Paid family leave may prevent child abuse

It's important to note that paid family leave is not just an economic support policy, Jenny Tanis says. "Paid family leave provides designated time at home to care for and bond with a new child without the added pressure of economic hardship" (Credit: Getty Images)

State-paid family leave can help prevent child abuse, a new study finds.

Child maltreatment is a serious public health issue in the United States, particularly affecting young children who are most vulnerable due to their dependence on caregivers.

Infants under two years old account for over one-quarter, or 28.1%, of all maltreatment cases in the US, and infants under one year of age experience the highest rate of victimization, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Previous research found that paid family leave policies have the potential to promote secure and healthy attachments, improve maternal and child health outcomes, enhance parental mental health, and support household economic stability. These outcomes are known protective factors for child maltreatment.

Researchers have now established a direct link between paid family leave and reductions in infant maltreatment.

The World Health Organization states that child maltreatment includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence, and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development, or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust, or power.

“Child maltreatment is a complex issue that requires innovative tools to address the multiple challenges faced by vulnerable families,” says Jenny Tanis, an assistant professor of social work and doctoral candidate at Hope College at Michigan State University.

“Our research provides evidence that paid family leave policies may be an effective innovative policy tool to promote child safety and family well-being.”

The United States is one of only five countries in the world that does not provide federal compensation guarantee for maternity leave. The other four being the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, and Papua New Guinea, according to coauthor Sacha Klein, an associate professor in the College of Social Science’s School of Social Work.

“In the absence of a national paid family leave policy, US states have been left to decide whether they should adopt this as a state policy,” Klein says. “To date, 14 states and Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico have taken the matter into their own hands and enacted state-paid family leave policies. Several other states, including Michigan, are actively considering adopting this policy.”

The research team compared four states that implemented family leave (California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) to states that do not have it. They found a statistically significant reduction in infant maltreatment rates over time for states that passed paid family leave policies compared to those that did not.

The researchers note that although the pool of states with paid leave was small, the differences in infant maltreatment rates were large enough to produce statistically significant results. They also found these policies may be especially protective for infants in states with high levels of family poverty and adults without a high school education.

According to Klein, this research adds to the growing evidence that policies aimed to support household economic stability could be a vital child maltreatment prevention policy tool.

“Traditional arguments in support of paid family leave policy highlight its positive effect on maternal labor force participation and maternal and infant health benefits,” Klein says. “The results of this study highlight considerable implications for the design and implementation of future paid family leave policies.

“We hope our results inform national and state debates about paid family leave policy by providing evidence of the beneficial effect on infant maltreatment rates. States considering paid family leave policies should also consider the importance of designing policies prioritizing the needs of low-income workers, who would benefit the most from such policies and are more likely to encounter the US child welfare system.”

It’s important to note that paid family leave is not just an economic support policy, Tanis says. “Paid family leave provides designated time at home to care for and bond with a new child without the added pressure of economic hardship. When we approach child maltreatment prevention from a socioecological model, we recognize the importance of addressing risk factors at all levels: individual, family, community, and society.”

The study is published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal.

Source: Michigan State University