Inequality in Childcare: The Case of Nannies

Analytical Reflections

Context and Care: Conditions of unregulated and informal childcare arrangements in Canada

By Kendra Smith

Unregulated and informal childcare in Canada is valued by many families as a cost-effective and convenient way to get around the limitations of regulated childcare. Such childcare ranges from full-time live-in nannies to occasional babysitters. Individuals who take on this work might be friends or neighbours; or they might be strangers found through an app like or migrant workers brought to Canada through a Foreign Worker Permit. While some families enjoy the flexibility of nanny hours and the intimacy of keeping their children under their own roof, the workers are largely without labour protections. Moreover, informal and unregulated childcare in Canada is driven in a large part by the shortcomings in formal and regulated care. 

Many families in Canada turn to informal care despite a preference for regulated and formal childcare such as day care centers (Davidson et al. 2022).  Long waitlists, incompatibility of schedule needs and service availability, expensive fees, and an overall lack of local options force many families to forego their preferred childcare arrangement and use unregulated and informal childcare (Breitkreuz & Colen, 2018; Davidson et al., 2022; Huff & Cotte, 2013). Limits to the regulated care system force parents to cast a wider net when seeking childcare options. One such option is migrant childcare workers, such as nannies or live-in carers. Programs like the Temporary Foreign Domestic Worker Program (TFW) provide families access to a global market of migrant care workers regulated only by immigration policy (Adamson & Brennan, 2017), which many Canadian families find more accessible and cost-effective as compared to more regulated care.

Unregulated childcare by definition lacks oversight for both the quality of care and the working conditions for the caregivers. For parents and children, the lack of oversight makes them vulnerable to risk of physical and emotional harms (Goodall et al., 2021). For the workers, the lack of oversight leaves them vulnerable to economic and legal harms through their precarious employment and, in the case of migrant caregivers hired through the TFW program, their precarious migration status (Goodall et al., 2021). At the same time, care workers in Canada are disproportionately racialized due to the geopolitical dynamics in the global care chain, and as such these vulnerabilities interact with and operate through racisms (Goodall et al., 2021; Lam et al., 2022).

While this all paints a precarious picture of paid, unregulated, and informal childcare in Canada, not all unregulated arrangements are as bleak. For many parents, their use of unregulated, informal care involves asking neighbours or friends that they trust to watch over their kids for a few hours (Breitkreuz & Colen, 2018). Community-based care like this can build social bonds that are important for neighbourhoods and social resilience (Ungar, 2011). This complicates the matter of addressing the shortfalls of unregulated and informal childcare. While there is a need for a stronger regulatory framework to protect nannies and babysitters (and the families they work for), development of such a framework comes with the challenge of preserving the kinds of social bonds brought about by some informal care arrangements. 

Photo by Elianna Gill on Unsplash

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