Non-Standard Work and Child Care in Canada: A Challenge for parents, Policy Makers, and Child Care Provision


The researchers conclude that it is not reasonable to expect non-standard hours child care services to become much more available and sustainable without major changes in child care policies and provision that address the significant issues of accessibility, affordability and quality

The researchers also conclude that serious thought needs to be given to modifying employment policies to respond to the growing share of workers with non-standard and precarious work.


Many Canadian parents of young children don’t work typical 9-to-5 work hours and face serious challenges finding childcare – and the crisis is likely to grow, concludes a new report co-written by a University of Guelph child care policy expert.

The comprehensive report found that nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) of Canadian families with a child under the age of six have at least one parent who works non-standard hours. That works out to approximately 1.5 million parents in Canada. “Many parents with young children work non-standard hours or have rotating shifts that may include nights or weekends. Some have jobs in which they little advance notice of schedule changes. All these situations play havoc with parents’ ability to secure high quality childcare,” said the report’s first author Donna Lero, professor emerita in U of G’s Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition.

The team worked collaboratively with Statistics Canada to analyze data from the General Social Survey on Families, spoke to parents juggling non-standard work hours, assessed federal and provincial child care initiatives and policies, profiled child care programs that offer non-standard hours care, and made recommendations for changes.

Key Findings

  1. Non-standard work schedules are increasingly prevalent among parents with young children.

Almost four in ten (39%) families with a child under 6 years of age have at least one parent who works non-standard hours (a schedule other than regular weekdays). About 1.5 million parents of young children in Canada worked a non-standard schedule in 2016-2017. More than one in four mothers and one in four fathers who worked at a job or business have non-standard work hours (27% of mothers and 27% of fathers). Almost one sixth of these parents work regular evenings or nights, but three quarters have rotating shifts or irregular hours, and many may have little advance notice of their work hours. High rates of non-standard work have characterized the Canadian economy for well over a decade and are predicted to increase.

  1. Parents working non-standard hours face real challenges finding and maintaining reliable, affordable child care that meets their needs.

Parents working non-standard hours rely on complex and often unstable “packages” of child care, combining parent ‘tag-teaming’, reliance on family, and regulated or unregulated child care. The study found that mothers working non-standard hours are less likely to use licensed child care centres and preschool programs than are mothers who work standard hours and are more likely to use non-parental care arrangements on an irregular or occasional basis. Where families can find and afford regulated childcare, it may form the stable backbone of a care package.

  1. There is very limited licensed non-standard hours child care available anywhere in Canada, especially child care overnight or late into the night.

The researchers estimated that less than 2% of child care centres across Canada offer some form of non-standard hours child care. Most of these centres provide only slightly earlier opening times or slightly later closing times. Care over night or on weekends is extremely rare.

  1. Non-standard hours work and child care have gender implications.

Mothers do most of the organizing of child care “packages” and face additional challenges when work hours are not predictable. Mothers who work non-standard hours are more likely to have temporary work or work part time, and to sacrifice career opportunities and promotions to manage work and child care responsibilities.

  1. Non-standard hours child care services are even more difficult to sustain financially, operationally and administratively than regular hours services.

Non-standard hours child care services are more costly to operate, require substantially more administration, and experience more challenges recruiting and retaining staff than standard child care programs. Providing “flexibility” in child care (i.e., for parents with less predictable schedules) is especially difficult. Pilot projects and short-term funding make these services vulnerable; many have opened and closed over the years.

  1.  Both federal and provincial/territorial governments express interest in the issue of non-standard hours child care – more than five years ago.

A number of provinces and territories now have various initiatives on non-standard hours child care including improved information for parents, clearer definitions, specific regulations, funding, and pilot projects, but these are limited and modest in number. The study suggests that the 2017 federal Multilateral Framework on Early Learning and Child Care has contributed to provincial/territorial engagement in non-standard hours child care.

  1.  The problems faced by parents working non-standard hours finding and affording reliable, quality child care are similar to the problems facing many other Canadian families yet are greatly magnified. Correspondingly, the issues facing non-standard hours service providers are similar to the issues facing child care service providers generally; these are also magnified.
  2. A stable, core system of quality, affordable, accessible, inclusive services is required as a foundation in order to tackle the challenges of providing more difficult-to-sustain non-standard hours services in a major way


Please contact us for a copy of the full report