Child Care Barriers to Full
Workforce Participation Experienced by Parents of Children with
Special Needs - and Potential Remedies
Sharon Hope Irwin - Director, SpeciaLink
Donna S. Lero - University of Guelph, Centre for Families, Work
Based on the research findings and the parents'
suggestions, our recommendations to CUPW are as follows:
That CUPW continue its role as a leading advocate
for progressive public policies that support children and families
and honour ILO commitments to social and economic equality,
and strengthen its role as a leading force in the labour movement
by negotiating strong family-supportive policies for its members.
7.1 Public Policy
1. We recommend that CUPW continue to promote,
support and advocate for a comprehensive national child care
program, for policies that promote employment and pay equity,
and for policies that honour ILO conventions respecting the
rights of workers with family responsibilities to equitable
treatment in the workplace, and which encourage equitable
treatment of persons with disabilities.
Members are well aware that the Child Care
Fund cannot solve the basic child care issues that they face,
and they support measures that help build strong publicly
supported child care programs at the community level.
7.2 Membership Services and EducationCUPW,
in concert with its members, should review existing workplace
practices and policies prior to re-negotiating the Collective
Agreement in order to promote greater flexibility and support
to its members with family responsibilities - particularly parents
of children with special needs.
7.3 Special Leave
2. We recommend that CUPW review the language
in the Collective Agreement related to special leave and other
leave provisions, and note the numerous complaints and confusions
by members. Special leave is by far the largest area of complaint
from members with children who have special needs.
Many members with children who have special
needs have stopped requesting special leave, feeling that
they may be hassled by their supervisors or can't wait until
a grievance is settled before receiving pay, knowing that
they cannot afford to absorb the loss of pay, if they lose
Other members find that decisions made about
eligibility for special leave are arbitrary. Is it only available
for "family emergencies" or is its implication broader?
One member mentions receiving special leave while a child
was in a coma, but being denied it while the child remained
in a "between life and death situation" in the Intensive
Many members expressed a wish that the union
would play a more active role in taking their grievances forward
and in counseling them as to the likelihood that their grievances
would be won.
A "library" or "catalog"
of CUPW grievances, sorted by topic and outcome, that could
help members make informed decisions about whether to grieve
a particular decision would be useful.
3. We also recommend that CUPW develop an
ongoing mechanism to monitor and improve members' understanding
of the special leave provision and other types of leave to
which they are entitled.
7.4 Other Membership Issues
4. We recommend that CUPW, in concert with
the membership, review other policies that can provide additional
flexibility to workers who have children and, by extension,
to other workers with dependent care responsibilities, related
to the assignment of evening, night, and rotating shifts.
It is suggested that policies be reviewed to exempt certain
members from shift assignments that create undue hardship
or greater inequities, and consequently have negative effects
on workers' morale and effectiveness and/or compromise their
health and well-being. Further, we suggest that workplace
practices and union policies allow members options to switch
shifts with co-workers under mutually agreeable circumstances,
and minimize arbitrary changes to shift assignments with little
5. We recommend that CUPW review current
union practices that might inadvertently preclude the active
participation of certain members - particularly parents of
children with special needs and other members with family
responsibilities. Particularly, we suggest that union locals
and the National Executive Board be sensitive to the scheduling
of meetings, consultations, conference calls, etc., to ensure
that parents of children with special needs can participate.
All union activities that encourage members' participation
probably require services or resources for child care.
6. We recommend that educational materials
be designed and disseminated to co-workers about disability
and about its impact on families. Parents of children with
special needs indicate that an important concern for them
is the lack of awareness and understanding of their circumstances,
and appreciation for the fact that caring for a child with
special needs is often expensive, time consuming, emotionally
draining and physically exhausting. While they love their
children - and often go to extreme lengths to continue to
function as their primary caregivers - they cope with limited
and diminishing supports from all levels of government; health,
social service, and education authorities; insurance programs;
and even the voluntary agencies that may have been helpful
in the past. If disability-related issues were better understood
by their co-workers, they feel that they would get the support
7. We recommend that CUPW develop an outreach
initiative to members with children who have special needs,
exploring ways to get them involved in union activities. Parents
of children with special needs seem to require effective,
inexpensive and (when needed) anonymous or confidential communication
and input on matters that affect them. The use of an 800 telephone
number and electronic mail and/or bulletin board could serve
this purpose, provided that all members have access to these
numbers. A regular section of the newsletter, focusing on
issues relating to special needs, might be useful as well.
7.5 In Negotiating the Next Collective Agreement
8. We recommend that CUPW, in its upcoming
negotiations, bargain to improve provisions for health-related
benefits to members and their families and recognize that
such benefits are vitally important to the health and well-being
of all members - and most particularly for parents of children
with special needs and others who care for dependent family
Many members mention the increasing financial
burden of prosthetic devices, therapies, and uninsured health-related
supplies that they face as provinces cut back on health care.
For example, one member reported that her province pays for
leg braces once a year, but that a six-year-old needs new
ones every six months (at a bi-yearly cost of $2,000). Non-CUPW
informants provide a futuristic picture on this issue, since
they are more likely to have already been hurt by cuts to
their employer-supported extended health policies as well.
9. We recommend that CUPW take whatever
steps are necessary to ensure that such policies as special
leave are administered fairly and equitably, and in ways that
meet the needs of its members. To that end, we recommend that
CUPW highlight this as an urgent issue for CPC, and urge the
Corporation to ensure that supervisors understand the intent
of leave provisions and receive information and training on
how to minimize additional problems related to documentation
and communication with members at a time when support and
compassion are most needed.
10. Further, parents of children with special
needs feel that supervisors and other management people often
show little sensitivity to their situations. We recommend
that CUPW share the educational materials it develops, as
well as the results of this study with its Employer, and participate
with them in developing plans to ensure that supervisors receive
training to better support members with children who have
11. We recommend that CUPW consider negotiating
an expansion in the Collective Agreement to provide more flexibility
for members to attend to medical and therapeutic appointments
of their children, as well as to the more frequent emergencies
that these children experience, because of the nature of disabilities/health
impairments. (Quebec labour legislation as well as many Collective
Agreements contains a provision for 5 days of family leave.
This leave is in addition to special leave, which seems to
generally be seen as leave for emergencies.)
7.6 The Child Care Fund
12. We strongly support CUPW's efforts to
develop innovative policies and programs to extend the use
of the Child Care Fund to better serve the needs of its members.
To that end, we endorse efforts to be as inclusive as possible
in the design of pilot projects and longer term undertakings,
and to recognize the specific needs and inequitable access
to community-based resources of certain populations within
its membership - particularly parents of children with special
13. We recommend that CUPW, through its
Child Care Fund, embark on a pilot program specifically to
address the unmet and diverse needs of members who have children
with a disability or long-term health condition. In particular,
we endorse efforts to provide flexible, individualized supports,
especially over the summer months, to allow children to maintain
their involvements with peers and to promote children's continuing
learning and development after the school year ends. A flexible
program should enable parents to purchase equipment and services
that are important for their child's health, development,
and social integration, and to provide additional respite
and relief, and support to caregivers and community-based
programs that provide care for members' children with special
needs. This pilot program should include the development of
principles and policies for other initiatives designed to
support members with children who have special needs and include
a well-designed evaluation component to determine how well
objectives are met.
14. We further recommend that CUPW bargain
for a larger Child Care Fund, in order to better address issues
that affect its membership with children, including children
who are beyond the ordinary ages for "child care."
In the case of children with special needs, dependent status
is often life-long, and members' "children" are
often adults living at home and requiring a variety of care
supports. Emergency care and respite access would seem to
be family support areas that all members need.
to top ]
SpeciaLink: The National Centre for Child Care Inclusion
76 Cottage Road,
Sydney, NS B1P 2C7
Phone (902) 562-1662
FAX (902) 539-9117
Contact us by email
© 2004-2010 SpeciaLink. All rights reserved.
Site maintenance by [design by Billie Carroll]