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No 35 - 2020

Understanding Current Family Policies: Developments and Challenges
Directed by Gilles Séraphin, Nathalie St-Amour

"Family policy": How do we define it?
Gilles Séraphin, Nathalie St-Amour

Research Framework: This article is part of a broader reflection on the future of family policies, including their beneficiaries, the change of levels responsible for their development and implementation, and the delegitimization of intermediary bodies involved in this process.

Objectives: To better define the parameters of family policies and to outline the elements of a frame of reference that could be used to map the scope of this policy area in different countries.

Methodology: This article is based on the contributions in this thematic issue, a review of the literature, and the research expertise of the authors.

Results: The ideas presented in this article focus on delimiting the scope of family policies by analyzing the beneficiaries, the intervention fields, the founding principle(s) and the actors. Based on the cases of France and Quebec, the authors present, in the form of questions, the criteria that could make it possible to define how family policy is defined in a given region.

ConclusionsAt international and often at national levels, the scope of family policy still appears vague. In fact, it is impossible to provide a single and shared definition, adapted to all the countries where the term is used. Despite some commonalities, « family policy » remains difficult to define.

Contribution: The authors confirm that family policies cannot be understood without being considered in the context of the current dynamic of the social state as a whole.


The 'Hard Core' of Family Policy: the Child. Analysis of the French Case
Michel Messu

Research Framework: The article offers an overall thinking on French family policy, its history, discourses, objectives and theoretical interpretations.

Objectives: It seeks to establish that a reading from its contemporary point of departure reveals that French family policy has put children, and not primarily the family, at the center of its concerns.

Methodology: A secondary analysis of major texts dealing with this family policy, as well as a synthesis of the author’s work, provide the methodological substrate adopted for this text. A shift in analytical focus and a renewed understanding of the wide range of socio-ideological debates and public policies support the overall approach.

Results: It emerges that the historical and discursive variation of French family policy is, more or less explicitly, based on one invariant: the child. This is because the child presides over a conception of the child as a good of the nation, at the level of the republican state that post-revolutionary France has adopted. The family thus acts by delegation, and the State takes its place in case of failure or need.

Conclusions: Contributing to the satisfaction of the needs of the child in his or her family is not only the initial objective of family policies but also their current objective.

Contribution: It is therefore to the re-reading of French family policy, in the light of the social valorization of the child proclaimed by many countries, that the article commits.


The Quebec policy Les enfants au cœur de nos choix : A bold but winning gamble
Renée B. Dandurand

Research Framework: After establishing an initial family policy (with pro-birth undertones) in 1988, Quebec changed direction in 1997 by enacting new child-focused measures, i.e. Les enfants au cœur de nos choix. By offering family allowances, low-cost school child care services and the promise of a better parental insurance plan, the new policy pursued three objectives: promoting early childhood development and equal opportunities, facilitating a work-family balance and ensuring increased aid to low-income families. In 1997 the policy surprised many, given the substantial budget deficit of the time. The government was shifting from a policy based on population growth to a generous socio-democratic strategy.

Objectives: After presenting the historical context that gave rise to the implementation of an explicit family policy in Quebec, this article explains the demographic, political and economic circumstances in play prior to the adoption of the new child-focused policy.

Methodology: The analysis of the Quebec family policy presented in this article is largely based on the author’s observations and her analysis of this policy in her career.

Results: The analysis reveals that change in family policy to be a bold gamble, one that has no equivalent in North America.

Conclusions: Close examination of various studies analyzing the impacts of the policy suggests that the gamble can be considered to have been a success, one that has led to significant advances for women.

Contribution: This article provides a socio-historical reflection on the Quebec family policy and explains the context – demographic, political and economic – in which it was made and during the 1990s, its transition from a natalist policy to a socio-democratic policy that collectivizes reproductive work with young children. In addition, it provides an interpretation of the meaning and scope of this policy.


Policies and practices around institutional out-of-home care for young children in Switzerland: between disparities and inequalities
Xavier Conus, Alex Knoll

Research Framework: In Switzerland, the context of this study, as elsewhere, public policies that foster formal childcare for young children base themselves on two arguments: supporting families in achieving work/life balance and reducing educational inequalities among children.
Objectives: The objective of the study presented in this paper is to analyse the situation of formal childcare for young children in Switzerland, especially in view of tackling inequalities.
Methodology: Therefore, we have analysed the scientific publications and reports from institutional and government bodies on the topic. We have also explored the statistical databases of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (OFS) and the OECD for the international and comparative dimensions.
Results: The results show that investments in the childcare system by the Swiss public authorities are quite small. The time spent by young children in formal childcare remains quite low compared to that of the neighboring countries, while the costs incurred by the families and the share of informal childcare arrangements remain high. In addition to this, Switzerland is characterised by substantial internal disparities with regard to the formal childcare supply, the funding of the childcare system, and the costs incurred by the families.
Conclusions: Under these circumstances, we conclude that today’s formal childcare policy for young children in Switzerland rather contributes to maintaining inequalities instead of reducing them.
Contribution: As regards prospects, we expand the perspective beyond the Swiss context by discussing how establishing a formal childcare policy that really tackles inequalities involves acting on the supply and the cost system together, without neglecting the cultural dimension of childcare.


