The FAMILY Act is Best for Babies

By Lauren French

The first few months of children’s lives are crucial for their cognitive, social and emotional development. Social interactions with primary caregivers during these early stages are essential to shaping the architecture of babies’ brains. However, this critical bonding time is often limited by two important factors in parents’ lives: time and money. To ensure that mothers and fathers are able to provide the best possible care for their young children, members of Congress have introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. This law would allow workers to receive a portion of their pay for up to 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child, as well as during their own serious illness or that of a close family member.   

MomsRising, ZERO TO THREE, and the National Partnership for Women & Families hosted a congressional briefing on Wednesday, which focused on the child development case for paid family and medical leave. The briefing was co-hosted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro, who introduced the FAMILY Act. This legislation would fill a big void – only 12 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave and few employers offer paid maternity or paternity leave. This means that parents are often forced by economic necessity to sacrifice critical bonding time with a new baby in order to return to work.

The relationship that forms between a parent and child in the first weeks of life is critical to healthy development. Babies who develop close relationships with their caregivers at a young age are better able to deal with adversity, which “can mean the difference between positive and negative outcomes for children throughout their lives.” This early bonding time also allows parents to develop into better mothers and fathers, as it takes time to establish the routines that will influence a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Paid family leave is also crucial to the health of young children. Time at home allows parents to take babies to well-child visits and immunization appointments. Furthermore, paid family leave allows mothers to breastfeed for longer, which reduces rates of childhood infection. Dr. David Bromberg of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has endorsed the FAMILY Act, pronounced that paid leave is “a right and a need that every child in this country should have.”

Many employers are also realizing that what’s good for families is good for business. At the congressional briefing, Marcia St. Hilaire-Finn, owner of Bright Start Child Care and Preschool spoke in support of the legislation, stating, “As a business owner, I firmly believe that the FAMILY Act would be a tremendous help to small businesses like mine, and the dedicated staff that we employ.” Hilaire-Finn noted that by enabling her to provide paid family and medical leave without having to bear the full cost, the Act would allow her to compete with larger employers and retain high-quality staff. The FAMILY Act creates a social insurance system that is supported by small contributions from workers and employers.

Paid family and medical leave is long overdue in this country, and this legislation is a common-sense policy that would be good for babies, parents, and for the economy.