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 February 19, 1999 Volume 6, Number 11

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Family Care Committee established to examine University's response to changing social factors

The recently established Family Care Committee is set to look into such issues as children being brought into classrooms and laboratories and others affecting 'the sandwich generation.'

Co-chairs of the Family Care Committee Tim Archer, director of the Student Health Centre, and Alison Renny, assistant dean (undergraduate and certificate programs), Commerce. Issues ranging from ailing parents and child care affordability to job-sharing possibilities and breastfeeding in classrooms.

With big changes having occurred in family make-up in recent years and with many employees falling into the so-called "sandwich generation" (having to attend both to children and aging parents), the University is looking at how far it should go toward making its work and study environment more "family friendly."

In March, the nine-person, President Ivany-endorsed Family Care Committee* - co-chaired by Tim Archer, director of the Student Health Centre, and Alison Renny, assistant dean (undergraduate and certificate programs), Commerce - will conduct a mini-survey of faculty, staff, and students, inviting input on a host of questions concerning how such matters as child care and care of the elderly affect work performance, and vice versa.

Archer says the committee is looking at all the collective agreements to see to what extent they address these kinds of issues.

"Is there provision, for example, for one to take an ailing parent to the doctor if he or she can't get there alone? Is child care available for the employee and is it affordable? What illness-in-the-family policies are in the collective agreements and are they equitably accessible to individuals in the different work groups? What types of leave are possible? What job-sharing arrangements are provided for? Do vacation entitlements impact on family care issues? Those kinds of things."

One issue the committee must deal with, Archer says, is the fact that more children are appearing on campus.

"It's become a bigger issue for the University with more aboriginal students and the nature of their culture. We seem to be getting more children that are brought with students to class. It's one thing when it's a lecture format, but it's another when it involves labs [because] it raises potential liability issues for the University."

Alan Fogel, son of Earl Fogel, of Computing Services, and Darlene Fichter, on sabbatical from the Library, enjoyed doing some computer stuff with mom in the Library recently.

Archer says there currently is no policy regarding children in classrooms or labs - nor about such related matters as breast-feeding [in such locations].

"These are issues that are out there," he adds.

The upcoming survey, he says, will try to fill in any gaps that might exist from a number of earlier family care studies - notably, a provincially-funded study called Balancing Family and Work (1998), which was chaired by Dean Lynne Pearson, Commerce, and the 1997 Family Care Report and Recommendations that was done by Lorraine Cathro, former advisor to the president on the status of women.

He says the survey will also fulfill a requirement in the latest U of S/faculty agreement to look into these matters.

Archer acknowledges that work-production difficulties may well follow significant interruptions done for family care. But he says the literature shows that, aside from the humanitarian aspect, not invoking family friendly policies is generally more costly for the employer.

"If you work people to the point where they burn out instead of providing them with some possible time for, say, illness in the family, absenteeism rises and that's a measurable, real cost. Or if you have to recruit and train a new employee, that costs the employer money. And costs associated with EAP and stress-related leave come from a different pocket, but it still costs the institution at large."

On the positive side, he says, a family friendly policy tends to boost morale and hence productivity.

"It's no magic bullet," he adds. "It's not as if you turn a switch and all of a sudden all the problems go away...I don't think we'll ever say 'We did it.' But I think [such a policy] is worth pursuing."

The committee hopes to submit a report on its findings to the President's Office sometime in the summer or early fall.

* The other committee representatives include Keith Bell (USFA), Kara Baker (USSU), Justine Driedger (ASPA), Randy Epp (CUPE 1975), Rosanna Langer (CUPE 3287), Cindy Brown (GSA), tba (PAIRS).

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