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It’s Time: What You Need to Know and What You Can Do to Make Paid Family Leave a Reality

As we mark the 25th anniversary of FMLA this year, it is truly a historic time for working families. Never before has prioritizing paid family leave reached such a fevered pitch.

By Whitney Pesek, Senior Policy Analyst

In 1993, Edward Zigler, ZERO TO THREE Emeritus Board Member, helped to bring the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to fruition. Groundbreaking at the time, the FMLA guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave to specific American workers. Almost 20 years later, though, when Dr. Zigler worked with Susan Muenchow and Christopher Ruhm to write Time Off With Baby, he and his colleagues made the case for paid family leave. The years of research on the benefits of paid leave for babies, families, and communities is indisputable. Relationships with primary caregivers literally shape the architecture of a baby’s brain in the fast and foundational first days and weeks of life. But the stress of missing a paycheck can contaminate the environment that nurtures healthy interactions.

As we mark the 25th anniversary of FMLA this year, it is truly a historic time for working families. Never before has prioritizing paid family leave reached such a fevered pitch. During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidates from both major parties highlighted the need for paid time off for working families with young children for the first time. In addition, 82% of 2016 voters—across party lines—say it is important for the president and Congress to consider a paid family and medical leave law. With so many proposals on the table, it can be difficult to discern what makes a paid family and medical leave policy that will lead to the benefits we want for babies, families, and communities, and one that is inadequate to meet the need or comes with hidden challenges for families or the economy. Following Dr. Zigler, ZERO TO THREE draws from socially and economically sound practice and research on attachment and bonding, family systems functioning, and healthy child development to guide our policy work in this area. In addition, we build on a strong body of evidence from five states and the District of Columbia, which have all passed state paid leave laws.

As a member of the FAMILY Act Coalition, which comprises of over 400 national partners, we use the following checklist to measure any paid leave program proposal:

Although states and cities have implemented paid leave programs, with more than 4 million babies born in the United States and 135,000 children adopted each year, the pool of beneficiaries for a national policy is vast and deserving. These key elements create crucial job and financial security so employees can take the time they need to heal, provide the nurturing their babies need to get off to a strong start, and get back to work more focused and confident.

ZERO TO THREE shares these messages and the research behind them in written resources, such as The Child Development Case for Paid Family and Medical Leave Program and Paid Leave: A Critical Support for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, and articles; advocacy tools; in coalition efforts; and in meetings with public officials. In April, we will cohost the Washington, DC, premiere of ZERO WEEKS, a documentary about America’s paid family leave crisis and the high cost of doing nothing. Advocating for a national paid leave program is also one of the key issues in ZERO TO THREE’s Think BabiesTM campaign and will be included in Strolling Thunder on May 8th, 2018.

Join us in our efforts to follow Dr. Zigler’s example in bringing what we know to bear for babies and families in federal policy. Send us your story about paid family leave or encourage the families you serve to share their experiences with us. Look for opportunities to “Get Involved” in paid family leave advocacy through our bi-weekly e-newsletter, the Baby Monitor. Together, we will give Congress the tools and motivation it needs to stand up for paid leave for hard-working families and their babies, businesses, and the American economy.

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