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Transforming university life, one family at a time

Family and best friend by Meggy via Flickr

With almost half of its 83,000 students receiving financial aid, the University of Toronto is one of the most accessible universities in the world. 

But what if money isn’t the only challenge a student is facing? And what about staff and faculty who need help balancing work and family life?

Enter the Family Care Office (FCO). 

“Our single-office approach allows us to create a community in which students and staff members feel welcomed and engaged,” says Kaye Francis, manager of the FCO. “In the past 20 years, we have been successful in creating awareness around family issues and proving that these issues are important. 

“We’ve shown many families they are not alone in their challenges, and that they can be successful in what they choose to do.”

Professor Judith Taylor of women and gender studies and sociology has used the FCO's services, including the Early Learning Centre.

“Much of the counselling folks get from the FCO is not as much therapeutic as bureaucratic: how to fill out forms, how to plan for worst and best case scenarios, who to call for myriad services,” says Taylor. “This kind of advice democratizes life changes, making it possible for those who are not secure in the face of major life changes, or reading through policies, to make the best decisions.” 

It's one thing to say we support working families, and another to dedicate staff to helping families get the advice and resources they need, says Taylor. 

“I personally use the babysitter list and have met students through it whom I and my kids loved and with whom we are now in close touch still, even after they have graduated and begun their working lives. Even this small service makes our campus more human. We are in a big city, yet we can connect in this very personal way. The family care office has extended my family.” 

Last year, Francis says, the office handled more than 1,750 individual cases, and welcomed more than 2,100 people to events and seminars.  

“It can be very challenging to balance family life and student responsibilities,” says former student Janine Manning, adding that a family basketball clinic organized by the FCO was a hit with her son. “Those of us who need support to balance both areas of our lives have the FCO to turn to for resources and programming.”

The range of services, programs and events organized by the FCO has grown over the years. The University expanded campus child care spaces in 2003 with the addition of the Early Learning Child Care Centre and the Family Resource Centre and, in 2005, a new child care facility opened in Student Family Housing.

Hailey Parlliament is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto.