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Written by Jacie Farris

Most parents can relate to the stress of tracking down a babysitter for an evening out. However, it seems that more and more parents are desperately struggling with the daily balance of work and childcare, especially after the birth or adoption of a new child. For many families, expanded paid family leave options could offer solutions that are not currently available.

Erin Macey, policy analyst for the Indiana Institute for Working Families (IIWF), defined paid family leave as paid time off from a job for a family member who must provide care for a newborn, newly adopted child, foster child or a child with a serious illness. Paid family leave could also apply to adults who care for elderly parents or spouses who suffer from serious illnesses.

“I’ve spoken to pregnant moms and expectant dads who are cobbling together their sick days to spend time with their babies when they are born,” said Macey, adding that, in her opinion, “a fair society recognizes the value of caregiving and supports it – systematically, not just through campaigns.”

Ambre Marr, the state legislative director for AARP Indiana, considers paid family leave to be a critical tool for all kinds of caregivers. According to Marr, approximately 840,000 Hoosiers provide care for a loved one.

“Family caregivers are the backbone of our long-term care system here in Indiana, providing care valued at $9.5 billion annually,” said Marr.

Paid family leave has been known to provide a number of benefits for the children and adults involved, from good health practices to a more productive workforce.

“Beyond not supporting individuals and their caregivers at critical moments in their lives – birth, illness and death – there are health and economic consequences, too,” said Macey. “Newborns who have guardians with paid leave will experience decreased infant mortality; increased breastfeeding and its health benefits; well-child visits; decreased child abuse; increased odds of being placed in high-quality, stable childcare; and more. When adult caregivers are supported, we see fewer nursing home placements and better labor force participation. Workers with paid leave are less stressed, more productive and more loyal. I could go on and on. It’s truly a win-win-win.”

Marr cited some of consequences individuals without paid family leave face, saying, “While some legal protections – such as the national Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – provide a useful benefit for many employees to maintain job security while experiencing a ‘serious medical condition’ or caring for a parent, spouse or child with a serious condition, FMLA is unpaid leave and does not provide a source of income to replace lost wages. The practical reality is that many workers struggling to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck simply cannot afford to take unpaid leave or miss a paycheck.”

Macey agreed, adding, “Often, parents who don’t qualify for unpaid leave under FMLA or [who] can’t afford unpaid leave just go back to work, sometimes depending on unreliable or even unsafe care for their infants. As many as one in four women report returning to work within two weeks of childbirth.”

According to Macey and IIWF’s 2016 Paid Family & Medical Leave report, the FMLA, a piece of national legislation, provides unpaid leave to some employees for medical or family care needs, but this only covers about 60 percent of Indiana’s workforce. Indiana has no laws that extend FMLA to private sector employees, except for family members of individuals in the armed forces, and only in certain situation.

Aside from FMLA, “some employer policies offer longer maternity or ‘primary caregiver’ leaves as well,” said Macey. “This creates an uneven playing field for men and women with respect to bonding with a new infant. And while it is true that childbearing women also need to contend with the physical recovery from birth, both parents (and children) deserve and benefit from paid time off following the birth or adoption of a child.”

According to Macey, Indiana falls behind many other states that offer more robust paid family leave options. Her work with IIWF involves publishing recommendations and supporting legislation for greater access to paid family leave for Hoosiers. The IIWF is also directing research to study different approaches and options for paid family leave.

AARP is also focusing on workplace flexibility, including paid family leave. AARP participates on the Paid Family Leave Advisory Board with the Indiana Commission on Women to study the costs and perceptions of paid family leave in Indiana. In addition, during the most recent legislative session, AARP worked on Senate Bill 253, which would have assigned the topic of a voluntary paid family and medical leave program to an interim study committee.

“Unfortunately, the legislative council chose not to study the issue,” said Marr, “but it moved the discussion further and will lead to more conversations about options for paid family and medical leave programs.”

For individuals who would like to be involved in efforts regarding paid family leave, Macey recommended following IIWF’s progress on their Facebook page and through their newsletter. She also suggested the following resources as means of learning more about the topic:

Ultimately, parents and other caregivers have a variety of needs, and paid family leave could ease some of the burdens many individuals face.

“Often, employees must make work-related adjustments to accommodate the needs of the person who is ill or needs care,” said Marr. “There are times when an individual’s attention must be diverted away from their job to tend to caregiving responsibilities. These various challenges highlight the fact that working caregivers have varying leave needs.”