Family Policy Research and Monitoring
Epigenetic research at HELP reveals that the prevailing Nature vs Nurture debate is off the mark. The influence of the environments in which we spend our early years embeds in our brains and biology. And thus, our genes express themselves in response to our early experiences.
Child development monitoring research at HELP also confirms that human beings are especially sensitive to our environments when we are young, well before we reach school. Early experiences, and the biological embedding, have life-long implications for individual and population-level health, well-being and success.
The quality of early environments in which children spend their time is fundamentally important. Early environments are shaped by the relationships and interactions between young children and the adults – parents, extended family and friends, caregivers and teachers, etc – that surround them. But adults are, in turn, affected by the broader social and economic context in which they live. Thus, family policy research at HELP considers how public policy can help families with young children adapt to, or change, the current context in ways that promote greater health for all.
In summary, HELPs epigenetic, developmental and family policy research all have enormously important implications for public policy and programs across Canada and internationally. HELP’s mandate includes a commitment to conduct family policy research, and to monitor family policy developments in Canada and internationally.
A Canada that Works for All Generations
The Canadian economy doubled in size since the mid-1970s, even after controlling for inflation. On average, the economy now produces an extra $35,000 per household. But despite this additional prosperity, the standard of living has declined for the generation raising young kids today. Consider three facts:
- The average household income for young Canadian couples has flat-lined since the mid-1970s, after adjusting for inflation;
- Household incomes are stagnant even though far more young women earn employment income today;
- All the while, average housing prices in Canada have skyrocketed by 76%.
Doubling of housing costs and stalling household incomes for adults who devote more time to the labour market than any previous generation, result in massive social and economic change. The generation raising kids today is squeezed for time at home; they are squeezed for income because of the cost of housing, and they are squeezed for services like child care that will help them balance successfully raising a family with earning a living. The generation raising young kids does not access its share of economic growth. UNICEF and the OECD rank Canada among the very worst industrialized countries when it comes to investing in families with preschool age children.
HELP researchers led by Dr. Paul Kershaw conduct policy research to explore what a new policy framework for families should look like, what it will cost, what are the benefits, and when do they pay for themselves.
A New Deal for Families
HELP’s research team has developed a comprehensive policy framework that is built on a foundation of scientific evidence about the importance of the early years. This framework includes three major policy thrusts: benefits for all new parents in the first 18 months of their child’s life; high quality, accessible child care services for all who need them; flexible working hours to allow parents to balance the demands of work and home life.