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Fall can be a challenging time for any working parent. Summer is over. Kids are headed back to school – and flu season is around the corner. When a child starts coughing and sneezing or spikes a fever, many parents are filled with dread. But for parents whose jobs do not offer paid sick days, these fears are compounded by worries about how they will care for a sick child and make ends meet. That’s why this is also a good time of year to raise awareness about the need for a common sense paid sick days standard in this country.

More than 44 million workers in the United States are in jobs that don’t provide paid sick days to deal with their own illnesses. Millions more don’t have paid sick time they can use to care for a child. This is despite ample evidence demonstrating the many ways parental access to paid sick days improves the long-term physical and academic health of children – and, conversely, the very real threat the lack of access to paid sick days poses to the health of our children, our schools and our communities. It’s an issue that affects all children and parents.

Caring parents want to protect their children’s health by staying home to speed their recovery and making sure they get the medical and preventive care they need. In the United States, however, nearly one-quarter of adults say they have lost a job or been threatened with job loss because they had to stay home sick or care for a sick child or family member. That explains why parents without paid sick days are more than twice as likely as parents with paid sick days to send a sick child to school or day care, where they will likely get sicker and spread contagious illnesses to the school community.

The health and economic benefits of establishing paid sick days standards have already been proven in cities like San Francisco and Washington, D.C. What’s more, three-quarters of the public supports a national paid sick days law, and support is strong across partisan and demographic lines. Given proven successes and broad support, lawmakers should be making paid sick days a priority.

So this back-to-school season, I urge you to talk to other parents, teachers, school nurses and your elected officials about the need for paid sick days. Now is the perfect time to have these important conversations about what’s best for children and their families.

To make your conversations easier, the National Partnership for Women & Families has put together a back-to-school toolkit, complete with a sample fact sheet, letters to the editor and elected officials, a set of discussion questions for parents and a survey to assess the impact paid sick days are having on your child’s school. The toolkit can be found here.

Working parents have too many worries this time of year. Being able to take time off to get their children the care they need should not be one of them. It’s time for a paid sick days standard that will help keep our children, schools and communities healthier.

Vicki Shabo is director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

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