demands. Job stress also rose 14 per cent over the same period.

This is supported by studies done over nearly 10 years by Statistics Canada showing that one-third of working Canadians cite unreasonable demands or long working hours as their biggest stress.

In its Workplace and Employees Survey in 1999, Statistics Canada found access to family-friendly work arrangements such as telecommuting, childcare and elder care were “extremely low”, according to a report called Evolving Workplace.

It also found those companies who did provide some of these services never did it because of the personal needs of employees. Usually it happened by chance or because companies were small and flexible, often less than 10 employees. And those who were lucky enough to get this kind of support were full-time employees. Part-time workers suffered even more.

These pressures drastically affect families. The Canadian Policy Research Network study found three in five employees with work overload put off starting a family because of demands at work. Those surveyed also said they decided to have fewer children because of heavy workloads.

The study also showed four in five employees with work overload said it negatively spilled over into family life, affecting things like having meals together or engaging in fun activities with family members.

These must be dealt with directly. Things like work hours, the ability to refuse overtime, work flexibility and the financial situation of families must be addressed.

Here in Northumberland County, we must take this debate very seriously. Social issues like this can be very complex and demand broader discussion; there is no reason why we cannot deal with some of these issues as a community.

We have already witnessed the success of programs such as Early Years, Rebound Youth Services, The Family Treatment Coalition, and a variety of program put on by the the Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit, among others. But often these services are aimed at younger children and parents, usually infant to 12-years old.

Teenagers and their parents do not receive the same level of services. And, as we have witnessed recently in Cobourg with the clash between residents and the skateboarders in Donnegan Park, finding solutions can be quite difficult.

Municipal candidates for the upcoming election must address these issues during the campaign. Certainly things like development of subdivisions, economic development, policing, parking, and main street revitalization often draw attention.

But putting services in place for families should also be on the table. Too many times, civic politicians think building a new arena or ball diamond is the carrot to be dangled in front of voters to appease families.

And while it may be nice to have young sports teams and youth organizations come to council and get their picture taken with the mayor, this is no replacement for solid policy and action.

Funding for libraries to create integrated programs for children and, most importantly, teenagers must be a priority. These must be free to ensure accessibility for all.

Along with this should come free recreational programs that do not involve user pay schemes or high-cost memberships to facilities.

Carolyn Campbell’s youth study, supported by the federal and provincial governments, gave some concrete framework. It needs to be followed up and not allowed to gather dust.

Braver politicians might even be prepared to take on the Sunday shopping debate once again. After nearly a decade, it might be worth the time to see if it is truly a benefit or not. It may be time to bring about a single day of rest, not necessarily Sunday, but at least one day where people could spend time with family.

Municipal politicians should also lobby heavily for a raise in the minimum wage to ensure families can have a decent income. Also municipal leaders should champion an increase the rate of payment to those on welfare and disability. While these are under provincial jurisdiction, the new Liberal government has promised to work with closer with municipalities. That relationship could be truly tested with these community-driven efforts.

Rather than the tired debates that get rehashed during a municipal campaign or the lame excuses of employers, it would be nice to see some thinking outside the box to benefit families.

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