4.5 Parenting and Family Well-being Family life is a critical element in the healthy development and well-being of children. In the decade since the World Summit for Children, some important improvements can be observed: family income is on the rise; and parent-child interaction remains a priority for the majority of parents. While there have been improvements for Canadian families, further action is needed to address the problems that adversely affect family life and child well-being.
Parent-child interaction in the home continues to be of importance to Canadian parents, according to data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY). Between 1994 and 1996, the number of parents who felt that good school grades are very important increased. By another measure, a correspondingly high percentage of parents check or help with their child=s homework. Moreover, Canadian parents are increasingly using alternative means of disciplining their children. Data from the NLSCY indicates that the number of children whose parents never use physical punishment increased significantly between 1994 and 1996 in all age categories up to age 13. For example, in 1996, 64% of children aged 2 to 11 lived with parents who never used physical punishment, having increased from 56% in 1994.
The economic status of the average Canadian family has improved over the past decade. Family income rose significantly between 1997 and 1998: average after-tax family income was $49,626 in 1998, up 3.7% from 1997, higher than the pre-recession peak of $48,807 in 1989. The increase is also the strongest annual increase since 1989. The after-tax income in 1998 for two parent families with children under 18 was $55,074, up 4.7% from the year earlier; while lone-parent families averaged $26,279 after transfers and taxes, a 7.2% increase over the same period. Studies have also shown, however, that the average Canadian family requires 75.4 weeks on the job at an average wage to cover basic annual expenses. As a result, Canadian families require significantly more than one full-time income in order to meet their average annual expenditures.
Research shows that an increasing number of Canadian parents are entering the labour force. In 1998, 72% of children in two-parent families had both their parents working outside the home. In comparison, 68% of children in lone-parent families had both their parents working outside the home, up 7% from 1995. Also, Canadian parents are spending more of their time on paid and unpaid work, including a range of activities associated with employment and household tasks. In 1998, married men and women (aged 25-44) with children who were employed full-time spent approximately 43% of their time on paid and unpaid work, while lone-parent mothers (aged 25-44) spent 45% of their time on the same duties. Between 1991 and 1998, there was a 6% increase in the number of workers with dependants who reported excess tension due to work/family conflicts.
Over the course of the 1990s, progress in reducing poverty among families with children in Canada has been mixed, with some recent improvements being coupled with increases over the decade as a whole. First, with increased co-operation on measures addressing low-income among families and children, the collective actions of federal, provincial and territorial governments are bearing fruit. In recent years, there has been a reduction in the number of children living in low-income families. In 1998, 14.1% of Canadian children lived below Statistics Canada=s low-income cut-offs **, a reduction from the 1997 level of 16.3%. However, levels of children living in low-income have not dropped as significantly as in previous economic recoveries. In addition, among certain population groups, poverty has proven to be more widespread. Aboriginal children, for example, experience a significantly higher incidence of poverty than the general Canadian population.
Reducing domestic poverty is an ongoing priority of the Government of Canada. As a result of funding increases between 1996 and 2001, maximum annual benefits under the National Child Benefit for a family with two children will increase by 79 percent from $2,540 to $4,544. Provincial-territorial and First Nations reinvestment and additional investment will reach $600 million in 2000-01 with these funds directed to a range of programs including child benefits, extended health care coverage, child care and children-at-risk services.
While most Canadian families faced increased economic and time pressures, the majority of families continued to cope well, and by some measures, seem to have improved. In 1996, 93% of Canadian children up to age 13 lived in families that functioned well, defined by a family=s ability to cope with everyday problems, to communicate, and to interact with each other. By this definition, only 7% of families were considered to be having difficulty functioning, a slight improvement over 1994.
A growing body of scientific research suggests that success in a child's early years is a key to long‑term healthy development. Building on this knowledge, and to assist parents in balancing work and family responsibilities, the Government of Canada has made a commitment to give parents the opportunity to take more leave from work to spend more time caring for their new-born or newly adopted children in the critical first year of their life. Parental leave under the Employment Insurance (EI) program will be extended and benefits made more flexible and more accessible effective January 1, 2001. The EI program currently provides up to six months of maternity and parental leave benefits. The replacement rates for those benefits range from 55 per cent of insurable earnings up to a maximum of 80 per cent for low‑income families eligible for the Family Income Supplement. The federal government has proposed that the maximum amount of child‑related leave be doubled to one year. Benefits will be made more accessible by reducing the entrance requirements from 700 hours of insurable hours of work to 600. Parents receiving benefits will also be allowed to work approximately one day per week without seeing their benefits reduced. The extended benefits will be available to parents with a child born or adopted on or after December 31, 2000.