Help families put their health first: Pass paid leave
Impossible choices. That's what comes to mind when I think of far too many of the families that I care for as a pediatrician based in Georgia — the impossible choices they need to make, far too often, to simply get through the day and start the next feeling as strong and resilient as possible.
I also was serving as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics last year when COVID-19 changed the world. I was worried for families everywhere and how the pandemic upended lives in ways we hadn’t seen before.
Today, I think of my patients and their families who have faced insurmountable challenges because of the pandemic and who, after more than a year, are still waking up to face much of the same stress and painful uncertainty.
I think of the parents who were essential workers and needed to scramble, without missing a beat, to try to find some way to find care for their children when schools went virtual. The families with children with complex health care needs who need to choose between getting to a doctor's appointment or going to work to get a paycheck. The mother who needs to take time off from work due to complications with pregnancy and hopes it doesn't impact her ability to get paid work hours after the baby is born.
These are dilemmas that no one should have to face. Health and well-being should always come first, but sadly, parents, families and caregivers are too often forced to prioritize ways to ensure they can support their families financially and make sure there is food on the table or a roof over their heads.
That is why our country needs comprehensive medical and family leave policy — and now is the time for our policymakers to act.
As a pediatrician, I not only have stories that illustrate what paid leave would mean for my patients' families, but I also understand the science behind why it’s so beneficial to the health of our children, communities and even our country.
During the first few weeks of life, it is critical that parents have the time to form a secure, healthy attachment with their child. This builds the foundation for strong relationships in the future that are important for a child's lifelong health and well-being. Paid leave helps make sure that families can prioritize caring for their baby without having to sacrifice their paycheck.
Paid leave also offers families peace of mind and keeps them strong. If a parent is unexpectedly unable to work because they are sick or injured, or because they need to care for a relative, paid leave can help prevent the family from experiencing poverty and food insecurity.
Strong families create strong communities, which create a strong and prosperous country.
We also know that current access to paid leave is not equitable. It is lower among lower-income families, and when it comes to parental leave, only 41% of Black women and 33% of Hispanic women have access to it, while around half of white women do.
We must address these inequities and pass universal paid medical and family leave.
Our lawmakers have a key opportunity to make a huge difference for families. Passing a comprehensive policy with 12 weeks for caregiving and medical leave will provide the support that patients and families like those I see in my office so desperately need right now.
Let's not miss this opportunity to do what is right for children and families. Let's make sure families can always put their health and well-being first.
— Dr. Sally Goza is a pediatrician in Georgia and the immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.