The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association Commends New Benefit for Families of Critically Ill Children

The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association applauds this month’s federal government announcement that it will provide more support for parents of critically ill children through a new employment insurance benefit. The benefit will assist in alleviating some of the financial burden associated with caring for a sick child.

Under these changes, parental caregivers of critically ill children under the age of 18 can claim up to 35 weeks within a year under the Federal Employment Insurance Program (EI). Under the benefit, ‘critically ill’ is defined as a life-threatening illness or injury which can include various acute phases of illness or injury and for which continued parental care or support is required.

“This is a strong next step for the federal government. By extending these benefits, we can ensure that parents can focus on caring for their child rather than worrying about financial issues,” said Sharon Baxter, Executive Director of the CHPCA. “We do, however; need to continue to move forward and extend these benefits to all caregivers, whether the person they are caring for is five or 75.” According to a February 2011 survey conducted by the Canadian Cancer Society, 84 percent of Canadians say increased financial support for family caregivers should be a priority for the federal government.

Under the former EI benefits, parents of gravely ill children were entitled to six weeks of paid leave at 55% of their salary. Currently, Canadians caring for a gravely ill family member over the age of 18 will qualify for six weeks of paid leave. Their tasks are many and varied, and when their patient dies, many of them go on to become patients themselves.

Canada’s population is aging and, combined with increasing numbers of chronic diseases, the demands for hospice palliative care services and the strain on family caregivers will continue to grow. Seniors now make up the fastest-growing age group. In 2009, Canada had 4.7 million persons aged 65 years or over, twice the number recorded in 1981. It is projected that by 2061, there will be between 11.9 million and 15.0 million persons aged 65 years or older.

The CHPCA commends the federal government on this important step towards improving quality end-of-life care for all Canadians and their families.