Family caregivers need more support: study

Canada needs national strategy to support people caring for adults with long-term disabilities, says human ecology researcher.

Canada needs a comprehensive strategy to support family caregivers who bear a disproportionate share of the cost of assisting adults with long-term disabilities, according to a new study conducted for and published by the University of Alberta's Institute for Research on Public Policy.

"Families are struggling to meet conflicting demands of paid work and care giving. For many the difficulty of balancing both responsibilities has left them no choice but to miss days at work or reduce their paid work hours," said study author Janet Fast, an economist in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences who specializes in the economics of aging and the paid and unpaid care work of family members. Those who provide more hours of care are more likely to quit their jobs and may even be fired-putting them at greater risk of experiencing poor social, economic and health outcomes.

The issue also presents challenges for employers, which may face increased turnover, absenteeism, reduced productivity and more demands on employee benefit programs. Fast notes that, while some offer support such as flexible work hours and direct compensation, employers do not treat employees with adult care responsibilities as well as new parents.

Although governments have introduced new policies to enhance work-care reconciliation, there is no comprehensive public policy strategy to support family caregivers.

"Canada should follow the example of the United Kingdom and Australia, which have recognized caregivers' contributions, introduced an allowance or wage to help cover caregivers' income security needs, and explicitly codified caregivers' rights in legislation," she said.

Policy-makers should also ensure that service providers' mandates recognize caregivers' right to have their own care needs assessed and met.

Fast calls for a comprehensive caregiver policy strategy based on four pillars:

  • recognition of caregivers and their rights
  • adequate, accessible and affordable services for care receivers and caregivers
  • work-care reconciliation measures
  • measures to protect caregivers' income security.

Read the report: Caregiving for Older Adults With Disabilities: Present Costs, Future Challenges