As a parent, I know what it is like to be worried about your child’s health and well-being — and to have financial worries on top of that. When I gave birth to my daughter Ella at 28 weeks, she weighed 2 lbs. and 1 oz. She was and is the best thing that has ever happened to us.
I had struggled to get pregnant because of a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, which, coupled with preeclampsia during pregnancy, caused me to use the bulk of my accrued sick leave for a job that is challenging and rewarding by anyone’s yardstick. I’ve been an intervention specialist with the Cincinnati Public Schools preschool diagnostic team for six years working with toddlers, their families and early childhood education programs. I work with a team to evaluate toddlers to see if they’d be best served by joining a CPS special needs pre-K classroom when they turn 3 years old.
As a part of my job, I connect families with services, whether it’s the right pre-K class at CPS, Children’s Hospital, Community Head Start programs, mental health services, or even a homeless shelter. The families I work with are deeply concerned about meeting their children’s needs. Their worry is always intense, whether or not it’s compounded by other worries, like securing affordable housing or keeping up with credit card bills and car payments.
We need a system in place so that a stressful period for a family isn’t made worse by losing a paycheck.
I go into homes, family child care programs, and private centers and reach out to kids, their teachers and their parents — wherever they are. The preschool diagnostic team often is the first contact with public schools that a family with a very young special needs child will have.
I love my job because we can show families that there is help out there and they will get through tough times — a challenge that hit very close to home when Ella arrived.
My daughter spent the first 64 days of her life in the University of Cincinnati Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit. I had to take four months of unpaid leave, which was devastating. It ate up our savings. I got to the point where putting gas in the car to go visit her was a pinch. We borrowed money from family members. It has taken close to two years to recover and make up for debt we fell into during this period — where credit cards and the personal loans from family members enabled us to get by.
Iam sharing my story for a reason: Not having a national system of paid family leave impacts so many families. No one can predict when they are going to get sick or have a difficult pregnancy followed by a premature birth. We need a system in place so that a stressful period for a family isn’t made worse by losing a paycheck.
The FAMILY Act would not be limited to new parents — a critical piece that the Trump administration ignores in its family leave proposal.
I am so grateful for the healthcare coverage we had, and for the care Ella received at UC Medical Center, which was wonderful. I cannot imagine how financially devastating this situation is for families who don’t have health insurance or have an insurance plan with bad coverage. But even with good health insurance coverage, having to take four months off without pay was a tremendous blow.
I believe that having a basic amount of paid leave for all working families would prevent situations like mine, and that is why I support the FAMILY Act. It would provide paid leave for up to 12 weeks, through a small tax on employees and employers. It would not be limited to new parents — a critical piece that the Trump administration ignores in its family leave proposal. Under the FAMILY Act, people who need time off to care for themselves, their spouse, parent or child suffering from a serious illness would be able to take the time they need. When I think about the population of children and families I work with who have special needs, I know that limiting paid leave to the parents of newborns is not enough. It’s time to get serious about paid family leave and pass the FAMILY Act. No one should have to go through what we went through.
**Originally posted on the American Federation of Teachers site: https://medium.com/@AFTunion/its-time-to-get-serious-about-paid-family-leave-a74b128967bb