13% of Canadian Parents Report One of their Children Has Been Sent Home from School for COVID-19-related Symptoms

First poll since classes resumed finds 16% of parents have missed work to abide by school regulations

Calgary, October 8, 2020 – A month after schools reopened, a new poll reveals that a large number of Canadian children and their parents are dealing with disruption, long COVID-19 test lines and employment insecurity. The poll*, conducted by Abacus Data and commissioned by Children First Canada, surveyed parents of school- aged children from October 2 to 6, 2020, and is the first to outline the issues families are facing since the return to school this fall.

Among the poll findings:

  • 50% of parents have chosen against full-time in-class learning, opting instead for learning pods, virtual or remote learning or part-time in-class options

  • 14% report a COVID-19 outbreak in their child’s school

  • 13% say at least one of their children was sent home because of COVID-like symptoms

  • 16% have had at least one of their children tested for COVID-19

  • 11% report one of their children has not had a teacher available to teach their class

Of the parents whose child has required a COVID Test:

  • 60% have had to wait in line for more than one hour for the test

  • 83% have had to wait longer than 1 day for the results

  • 32% have had to wait longer than 3 days for the results

  • 51% of parents waiting more than 24 hours for the results of their child’s COVID-19 test have had to miss work or reduce the number of hours they work

  • 16% of parents have had to miss work because their child was unable to go to school

  • 10% have had to quit or change where they work because of childcare or school challenges, and 10% have had to take extended leave because of these challenges.

“We knew that parents and children were facing difficulties with back-to-school, but this poll reveals an even wider-reaching impact than we anticipated,” says Sara Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada. “A startling number of parents have missed work and had to quit or change their work. We are talking about potentially hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are dealing with reduced incomes and increased risk of food insecurity and homelessness.”

“This poll confirms much of the anecdotal evidence we have been hearing about the challenges facing parents over the past few weeks,” said Abacus Data CEO David Coletto. “Not only are disruptions, delays, and confusion creating worry and stress for parents, but 40% report their kids are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or worried about how back-to-school has gone.”

Ontario recently changed the rules requiring children with sniffles to have a COVID-19 test before returning to school, but they still require students to stay home for at least 24 hours and can return only if symptoms improve. “While this may reduce the need to line up for hours at a time, it still means that many parents must take time off to care for a child, or pay for additional childcare. For some families this may be a minor inconvenience, but for many that are vulnerable – particularly single parents, recent immigrants, Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Métis and Inuit), and people with disabilities – this disruption to their income can be devastating.”

Austin also stresses the grave concern that 11% of parents report that their children have, at some point, not had a teacher available to teach their class, and half of all parents are feeling stressed and worried about the back-to-school experience. “The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees children’s right to universal education, but this poll clearly shows a large number of children are being denied that right during the pandemic.”

Today’s poll comes one month after Children First Canada released their Raising Canada 2020 report, that found that many of the top threats to childhood, including mental illness, food insecurity, child abuse, physical inactivity and poverty may be increasing – or are in danger of increasing – because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the report, Children First Canada’s Council of Champions released a call to action, urging the government to appoint a federal Commissioner for Children and Youth, a Children’s Budget and a national strategy to tackle the top 10 threats.

“What we’re seeing, yet again, is that there is urgent need for all levels of government to act quickly and work together to counter the dire issues facing children and their families in Canada,” says Austin.

For more information about the poll or to schedule an interview, please contact:

Andrea Chrysanthou

Director, Communications

Global Public Affairs




The poll surveyed 751 parents of school- aged children from October 2 to 6, 2020. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 3.6%, 19 times out of 20. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region.

About Children First Canada

Children First Canada a national non-profit organization with a bold and ambitious vision that together we can make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up. We are a strong, effective and independent voice for all of Canada’s children. CFC is harnessing the strength of many organizations that are committed to improving the lives of Canada’s children, including children’s charities and hospitals, research centres, government, corporations, community leaders, and children themselves. childrenfirstcanada.com

About the Abacus Data

Abacus Data Inc. is a full-service public opinion and market research firm specializing in public affairs and generational research. Abacus Data is one of Canada’s leading public opinion and marketing research firms. Having conducting research for some of North America’s leading corporations and advocacy groups, we deliver global research capacities with the attention to detail and focus of a boutique firm.