A child’s earliest interactions with the world have tremendous effects on long-term development. Neural connections are most actively formed during the first few years of life – 700 new connections every second. This tidbit comes from Harvard University’s Five Numbers to Remember About Early Childhood Development, which lays out the results of several research studies focused on the impacts of early experiences in child development.
The bottom line: Healthy learning experiences are crucial during the earliest months and years in a child’s life, increasing positive social, educational and health outcomes for the long-term. And good outcomes mean big payoffs – every $1 invested in early education programs yields $4 to $9 dollars in public returns.
It’s clear quality early learning is an important building block for long-term success, but kids need positive learning experiences even before they reach such programs. Parents are a child’s first teachers, and they play a critical role in preparing children for healthy development.
Yet, not all parents are in the economic position to most effectively bond with and nurture their children. The vast majority of the workforce – 88% – does not have paid family leave benefits.[i] For part-time and low-wage workers, access is even more limited. This means many workers must choose between sacrificing the needs of a new child or providing for their families.
That’s where policymakers come in. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act only offers unpaid leave to a limited sector of the workforce. However, there are good state models that extend paid family leave benefits to all workers. Both California and New Jersey have programs that provide up to six weeks of partially paid leave for bonding with a new child or caring for sick or aging family member.
In Washington, Family and Medical Leave Insurance was approved in 2007 to provide up to five weeks of partially paid leave for parents of a new child. However, it has yet to be implemented. In 2013, state lawmakers will face a choice of how to finalize policy for the program. Until then, many Washington workers and their families will have to choose between the health or financial stability of their families.
All children deserve the best learning experiences for a healthy and successful life – and their parents should be able to play a primary role in nurturing their development. Policies that support work-life balance, including paid family leave, are essential to ensuring parents are able to provide their children with the best outcomes possible.
[i] U.S. Bureau of labor Statistics, National Compensation Survey, March 2011, Table 33. Leave benefits: Access, civilian workers.