It's time to put caring on the public policy agenda in Canada. By caring I mean the natural, freely giving care providing by individuals, families, friends and social networks.  The fact is, more care is provided in Canada by families and friends than by our formal system of care providers whether they are non profit or institutional care providers. 

Stats never tell the story but here is a partial picture of Canada as a Caring society:

  • 2.7 Million (8% of Canada's population) provide care to their aging relatives
  • Up to 90% of eldercare is delivered by families
  • 500,000 Canadians care for an adult relative with mental illness
  • 28% of Canadians provide health care assistance to a family member or friend
  • in total there are 4 million family and friends providing care in Canada
  • the majority of caregivers are women
  • 70% of caregivers are employed
  • care provided by friends to friends ranks second only to people caring for their mothers

Families, friends and households are also an important  source of social innovation, pioneering new approaches to care which eventually get adopted by organizations and systems.  PLAN is an example of family problem solving. Many of our approaches and ideas have eventually been adopted by other organizations and even governments.

Alas, this massive contribution of natural caring is under strain. For example 20% of family  care givers report a reduced ability to earn income. Perhaps we take this type of care too much for granted because it is everywhere.  There are no consistent and widespread policies on: workplace accommodation; compassionate care paid leave; caregiver tax credits; and pension security for those who come in and out of the work place because of caregiving responsibilities.

Unless these matters are addressed the alternatives are costly professional care in out of home settings which few of us would be happy with.  We are undermining one of our most treasured possessions.  "You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone."

A recent speech on the importance of caring to our society was delivered by Sherri Torjman of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy at the Canada@150 Conference held in Montreal, March 26, 2010.  Here are some excerpts from Sherri's speech:

The four million family caregivers of ailing parents and relatives with severe disabilities provide more than 80 per cent of care in this country.  Most are women – and we face unique pressures.

Caregivers often pay for basics for care receivers, many of whom live in poverty. Caregivers typically pay for disability supports not covered by medicare or private insurance.  Their employment status may be jeopardized by caregiving responsibilities.

...it's not good enough just to say: " Vital social goals should be
put on hold because there's no money."

Shift funds from institutions to home care – in recognition of family
caregivers who are the backbone of Canada's health care system.

To read Sherri's compelling and elegant speech: www.caledoninst.org

Sherri is a well respected public policy analyst in Canada and a national treasure.  She is equally interested in action and played a crucial role in the creation of the Registered Disability Savings Plan.( www.rdsp.com) Check her other publications on the Caledon website particularly Reclaiming Our Heritage. It is a clear vision of the kind of Canada we all aspire to.

Additional Resources:

Tyze – ( www.tyze.com ) a web based tool to assist in the creation of caring social networks. Led by Vickie Cammack, Tyze is a catalyst to strengthen the fabric of caring in our society.

Canadian Caregiver Coalition (http://www.ccc-ccan.ca ) a highly effective coalition pushing for family caregiver reforms.

Deloitte's annual Canadian Health Care survey:  https://www.deloitte.com/view/en_CA/ca/pressroom/ca-pressreleases-en/press-release/cdac709bf1325210VgnVCM100000ba42f00aRCRD.htm

BC Law institute's and Canadian Centre for Elder Law's Project on Family Caregiving:
http://www.bcli.org/projects/family-caregiving

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