Parents with children who have died or disappeared as a result of a crime will be eligible to receive income support if they take time off work to cope with their loss, the federal government announced today.

Beginning on January 1, the new income support benefit will provide $350 per week for up to 35 weeks for parents of murdered or missing children who are younger than 18 years old, and whose death or disappearance is the result of a Criminal Code offence.

A child's disappearance would be considered a Criminal Code offence if police investigate it as a suspected crime.

"Often and understandably, parents are unable to return to work after their children disappear or are murdered," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a news conference in Sherbrooke, Que.

Harper announced the program alongside Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley and Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, who became a victim's rights activist after his own daughter was killed in 2002.

Jobs of mourning parents to get protection

To be eligible, parents will need to have earned a minimum income of $6,500 in the previous calendar year and take leave from employment. The government said it would also alter the Canada Labour Code to allow for unpaid leave for federally-regulated employees and ensure the person's job is protected while receiving the benefit.

If missing children are found, the benefits would continue for two weeks after the child is found, assuming the parents are still entitled to the benefits for those weeks.

The government says the benefit will help more than 1,000 parents annually, basing those numbers on a 2008 Statistics Canada crime survery. The total number of youth who were victims of homicide, other offences causing death, kidnapping and abduction was 1,229 in 2008, according to Statistics Canada. 

Parents who receive the benefit that are later determined to be criminally responsible for the death or disappearance would have to repay the benefit, a spokesperson for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada said.

Parents will apply for the benefit through Service Canada.

The program follows on a campaign promise to provide support for parents of child victims of crime. That same campaign promise also included families of gravely ill children as potential recipients of benefits, but Friday's announcement made no mention of those families.

"That was a platform commitment and we are reviewing legislation," said a spokesperson for HRSDC.