U of T Canada's most child-friendly campus

  • November 20, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - A new survey ranks the University of Toronto tops among Canada’s 86 universities for the services it offers to pregnant and parenting students.

The survey, conducted by summer interns at the Toronto-based deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research , looked at whether Canada’s universities provide services deemed important by parenting students, based on research done in the United States by Feminists for Life.

“The University of Toronto was the best in the country because they basically had every resource we questioned about and they also went above and beyond,” said Genevieve Bonomi, a student at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., who spent her summer calling every university to enquire about services.

“It was just phenomenal the amount of encouragement  they’re providing for people to achieve an education and also have a family.”

Bonomi wanted to find out whether or not campuses offered any of the following: flexible class times or long-distance education, child care centres or child care referral services, housing or financial aid specifically for parenting students, health care centres on campus for pregnancy testing or counselling. She and other interns also looked at the overall child friendliness of the campuses — whether or not there were baby change tables and if buildings were accessible for strollers.

The University of Toronto met all of these criteria, Bonomi said, and she was surprised to discover it has an adoption agency associated with the university for faculty, staff and students, offered women places on campus to breastfeed, provided on-campus housing for parenting students with a priority for single parents, offered discounts for the several child care centres and subsidies as well as food and clothing banks for parenting students.

“It was just phenomenal the amount of encouragement that they’re providing for people to achieve an education and also have a family,” she said.

The U of T was the only university that offered information centrally, through the Family Centre and its web site.

“The point of the survey was to show that universities need a central point to help people find these resources on campus,” Bonomi said, adding it soon became clear that at many of the universities these resources didn’t event exist or staff didn’t know which department to direct her to.

“I found that at a lot of the universities it’s almost looked down upon to be a single mom or a teen mom so some universities find that if they just ignore the problem, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist.”

Bonomi was discouraged that most universities haven’t adapted services to families or single parents, when the ratio of women to men pursuing higher education in Canada is 60:40. There is an obvious change in demographic, she said, and the reality is that many young women — both married and unmarried — do become pregnant while attending school.

Brett Salkeld, a doctoral theology student at the University of Toronto, is one of many Catholics at the University of Toronto who doesn’t know what he’d do without the services. He has lived with his wife Fanning and their two small children in affordable, on-campus parent housing for a few years now. Affordable housing and reduced day care costs because of low income were the most important services, although the couple was on a waiting list for a year before they got their spot.

“Because we were able to have the day care here so my wife could work to help cover rent and food while I go to school, we’re able to have kids while I’m in school without taking on more debt,” Salkeld said. “It would (otherwise) be crippling, it would be tens of thousands of dollars a year for four or five years. You’d never get out. It’s hard to imagine how we could start our family if we weren’t able to take advantage of the day care and the housing here.”

Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy, a researcher with the deVeber Institute who assigned the survey project to the interns, said Catholic universities didn’t fare any better than the secular ones and hopes the survey results, which they plan to send to every university and its clubs, will encourage change.

“We’re hoping it will be a bridging document between the pro-life clubs and the women’s centres and women’s issues clubs because this isn’t about abortion,” Ring-Cassidy said. “This is about what’s there for women who choose to continue a pregnancy.”

Ring-Cassidy said it’s important to get the information out there about what individual campuses have, because students can’t lobby their campuses for support if they don’t even know what is offered.

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