On a recent tour of Europe, our Czech guide told me about the family-friendly policies in her country. Mothers (or fathers; families can choose) get two years of paid family leave when a child is born. If the next child comes along before those two years are up, they start all over again. Then children can start preschool…for free. Clearly, in contrast to the United States, early childhood and strong families are top priority in her country and others in Europe. While Jana said they pay more in taxes, she also pointed out the huge benefits they get in return.
Most European countries have long provided paid family and medical leave and other supports to working families that most Americans can only dream about — but the good news is that, where I live, in Washington State, we’re about to catch up!
After the trip, I returned to work as the owner of Vancouver, WA’s Kazoodles Toys. At Kazoodles we’re passionate about play and its importance for learning from birth on, and for bringing families together, relieving stress and keeping the brain sharp throughout life. Our customers and employees remind me how important family-friendly policies are. The families with children who come to the store to have fun and learn are vital to its success. These families, as well as my employees, need benefits that help them thrive.
As a small business owner, I was a little skeptical at first about paid family leave. Heaven knows, it’s tough enough to make ends meet in small retail! Yet I know very well that access to paid leave is crucial for the wellbeing of all families. I’ve seen this with my own daughters as their babies were born, and friends who have needed to care for spouses or parents. Whether it’s to welcome a new baby, take care of a sick parent, or recover from illness themselves, workers should be able to take the time they need.
Finally, starting in January, my employees and most Washington State workers will be able to do just that, thanks to a new program that will allow them to take up to 16 weeks of combined paid family and medical leave. I’m proud that, driven by my passion for healthy families and early learning, I supported passage of Washington’s groundbreaking paid family and medical leave program. Because we have fewer than 50 employees, we are exempt from the employer contribution, and I’m grateful to legislators who understood the challenges of small business when they created the law.
I’ve served on the board of SELF (Support for Early Learning and Families) for a few years, and understand how the start a child gets in life affects that child through adulthood. This program will definitely support early learning for young children, because parents are their first teachers.
With Washington State’s new paid leave program in place, businesses like mine will get stronger and my community and employees will take comfort in knowing that family members will be there to provide the care they need, when they need it. Paid leave is an invaluable gift. Europeans may take it for granted, but we’ll be celebrating it here in Washington State in the new year.
Learn more about the paid family and medical leave insurance program Washington State will have in place for all of us next January at https://momsrising.org/paidleavewa.