Three Credits and a Baby

Concordia Student Group Aims to Help Student Parents

The Student Parents Centre of Concordia University and a fledgling student group are working to facilitate the lives of those raising children while pursuing their degree.

CUSP will distribute a survey to 5,000 students beginning Oct. 4, hoping to better detail the number of parents enrolled at Concordia and gauge students’ knowledge of the services available to them.

Malene Bodington, who will be leading the research project, hopes it will provide a more complete picture of the evolving demographics at Concordia.

“This is an attempt to understand the challenges parents face as they pursue their studies in the context of challenges faced by the general population—including time distribution obstacles, financial restraints, etc. With that information, we will better understand the services that could be offered,” she said.

“Student parents do not have the same opportunity to interact with their peers, “
-Kristy Heeren,
Coordinator of the Student Parents Centre

According to research conducted by Trisha Van Rhijn and Donna S. Lero for the University of Guelph, students raising children are much more likely to have their studies interrupted due to financial stress and the difficulty of time management as a student parent.

Kristy Heeren, coordinator of the Student Parents Centre, said that parents stretched thin often feel they have nowhere to turn.

“Student parents do not have the same opportunity to interact with their peers,” she said. “That leads to isolation and further emotional stress. There is help available, but there are questions. Is it affordable? Is it working? Are they aware it is available?”

Currently there are two daycare centres at Concordia, both subsidized by the provincial government. Their status as Centres de petit enfance, keeps rates at seven dollars a day but demand is high. Waiting lists are up to four years, and private daycare options are much more expensive.

An emerging student association may offer an alternative. Rachel Chainey, a master’s student specializing in art therapy, is hoping to create a time-share cooperative where student-parents would exchange babysitting services, either at home or somewhere on campus.
The initiative is modeled on a group Chainey worked for during her undergraduate studies at l’Université du Quebec à Montreal.

Originally proposed to Concordia as a CUSP initiative, liability concerns convinced Rachel that a privately funded, student-run organization was the better option.

“At UQAM, there was no money exchanged,” she said. “We started out with these time coupons you’d exchange with other members of the collective, but eventually these people became your friends, so we weren’t even using the coupons. People helped out because they understood what you were going through.”

Chainey, a parent whose studies were interrupted for only one semester when she gave birth, stressed that the feeling of helpless isolation is the most dangerous factor for student parents and the community is key to their success.

“I was very lucky to have family available to help me out—not financially, but with their time, with babysitting, with being there. It is hard to understand the special needs of parents and their children without actually being one.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 06, published September 21, 2010.