The on-going coronavirus outbreak will inevitably have massive impacts on all areas of Canadian life. 

One area that should not be ignored in the fall-out of this pandemic is the impact it will have on families, and the potential it will have to contribute to the already rising occurrence of family breakdown in our society.

Family breakdown is a concerning problem, as united families provide a built-in support system that helps ensure better outcomes for everyone, especially children. 

For example, research from organizations like the Centre for Social Justice in the United Kingdom demonstrates that family breakdown more than doubles the likelihood that children will be homeless, in trouble with the justice system or experience educational underachievement.

For these reasons, it should be concerning for policy-makers that the most common conditions which trigger a cause of family breakdown – divorce or separation – is likely to arise for many Canadians in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Common reasons often cited to cause divorce and separation include problems of addiction, conflict triggered by anxiety and stress – including those driven by monetary concerns accompanied by job losses – and domestic violence. As coronavirus has the potential to encourage these conditions, it puts our families at greater risk. 

For example, the pandemic puts individuals struggling with issues of addiction at a high-risk of relapse. Approximately 21 percent of Canadians deal with addiction in their lives, and those affected often turn to weekly meetings, like those offered by Alcoholics Anonymous groups, to get the support needed to kick their habits. However, because of social distancing measures,  the occurrence of these meetings have been reduced significantly, and in some cases, halted completely. And, while some meetings have shifted online, not all Canadians have the needed technology to attend such meetings. This reduced support system, combined with the studies that demonstrate an increased amount of substance abuse during periods of crises, should be a concern for policy-makers as the relapse into addictions will inevitably trigger increased family-breakdown in Canada.

Family conflict around financial problems will inevitably occur as the Canadian economy has come to a grinding halt. Canada already saw the largest one-month job loss in history in March, as more than one million Canadians were laid off. This will no doubt be compounded by massive losses in April as companies in nearly every industry have suffered due.And while many Canadians will be able to access benefits from the federal government, the amount offered is not equivalent to what most Canadians would be earning in normal circumstances though their monthly bills – like mortgages or leases – will mostly stay the same. As a result, Canadians will likely face increased conflict relating to this anxiety and stress, which could easily contribute to family-breakdown.

Unfortunately, a negative spin-off of increased anxiety and stress-related conflict is an increased occurrence of domestic violence. Agencies in Nova Scotia, for example, have already warned of an increased occurrence of domestic violence due to the coronavirus.

Overall, the risk of family breakdown during the coronavirus pandemic is heightened. Policy-makers need to take this into account and be considerate in ensuring that their responses take into account these complex realities. If not, the fall-out will include many undesirable social circumstances, including for our children, that will have lasting consequences for Canadian society.

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