Lending a Hand – Or a Box – From the Start

Written by: Jessica Landgraf

Primary Source:  Green & Write, February 1, 2017

In a previous post I mentioned the opportunity states currently have to build on, and continue, the progress of past administrations in the area of early childhood education and development. For many, when we talk about early childhood education and development, it evokes the image of preschool or day care. However, policies focused on early childhood education and development should be broadened and take into account policies that impact the child directly, like access to quality programs, as well as policies that impact the child indirectly, like parental leave and women’s pre- and peri-natal health and wellbeing.

While some of these issues tend to be reported on more in the public health policy arena, researchers in the field of education policy, such as Dr. James Heckman, have been highlighting the benefits that investing in mothers’ pre- and peri-natal health and wellbeing can have on a child’s educational and life outcomes.

Current State of State Laws

Also as discussed in a prior post, America spends significantly less on financial support for childcare than other countries. Compounding this problem, the U.S. has no policy mandate that provides paid maternity leave for mothers, unlike Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the U.K. Additionally, Australia, Brazil, France, Indonesia, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and the U.K. have paid paternity leave as well.

A state-by-state analysis conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families rates states based on the laws that they have which help new and expecting parents. This analysis is conducted every two years and its latest edition (2016) provides a stark look at the lack of support provided to parents in most states. However, they also reported reasons to be hopeful. Between the last edition of the report and this most recent edition, 11 states plus D.C. have improved their overall rating through the implementation of new laws detailed below:

  • New York – 4th state with a paid family leave program & pregnancy accommodation law
  • C. – paid family leave for its own government employees & pregnancy accommodation law
  • California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont – paid sick days laws
  • Colorado, Delaware, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Utah – Pregnancy accommodation law, with Nebraska and Utah explicitly including accommodations for nursing mothers.

Proposals for federal policies supporting paid leave and reforming child-care assistance are discussed at length here.

No Need for Major Legislative Action

Confronting any of these issues at a federal or even state government level may seem like a daunting task at the moment, but there are examples of state organizations taking action to do what they can to assist new parents. One recent example is the partnership formed between the New Jersey Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board (CFNFRB) and The Baby Box Company (BBCo). This partnership provides all new parents who register with a free box full of items mother and child immediately need, plus, the box doubles as a crib with an included mattress and fitted sheet.

To some this may seem very odd, “Put my baby in a box?!” But it is far less unusual that you might think. In fact, it is yet another area of “education” where Finland has led the way. Finland introduced baby boxes in 1938 in response to high poverty and high infant mortality rates, and eventually expanded the idea to include all Finnish expecting mothers, not just those in poverty. The tradition still continues, although what is included has varied with trends in parenting and pediatric health. This type of program has begun to be implemented all over the world, with countries adapting the package to meet local needs. These pilot programs in the U.S., Canada, U.K., India, South Africa, and Australia could lead to a new standard for expecting parents.

You won’t see babies sleeping in baby boxes in hospitals anytime soon…wait, they already do! (Image courtesy of Creative Commons)

If you are still skeptical, a familiar example that is further along on the road to common occurrence is the sleep sack. This was a product in response to infant mortality due to the sleep environment. It started small, with a father responding to the death of his daughter due to SIDS. Now sleep sacks are a given part of an infant’s sleep outfit, commonly used in over 800 hospitals in the U.S.

From these types of movements, I believe that organizations and socially conscious entrepreneurs, both within and with out the government, will help states find new and innovative ways to provide parents and families with the support they need without waiting for the often slow progress of policy change. As in so many cases, it may be these grassroots type efforts that end up making the biggest difference.

Contact Jessica: landgr16@msu.edu

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Jessica Landgraf

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