From Baby to Big Kid
An e-newsletter that showcases how children learn and grow each month from birth to 3 years. From Baby to Big Kid translates the science of early childhood and offers strategies parents can tailor to their unique family situation and to the needs of their child.
Twenty-one Years Later: The Movement for Paid Family Leave
Today marks the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) into law. This landmark legislation helps workers balance the demands of job and family. FMLA guarantees eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, care for a seriously ill family member, or recover from their own serious health conditions. Read our post on last year’s 20th anniversary for a firsthand story on the FMLA movement.
While FMLA’s important protections have improved conditions for many families, far too many Americans still lack access to any type of family leave. In particular, workers who are low income or in poverty are less likely to have access to unpaid leave. For many of those workers, even if they do have FMLA benefits, they often cannot afford to take the unpaid time away from work. For new babies being welcomed into a family through birth or adoption, this means far less time with the most important grown-ups in their lives.
Genine, a trainer of infant caregivers in Upstate New York, experienced this firsthand when her son was born. Her employer did not provide maternity leave to its employees, and Genine was able to take just four weeks of short term disability to care for her newborn son. Realizing that she could not afford to take unpaid leave, Genine returned to work when her son was just five weeks old. As an educator working directly with infants, Genine knows how important the early weeks and months of a child’s life are for bonding with his or her parents. She struggled with the necessary decision to leave her young son each day. For a few months she was able to have a relative care for her son, but when her son was seven months old Genine had to switch to a different care provider. Several years later, Genine still worries about the effect these relationship disruptions may have had on her son.
What stands out in Genine’s memory is coming home from work each evening and, especially when her son’s caregiver seemed to have difficulty coping with a crying infant, being overcome with the feeling that what he really needed was his mother. Another consequence: Because she returned to work after only five weeks, Genine was not able to breastfeed her son for nearly as long as she was hoping to; she and her son had just finally mastered the techniques and settled into a routine when it was time for her to return to work.
In the United States, 62% of mothers with infants are in the workforce. Genine’s story is hardly unique, and her feelings echo the sentiments of many mothers across the country who do not have access to paid leave and so must return to the workforce during the momentous early months of their rapidly developing newborn’s life. As Genine emphasized, “If I had been able to stay home with my son for one year, or six months, or even three months, it would have made a big difference.”
There is hope for all the new moms, dads, and families who need time to care for others. The momentum from the anniversary of FMLA has continued toward the next step of ensuring that all workers have access to paid family leave insurance. Quite simply, such leave would allow workers to receive a portion of their pay when it is necessary to take time away from their jobs for specific family or medical needs.
Last year, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced federal legislation, the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act (the FAMILY Act), that would provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of paid leave for their own serious illness; the serious illness of a child, parent, or spouse (including a domestic partner); the birth or adoption of a child; the injury of a family member who is in the military; or exigencies arising from a service member’s deployment.
The FAMILY Act builds on successful state family and medical leave insurance programs. Family leave insurance has existed in California since 2004 and in New Jersey since 2009; earlier this year Rhode Island became the third state to implement legislation putting into place paid family leave. Analyses of California’s law show that both employers and employees have benefited from the program. In New Jersey, the program costs are even lower than expected.
A national paid family leave policy would provide job security and consistent income during a time when it is essential for parents to bond with a new child or care for an ill family member. There is evidence that such leave policies not only help promote parent–child attachment and improve child health but also improve the economic conditions of families.
As Genine acknowledged, family leave at heart is about building a relationship that would help set her baby’s course for a lifetime. A baby’s early relationships, especially with parents, shape the architecture of the developing brain as well as their ability to form trusting relationships later on in life. These relationships require a depth of love for and knowledge of a child that a primary caregiver comes to possess through care, consistency, and, above all, time.
- A period of paid leave after birth contributes to the healthy development of infants and toddlers.
- Time at home with newborns, infants, and toddlers gives parents the time they need to breastfeed, attend well-child medical visits, and ensure that their children receive all necessary immunizations.
- While more than three quarters of women initiate breastfeeding, only 36% continue through six months of age. Studies find that returning to work is a leading impediment to continuing nursing.
- Family and medical leave improves outcomes for the entire family, including parents and caregivers.
- Longer leave periods are associated with benefits for the mother as well as the baby, including declines in depressive symptoms, a reduction in the likelihood of severe depression, and improvement in overall health.
- Paid leave policies can benefit employers, taxpayers, and the economy, now and in the future.
- Positive, consistent relationships during a baby’s early years yield confident individuals who are better equipped for success in school and in life, paving the way for a higher quality workforce and strong economic growth.
What can you do?
- For more facts on paid family leave, click here.
- To ask your Members of Congress to cosponsor the FAMILY Act, click here.