Family Policy Mechanisms and Issues in New Brunswick
Octave Keutiben

Research Framework: The publication of the New Brunswick Family Plan and the Early Learning and Child Care Action Plan sparked interest in understanding how family issues are considered in New Brunswick public policies.

Objectives: This article examines the mechanisms and issues of New Brunswick’s family policy. We first describe the New Brunswick Family Plan to underscore family policy provisions. Next, we examine the principles and implications of these provisions for families.

Methodology: The study is based on a mixed methodology. On the one hand, a qualitative analysis of documents provides an understanding of the evolution and recent changes in New Brunswick’s family policy. On the other hand, a literature review helps to characterize it and to understand how its new provisions may affect families. Some facts are illustrated with quantitative data.

Results: New Brunswick’s family policy clearly targets low-income families in order to offset the economic cost of children, encourage work and facilitate work/family reconciliation. The New Brunswick Early Learning Centre designation allows for childcare costs to be controlled and will surely have an impact on families, especially low-income and single-parent families. The low coverage rate of licenced child care will undoubtedly limit this impact.

Conclusions: Child care is dominating the current orientation of New Brunswick’s family policy. The challenge for the province will be to increase the coverage rate of child care services to contemplate creating a network of higher quality services universally accessible and affordable for all families by 2030.

Contribution: By analyzing New Brunswick’s family policy, this article contributes to understanding its current mechanisms and its implications for families.


Quality of Care for 3-year-olds in Early Childhood Centres in Quebec and Kindergartens in France
Nathalie Bigras, Philippe Dessus, Lise Lemay, Caroline Bouchard, Christine Lequette

Research Framework: This quantitative comparative study uses the conceptual framework of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model.

Objectives: The study compares quality levels of adult-child interactions and structural quality (regulation, ratio, training) of early childhood education services for 3-year-olds in Quebec and France.

Methodology: The study compares 41 kindergarten classes in Grenoble (France) with 40 early childhood centers (CPE) in Montreal (Canada). Educators (CPE) and teachers (Mat) were observed using the Class Assessment Scoring System for Preschool (CLASS PreK, Pianta et al., 2008).

Results : The results show that Quebec’s educators obtain a significantly higher level of adult-child quality interactions compared to 3 years old children in French kindergarten in all three domains of the CLASS. Results also indicate lower quality levels of the interactions when educators/teachers, groups/classes size, and education levels are higher.

Conclusion : Reducing the size of groups/classes and assuring specific training in early childhood could help improve the quality of interactions. Younger educators/teachers, who may be more aware of pedagogical approaches that promote the quality of adult-child interactions, could support the most experienced and the quality of their teaching practices.

Contributions : This study highlights some concerns about Quebec’s and France’s early childhood education systems policies. The implementation conditions for 4 years of ECE services by Québec’s government should be under reflection. In France, as attendance in kindergarten is now mandatory for all 3 years old children, the conditions associated with the quality of interactions may be questioned in this context.


The Evolution and the Transformation of Québec’s Family Policy since 1997
Sophie Mathieu, Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay

Research Framework: The consensus established around the exceptionalism of Quebec family policy conceals certain issues and challenges related to the accessibility and availability of support measures for families.
Objectives: Our objective is to propose a reflection on the universal character often attributed to Quebec family policy by documenting the evolution of the architecture of the three main measures of support to families since 1997, namely child care services, parental leave, and cash benefits.
Methodology: The analysis is based on a systematic review of archives, government documents, and scientific research on the evolution and transformation of Quebec family policy. The starting point for the analysis is the examination of the White Paper Nouvelles dispositions de la politique familiale: les enfants au cœur de nos choix.
Results: Despite its social democratic leanings, Quebec’s family policy is not universal as a whole and not all families are equal in the support they receive from the State. We show the historical existence of four childcare regimes, defined by the nature of the services being offered, their costs, and the possibility of having access to them. We also show that the architecture of the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan does not allow every parent to qualify to receive parental benefits. Finally, we show that while all families have received cash benefits since 2005, the amount of these benefits has varied by income.
Conclusions: Although Quebec offers a generous family policy, the province is not entirely immune to the characteristics of the Canadian liberal welfare regime.
Contribution: The article contributes to the reflection on the idea of Quebec having a universal family policy.


A Family Policy Aimed at a Better Family-Work Relationship. Challenges for Working Quebec Parents from a Low Socio-Economic Background
Annabelle Seery

Research Framework: Quebec’s family policy, which is very focused on family-work balance, is based in particular on two measures, the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) and the public childcare network. These measures would, among others, promote job retention of parents, women, and men. However, this policy is implemented at a time when the labor market is becoming more precarious, particularly for people already marginalized in employment, such as women or people with a low level of education.

Objectives: This article proposes to better understand the working arrangements between spouses of modest socio-economic background, starting from the story of the people concerned and then highlighting the issues underlying the family-work relationship of these parents.

