A guide for parents in Canada

Do you work a non-standard schedule?

As parents know, standard child care operating hours do not meet the needs of shift workers who work early morning, evenings, overnight shifts, rotating and split shifts, casual/on-call jobs, and/or other irregular shifts. Most regulated child care, especially centres, operate on a ‘standard’ work day basis - roughly 7:30 am to 6 pm.

A new paper from the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, funded by CUPW and Canada Post provides a snapshot of non-standard hours child care in Canada: Work around the clock: A snapshot of non-standard hours child care in Canada.

The executive summary is available in both English and French.

Overall, regulated child care options for parents who work non-standard hours are very limited in all regions of Canada.

  • “Non-standard” work hours include a wide variety of possibilities that are now common— from slightly extended hours (from as early as 6:00 AM  or until 7:30 PM, for example), to full overnights, to weekends.
  • The need for non-standard hours child care has been identified in all regions of Canada, and by parents in the Canadian Forces.
  • While some parents choose shift work in order to accommodate family and child care needs, research shows that the majority of shift workers work shifts because they have to due to the nature of the work or for better pay and benefits.
  • Canadian experience and research show that the current funding arrangements make it financially difficult for child care services to meet  out-of-the-ordinary schedules.

Examples of extended hours care

Some provincial/ territorial governments have experimented with options or provided special funding to facilitate non-standard hours child care but these usually have not been sustained. As a result, there are few options offering regulated child care to meet parents’ non- standard schedules.

One exception is Winnipeg's Discovery Children's Centre, a large centre for multiple age groups which for some years has provided extended hours care as one part of its provision. The centre, with the help of additional funding from the Manitoba government, offers child care for extended (not overnight) hours until 12:30am on weeknights as well as child care on Saturday until 6:30pm. 

Another program, Ottawa’s A Children’s Place, provides extended 24-hour care seven days a week (overnight care) in two centres beginning with infants. A Children’s Place originally opened to cater for hospital personnel at two nearby hospitals.

Some other employers with workforces working shift work have –at different times—provided or facilitated extended hours child care, often in near-by community-based centres or in workplace-based centres. Even if these are within a specific workplace, they may also be used by families in the community.

For example, extended and overnight care in Ontario (Oshawa and Windsor) was offered in centres and in child care homes by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), subsidized by both the Ontario government and Chrysler and Ford through collective agreements. These two-decade old centres were closed in 2012 as an aging workforce, introduction of full-day kindergarten and decreased funding from both the auto manufacturers and the provincial government eroded their funding base.

kids in worker costumes

Options for parents working shift work or non-standard hours

  • Among regulated child care possibilities, regulated family child care may be more able to accommodate a shift worker’s schedule. However, care schedules are at the caregiver’s discretion.
  • A limited number of workplaces with many shift workers such as hospitals facilitate or provide extended hours child care. These may allow some use by families in the surrounding community. If these exist in your community, it may be useful to contact them.
  • A provincial government may help with extra support for extended hours care. For example, Alberta provides an Extended Hours Child Care Subsidy.
  • Most often, shift workers—especially those working rotating or irregular shifts—have  extreme difficulty arranging child care, relying on unregulated  care such as  family, friends or neighbours. When such care is not available, many parents working non-standard  hours make arrangements with an unregulated caregiver in their own, or in the caregiver’s home.

Does an employer have a duty to accommodate shift-working parents?

A recent human rights decision is relevant to the issue of parental shift work. With little or no access to appropriate child care options, a shift-working parent requested a stable shift to accommodate her family situation from her employer, the Canada Border Services Agency. Fiona Johnstone’s human rights case won at the Human Rights Tribunal. Her employer appealed the ruling but in February 2013, the federal appeals court again ruled that her employer had discriminated against her on the basis of her family status. The court found that Johnstone was unfairly denied a full time stable shift, stating that family obligations should be considered a legitimate need by the employer.