Home      About Us      Measuring Inclusion Quality      Inclusion Assistance      Inclusion in the News      Inclusion Action      Resources      Links      

Ordering Information

Pay by cheque, money order, Visa or Mastercard – by mail, phone, fax or e-mail!

To order copies of any of SpeciaLink's reports, Fact Sheets, books, or videos:

flyer orderform  (348 kb)



(be sure to send your complete mailing address)


or write to us:
SpeciaLink-the National Centre for Child Care Inclusion

University of Winnipeg
2E22-515 Portage Avenue Winnipeg, MB, R3B 2E9

In Our Way
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 and Well-Being


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 a grievance.

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 Care Unit.

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 advance notice.

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 they need.

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 members.

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 special needs.

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 needs.

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.

[ back 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]