Lisa Engel, an occupational therapist, had her son Jacob in 2014, about two years into her rehabilitation science PhD program at the University of Toronto. She took seven months of maternity leave before returning, completing her PhD in the fall of 2017.
During her pregnancy, Engel told University Affairs magazine, she used the services of U of T’s Family Care Office, meeting with its pregnancy group and getting advice on how to set up her maternity leave with her supervisor, department and funding agency.
After Jacob’s birth, Engel says so many people in her department had questions that she organized a panel discussion on parenting. She also became a peer mentor for the Family Care Office.
“I’ve met parents, or they’re on their way to becoming parents, and they have no clue [the support] is there,” Engel told the magazine.
The Family Care Office, says University Affairs, serves as a model for other campuses across Canada, which are hearing from student parents that they aren't providing enough supports. Those complaints have prompted the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) to set up a sub-group of student services professionals “to share and generate new ideas for services and programs.”
At U of T, the Family Care Centre is part of Human Resources & Equity, providing supports for pregnancy, parenting, elder care, bereavement and divorce. For student parents, staff and faculty, the offices helps arrange housing and daycare, as well as provide workshops, discussion groups and breastfeeding spaces.