Last week, families with infants and toddlers from every state met with their members of Congress to encourage them to prioritize the needs of young children for the national Strolling Thunder, led by ZERO TO THREE.
Kristen Johnson, a working mother of two young children from Duluth, represented the state of Georgia. She is a preschool director at the school where her children attend. As a dual-income family, both of Kristen’s children have been enrolled in her child care center since infancy.
She recently told us why she is a passionate advocate for young children, specifically access to paid family leave. Her first daughter Olivia was born prematurely, yet because she did not have enough leave, Kristen had to return to work earlier than they had hoped.
Here’s what she’d like policymakers to know:
“If I could talk to them today, I would just reiterate that we are not on a level playing field with other developed countries around the world in terms of how we take care of our families. We’re one of the only countries that doesn’t offer paid family leave. …
“We really need to take better care of our families, both mothers and fathers, so we can compete on an international level with other developed nations.”
At some point in their lives, nearly every working person will, like Kristen and her family, welcome a new child, deal with their own serious health issue, or need to provide care to a seriously ill, injured or disabled loved one. Despite modest progress in recent years, only an estimated 21% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employer.
Paid parental leave to welcome a new child has been shown to provide benefits to employers, families, and children, including decreasing infant mortality, improving a newborn’s health and well-being, increasing the likelihood that new parents will return to work, and decreasing turnover costs. Adequate time afforded by paid parental leave allows families to develop the strong relationships that we know are fundamental to a young child’s developing brain.
Additionally, paid family leave has overwhelming, bipartisan support from Georgians in a variety of circumstances, including for the birth or adoption of a child (88%), to provide child care during emergencies (88%), and to care for themselves or a family member with an illness (90%).
Despite this widespread support, nearly one in four women return to work within two weeks of giving birth. Hourly wage, part-time, and low wage workers are significantly less likely to have access to paid leave, even within the same company.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would help families like Kristen’s by creating a permanent, comprehensive national program that makes paid leave affordable for employers of all sizes and available to all workers and their families. (To learn more about the FAMILY Act, click here.)
Kristen and her family were able to speak directly to their legislators about this critically important issue. But your voice is needed, too.
You can take action by reaching out to your U.S. Senators and Representative and asking them that an investment in babies and their families is an investment in America’s future.