- To get involved in the movement, join the FAMILY Act tweet storm on Wednesday, February 5th from 3:00-4:00 pm ET. You can follow along or contribute to the conversation using the hashtags #FMLA21, #FAMILYAct and #paidleave.
- Share your story! Send a tweet to your legislators and let them know about the importance of paid family leave and the FAMILY Act.
U.S. Census Bureau, “Women 16 to 50 Years Who Had a Birth in the Past 12 Months by Marital Status and Labor Force Status: Table B13012.” In 2012 American Community Survey. U.S. Census Bureau, 2013. www.census.gov.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2011, www.surgeongeneral.gov.
Eileen Applebaum and Ruth Milkman. Leaves that Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California, January 2011. www.cepr.net.
Vicky Lovell, Women and Paid Sick Days: Crucial for Family Well-Being. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, January 2007. www.iwpr.org.
Pinka Chatterji and Sara Markowitz, Family Leave After Childbirth and the Health of New Mothers. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2008. www.nber.org.
National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, From Neurons to Neighborhood: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Jack Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips, eds. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.
Posted 1 month ago
What’s in the Strong Start Bill for Babies?
There’s a lot of buzz about early learning on Capitol Hill these days, especially with the introduction of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act on November 13. The Senate bill (S. 1697), introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), now has 17 cosponsors. The bipartisan House bill (H.R. 3461), introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY), has added 23 more cosponsors. You can still ask your Members of Congress to join them in support of the youngest learners!
While the centerpiece PreKindergarten program gets the lion’s share of attention, this statement bill in fact recognizes that learning starts at birth and cobbles together a birth-to-five continuum of programs. It is often hard for policymakers to readily grasp how federal programs can address the needs of infants and toddlers. When they hear the word “PreK”, most can visualize what that means—a classroom in a community program or school, with teachers, books, and other equipment, where a variety of activities that seem at least somewhat related to later education are occurring. So the question for four year-olds is: How do we give more of them the opportunity for this experience?
But for babies, a different question must be asked, and the answer is not so pat as for older preschoolers. We don’t (and wouldn’t want to) visualize babies all trooping off to one destination—they are at home with their families, in child care, a few are in Early Head Start. So the question becomes, how do we reach babies who are at risk and their families wherever they are, and support their parents and other caregivers with high quality services in supporting a baby’s earliest learning?
The Strong Start Act takes on this question, as the President’s early learning proposal did, by conceptually linking different approaches to addressing the developmental needs of infants and toddlers. These approaches are: reaching children at home through home visiting; using Early Head Start as the standard for the most at-risk children; and improving child care. A more complete explanation of the bill and its provisions for babies can be found on the Rally4Babies website, but a summary of its major points is below:
- Early Learning Quality Partnerships would expand Early Head Start services through partnerships with child care. The Strong Start bill picks up the President’s proposed partnerships between Early Head Start and child care programs, which would increase the number of EHS-eligible children in child care receiving services that meet the EHS standards. In the process, quality of child care services for other children in the same programs would increase. Many providers would augment their skills and credentials, which will benefit any children for whom they subsequently care. The House bill adopted the President’s proposed $1.4 billion funding level for the partnership program. In a strong statement about the need to support the earliest development and learning of infants and toddlers, the Senate bill upped the proposed funding for this program to $4 billion in 2014. Read our new fact sheets for more info on EHS basics and how partnerships might work.
- Extending the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program gets a thumbs-up. The bill includes a “Sense of the House/Senate” that MIECHV should be extended, which might seem to fall a little short of the President’s bold proposal to expand the program. The bill’s sponsors weren’t drawing back from that lofty goal, just avoiding a jurisdictional muddle because MIECHV is overseen by different Committees than the other early childhood education programs in the bill such as Head Start.
The Access to Prekindergarten program would allow PreK funds to be used for improving child care for infants and toddlers. In a departure from the President’s proposal, under the Strong Start bill states could use 15% of their funds for the new PreK program for high-quality early care and learning programs for infants and toddlers. This is an important signal to states that they should be doing more to prevent children from falling behind from the start. In fact, we believe this provision should ultimately be a mandatory expenditure. The bill also requires states to show that implementing the new PreK program, with its possible drain on highly qualified early childhood teachers as well as four year olds who are less expensive to serve, won’t reduce the availability of child care for babies.
What’s next for early learning on Capitol Hill? Attention now is focused on the budget negotiations. The top concern is whether Congress will replace the cuts under the sequester that resulted in a loss of Head Start/Early Head Start services for 57,000 children as well as loss of other benefits to families such as housing assistance. And just maybe the budget conferees will listen to the buzz about early learning and include investments in the workforce of the future.
