Gender, Migration, & The Work of Care

Facts and Context Research Findings

Finding Care through Ethnic Networks: “75% of requests are for live-in.”

Quick Facts


Percent of women aged 85 and older cannot speak English or French (2001).

“Langauge Reversion”

Is what happens when many elderly immigrants begin to forget their second language and go back to speaking their native language.


Percent of elderly men aged 85 and older were unable to speak English or French in 2001, as compared to 3.1% in 1981.

When was the last time you turned to the classified section of your local newspaper? In the digital age of Kijiji and Craigslist, we’re usually more likely to log on to our laptops when we need help finding a particular service. But for local Portuguese Newspaper, Família Portuguesa, the classified section sees an unusual amount of traffic. It’s more or less because of demand for one service in particular: care work.

Família Portuguesa is the oldest Portuguese newspaper in Toronto. Founded by Pastor André Cunha, the newspaper published its first issue on March 8, 1968. Fatima Bento is a community organizer, as well as the co-editor and administrator of the paper. She says that part of the reason why the newspaper still thrives is because it acts as a hub for people in need of Portuguese-speaking caregivers.

Fatima publishes ads in the newspaper for families seeking Portuguese-speaking caregivers, as well as for care workers who wish to advertise their services and skills. This has been a feature of Família Portuguesa since it was created in the 1970’s.

The consistent popularity of this feature of the newspaper shows the high demand for Portuguese-speaking caregivers in Toronto — particularly, for live-in caregivers. “Let’s say 75% of requests are for live-in,” says Fatima. This avenue for accessing care services provides employers with more flexibility than would be available in a more formal route, like going through a Community Care Access Centre (CCAC).

A person offering their services as a caregiver doesn’t have to have formal qualifications, and employers and the people they hire can negotiate the terms of employment to suit their needs.

Because of this, most advertisements don’t even specifically seek out ‘care workers’ per se. “The employers don’t specify, they just say they need ‘some domestic work,’” says Fatima Bento. Care duties are usually negotiated from there.

Lucy Abernathy is one person who has used the newspaper to hire care workers for her ageing mother. She needed a worker who could speak Portuguese, and quickly realized she wouldn’t be able to find one at a nursing home. Even a nursing home located in the heart of Little Portugal couldn’t fulfill the demand for Portuguese speaking caregivers — while about 95% of residents were Portuguese speaking, only around 5% of workers spoke the language.

Struggling to find sufficient home care for loved ones is not a problem unique to the Portuguese community. In 2012, nearly half of Canadians aged 15 or older had unmet home care needs. However, finding culturally and linguistically specific home care is a distinct challenge facing immigrant communities. Some members of the Portuguese community simply aren’t willing to wait for the government or private companies to meet their demand for care work, turning instead to the ethnic networks facilitated through Família Portuguesa.

It calls into question: do other immigrant communities in Canada have a similar unmet need for culturally specific care? Are these communities also accessing ethnic networks to fill the gap?

*This story is based on Sarah Lima and Melissa Nicholls‘ work in the Faces of Care series.