Family diversities framework

Developed by the Vanier Institute of the Family through consultation with academic and government policy partners, the Family Diversities Framework is a roadmap for understanding family diversity. Based on three intersecting lenses – of Family Structure, Family Work, and Family Identity – the framework provides a focal point for discussion, knowledge creation, and decision-making to improve the wellbeing of families in Canada.

Photo by Craig Adderley

Why Family Diversities?

Many of our contemporary conversations about families in Canada are about how they have changed in ways that make them more diverse. There is much to celebrate in these diversities and in the family mosaic that they create. Yet we also see that while some families are thriving, others are marginalized.

To date, we have not had a way of systematically thinking about family diversities or about the inequalities that may be inherent in them. Across the variety of families in Canada, it is important to map what is known, where knowledge gaps exist and where we need to create evidence that can inform policies, programs and services to better support family wellbeing.

Grounded in family research, the framework views family diversity through three lenses: Family Structure, Family Work and Family Identity. Each lens focuses on a different way of seeing families. Each illuminates factors that can either enhance or detract from family wellbeing. Each provides a way of highlighting where our understanding is currently limited. Below, we outline what each lens means, why it matters and priority areas for consideration based on current issues in Canadian society.

We understand that these priorities will evolve in response to broader social and cultural changes.

Family Structure Lens

The Family Structure lens helps us see how people are linked in families through their relationships to each other. It motivates us to examine how our laws and policies about family formation and dissolution shape families and family life.

Why it matters: The way families are structured reflects values and legislation around union formation and dissolution, childbearing, and economic and social responsibilities to members. Family structure also has consequences for legal responsibilities for children, including with whom they reside, and who can make decisions about their health care and education.

Priority areas of focus: Generational structures (e.g., skip and multi-generation), parenting structures (e.g., single parents, shared custody) and non-kin structures (e.g., foster and chosen families).

Family Work Lens

The Family Work lens helps us see patterns of paid and unpaid work in families. It motivates us to examine how public and workplace policies support diverse work arrangements and the differential impact of these arrangements on family life.

Why it matters: The division of paid and unpaid work among family members influences opportunities for workforce participation and access to benefits, such as pensions and parental and caregiver leaves. The ways in which work is apportioned provide insights into how formal and informal work are valued and supported.

Priority areas of focus: High-risk work (e.g., military and first responder families), work defined by periods of absence (e.g., fishing and resource extraction, long-distance commuting), precarious or marginalized work (e.g., low-wage/seasonal/short-term contracts), and care work (e.g., to dependent children and adults with chronic health conditions/disabilities).

Family Identity Lens

The Family identity lens allows us to see how families view themselves and how they are perceived and represented by others. Family identity is the family habits, rituals, traditions, and characteristics that bind people together.

Why it matters: Family identity creates a sense of belonging to a larger community with which families share common features and experiences. Yet identities may be imposed on families in ways that create stigma and lead to marginalization and exclusion.

Priority areas of focus: Race/ethnicity (e.g., Indigenous families, Black families), citizenship (e.g., refugees), religion (e.g., Muslim, Jewish), and sex and gender (e.g., LGBTQ2S+).

Family Wellbeing

Guided by earlier research on the wellbeing of individuals and groups,1 we view family wellbeing as having three dimensions: material (what people have), relational (their social connections) and subjective (their sense of the fit between their aspirations and goals and their experiences).

Why it matters: Wellbeing is the desired outcome for all family forms. By understanding family diversities, factors that may enhance or detract from family wellbeing can be addressed through policies and services, and unintended consequences are thus more easily avoided.

The Vanier Institute is committed to sharing evidence about family diversities to inform decision making that supports family wellbeing. Our stakeholders require up-to-date information to respond to changing social conditions where family life reflects evolving notions of what constitutes a family, the sharing of work among family members, the influence of workplace policies and practices, and the ways in which families construct their identities. As Canadian society becomes increasingly diverse, this framework offers enough flexibility to examine, through a family lens, the wide range of experiences that matter to the Vanier Institute community and constituents.

This framework was developed by Margo Hilbrecht, PhD; Kim de Laat, PhD; and Norah Keating, PhD, of the Vanier Institute of the Family in consultation with Vanier Institute partners.

Source: Vanier Institute