Posted 3 months ago
Baby Faces of Austerity: Stories from the Sequester
Once upon a time, “sequester” was a word that rarely intruded upon those of us in Washington, DC, much less on the everyday lives of infants and toddlers, their families, and the service providers who help support their development. Now it is synonymous with loss and pain, deeply felt by those who experience it, but not so widespread as to be noticed by much of America. Today, a coalition of advocates for individuals and families who look to those domestic programs affected by the across-the-board cuts has compiled stories to put a human face on what to many is merely a budget-cutting exercise.
The report released today, Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure, first takes us through how these “Non-Defense Discretionary”, or NDD, programs benefit people all around America, in all walks of life, each and every day. It shows that NDD means safe food, clean water, weather reports, education, public transit, public safety, and recreation (remember the outcry over closed national parks during the shutdown?) But for millions of individuals and families, NDD means shelter and other vital services as well.
NDD programs were already being targeted for cuts even before the sequester kicked in earlier this year. Between 2010 and 2011, they saw cuts averaging 7%. The Budget Control Act mandated levels of deficit reduction and provided a blunt-instrument approach to achieving them through across-the-board spending cuts if Congress failed to reach agreement. As we know, the “Super Committee” given this task ultimately threw up its hands, and sequestration went into effect for 2013.
Currently, the House and Senate are conferencing on a budget plan for 2014, with addressing the sequester issue at the top of the list of issues on which they are trying to hammer out an agreement by December 13. There are different levels of urgency. Some lawmakers want to relieve the defense sector from cuts. Others want to return to higher levels of domestic spending to restore the cuts already in effect. Still others are fine with the lower spending levels.
Today’s report shows that these decisions will have profound implications for everyday Americans. “Cuts have consequences” for individuals, families, state governments, local businesses, and the economy as a whole. But what do they mean for babies and toddlers? From time to time, we have written about sequester impacts on various programs for very young children and their families. Today, we are pulling stories from this new report—a kind of “baby faces of austerity.”
Head Start/Early Head Start: Southern Oregon Head Start (SOHS) has lost $375,382 per year with the sequester. This 5% cut from their $6.9 million federal grant would have been hard to handle, but because it occurred with almost half the program year gone, it was magnified to a 9% cut. The agency coped by laying off employees, reducing staff hours, and furloughing everyone. SOHS serves a relative handful of infants and toddlers—93% to 96 % of eligible infants in the counties the agency covers are without Early Head Start services. The waitlist is 261 kids and is expected to grow throughout the school year. (NOTE: An estimated 6,000 infants and toddlers lost access to Early Head Start because of the sequester.)
Early Intervention: The report’s early intervention story is one of hope—the good that programs can do when they are able to reach children who need them. It tells of Ben, who was 18 months old when his parents noticed delays in his speech. Their doctor said that his delays were the result of living in a bilingual family. They didn’t accept this and were later connected with Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin’s “Birth to Three” program—an early intervention program established by Part C. After six months in the program, Ben is making great progress. When he talks, he speaks in full sentences and is understood by others, and Ben’s parents better understand his sensory issues and fine motor-skill needs.
Housing: Stable housing is one of the keys to positive early development, underscoring how development requires a broad range of supports that may not always be thought of as developmentally related. Around the country, public housing authorities have had to stop issuing or even recall vouchers, lay off staff, and raise rents to cope with cuts. The stories tell of parents reeling as they try to figure out how to cope.
Environment: Even environmental programs contribute to babies’ development. The infant brain is extremely sensitive to environmental toxins, not only lead, but also mercury and manganese, which can disrupt healthy brain development. The sequester led to the elimination of a new Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center, which would have studied children’s exposure in child care centers to air pollution, fire retardants, and other widely available products with toxic components over an extended period of time, and the impact on health.
Health: State newborn screening programs identify and follow-up on identified genetic or metabolic disorders for the four million infants born in the United States annually. Each year, this effort identifies more than 12,000 babies who test positive. Immediate treatment can help avoid serious and costly long-term health consequences such as intellectual disability, organ damage, and even death. Because of sequestration and other longer term budget cuts, it is estimated that nearly 1.8 million babies born this year will not be tested. The principal federal funders of newborn screening—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)— have seen core budget cuts of 19 percent and 27 percent, respectively, since 2010.
The Faces of Austerity reminds us of what is at stake for children, for the most vulnerable among us, and for us all. Speculation around the budget talks here in Washington has moved from a grand bargain, to a little bargain, to a shrug of acquiescence to the status quo—which in this case means more cuts. We have to care that our neighbors have shelter and food, that our roads and bridges are sound, that our children can breathe the air safely, even that we know to throw a jacket on them as they are running out the door to child care or school. And we have to care that we must invest in our future so that all our children have the opportunity to reach their potential.
Tomorrow the tension between austerity and hope will be apparent on Capitol Hill, as the budget conferees meet even as a bipartisan early learning bill is introduced. Watch for our alert to learn how you can Be a Big Voice for Little Kids™ and help resolve this tension so that cuts are healed and children have brighter futures.
Posted 3 months ago