Methodology: The analyses presented are based on 30 qualitative interviews of a comprehensive type carried out with Quebec parents in heterosexual couples on low incomes and without a university degree (17 women and 13 men).

Results: The narratives collected account for the difficulties in combining family and work when the parents are working atypical and low-paid jobs. The QPIP and reduced contribution childcare services offered in Quebec are therefore not very useful for these parents.

Conclusions: The types of employment held as well as the sexual division of labor play an important role in the « choices » made by these parents regarding the use of the measures offered. Gender relations, particularly in the context of financial precariousness, hinder the achievement of the objectives of family policy concerning the family-work relationship while mothers are restricted in their access to employment.

Contribution: By highlighting the difficulties of family-work relationship of working parent couples from a low socio-economic background, this article opens the discussion on the needs of parents who are generally little taken into account.


UNAF and the Diversification of Family Models
Raymond Debord

Research Framework: Our study focuses on the National Union of Family Associations (UNAF), a French institution that is unique because it was created by the legislator to structure the family movement and officially represent families to public authorities at all levels.

Objectives: The article sets out to analyze the emergence of familyist ideology and its structuring in a dedicated apparatus. It studies how the diversification of family models has been taken into account by the legislator and incorporated by the UNAF even if it clashes with its convictions.

Methodology: Our work is based on an analysis of historical, demographic, legal research on the family and family associations, as well as documents from the UNAF and its constituent organizations. Finally, it is based on fifteen interviews with actors of the family movement and officials of the main federations of family associations.

Results: The UNAF and its components have adapted and the familyist ideology has showned great resilience. At each stage, despite the difficulties, the protagonists have been able to make compromises making it possible to integrate changes while maintaining and developing the role of the family movement. The emergence of the theme of « parenthood » has allowed the development of new activities and services.

Conclusions: Frictions around opening marriage to same-sex couples have subsided, as some of the more conservative family associations have dramatically refocused.

Contribution: At a time of growing individualization of rights and when the public authorities have abandoned all familyist references, is there a new paradigm taking shape, in which the existence of a « family body » makes less and less sense?


Family Relationships of Non-Binary Young Adults in Québec
Sophie Doucet, Line Chamberland

Research Framework: Based on the life course of young adults with a non-binary sexual orientation or gender identity, this article uses the concepts of intelligibility and chosen family from a queer perspective to analyze the family relationships of these individuals with identities still largely socially misunderstood.

Objectives: This research thus seeks to explore the construction of chosen families among non-binary young adults with good or bad relations with their family of origin, to analyze the relationship they have with their family of origin and their chosen family, and to examine the impact of the (mis)understanding of the family of origin on the creation of a chosen family.

Methodology: Two semi-structured interviews based on life course theory were conducted with 10 young adults self-identifying as non-binary aged between the ages of 18 and 30 and living in the Montreal area.

Results: This study allows us to realize that whether their relationship is perceived as good or bad with their family of origin, non-binary young adults will tend to form a chosen family that will fully understand and accept their identity, unlike their family of origin.

Conclusions: Misunderstanding of non-binary identities in our society affects the relationships of non-binary young adults with their family of origin and influences their decision to create a chosen family.

Contribution: This article addresses some of the gaps in the scientific literature on the family relationships of people with diverse genders and sexualities. Indeed, very few articles are specifically interested in non-binary people.


Family solidarities questioned by gender. Ethnographic cases in a village of southern Chiapas (Mexico)
Alicia Rinaldy

Research Framework: This paper documents the diversity of family solidarities experienced by men and women, coffee producers in the region of Soconusco, in southern Chiapas (Mexico). They belong to a generation born around 1950 who lived two distinct historical moments. First, socialization structured around the agrarian production and the ejido, which imposed some obligations and built specific gender identities. Then, since the 90s, in a new step of her family life course, this generation faces de-agrarianization process of the labor market and state intervention.

Objectives: The central question that guided the writing of this paper is: how family solidarities can explain the diversity of men and women trajectories in this village?

Methodology: The investigation is based on a one-year ethnographic survey done in El Paraíso village and, to be more precise, on eight family genealogies and about twenty life stories. The paper looks into two ethnographic cases belonging to this qualitative database.

Results: The article reveals the weight of gender in the family solidarities because men and women do not inherit the same resources and obligations within families. Family solidarity takes different forms and outlines according to the resources (financial, relational, land) and to the sociodemographic characteristics of everyone (as the gender or the place among siblings). 

Conclusions: The observation of the different forms of family solidarity has allowed us to understand the male and female ways to make family and the issues in terms of gender identity in this village of Mexico’s southern border. Family solidarities allow dealing with the new labour markets and the new forms of public intervention in rural areas in a differentiated and unequal way.  

Contribution: The article has three interests. It reveals the voices of a generation who now are struggling to live exclusively from agricultural labour, while their parents benefited from land reform and industrial capitalism advantageous for small-scale peasant agriculture. The analysis also shows how family solidarity is deeply determined by the gender system. Finally, the text is useful beyond this specific research, for the general reflection on mutual family assistance and the methodological tools for appreciate it.