The ways that Canadians partner up is changing, leading to questions about how different types of families access parental benefits.

“When we think about Canada, and we think about families, we think about diversity,” said Nora Spinks, chief executive officer of the Vanier Institute of the Family, in a webinar on Tuesday. “And we want to make sure everybody understands what their rights and responsibilities are, what benefits are available to them and how best to access those benefits.”

It’s important to ensure parents feel included, regardless of their family structure. As well, it’s key to make sure different types of parents understand what benefits are available to them, she said. “Parenthood is as diverse as anything else these days. You could be a parent in a more traditional relationship or any other kind of structure of relationship that you can imagine in Canada today.”

Read: A look at extended parental benefits one year on

Fatherhood is evolving quickly within the context of the paid labour force, with dads becoming more actively involvement in parenting, while balancing their role in the workforce, said Spinks. “[Mothers are] also more likely to be involved in the paid labour force and more likely to be co-parenting as well. When we think about families in Canada, we’re seeing more sharing of both parenting and the household management.”

This development, she noted, was part of the rationale for the new five-week employment insurance parental sharing benefit, which was introduced in the 2018 federal budget and took effect in March 2019. The new benefit will take the form of a so-called use-it-or-lose-it top-up in cases where both parents decide to take parental leave. It will apply to any two-parent family, including adoptive parents and same-sex couples.

Read: Employers urged to prepare for incoming EI parental sharing benefit

Andrew Brown, director general of employment insurance policy for Employment and Social Development Canada, said that, based on evidence seen in Quebec and international examples, “changes that include use-it-or-lose-it benefits have been really beneficial in terms of encouraging fathers to take some time off as well and provide care to the child.”

Unlike in Quebec, where there’s a paternity benefit specifically available to the biological father of a child, the new EI program aimed to take a slightly different approach, “because we want to be as inclusive as possible,” said Brown.

“And so, in fact, it is available to parents regardless of whether it’s specifically the mother or the father. It’s inclusive, whether it’s birth parents or adoptive parents.”

Read: More than 8,000 caregiving EI benefits claims since Dec. 2017: Feds