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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, July 08, 2018 1:00 am

Trendsetter:

City hopes its family-leave policy will be model for other employers

Stephanie Crandall

“My daughter is having a baby! I'm going to be a grandpa again!” Mayor Tom Henry grinned from ear to ear. That announcement started the conversation about a parental leave policy for city employees.

City Council is considering a policy on Tuesday that is modest compared to the states, companies and countries that have already taken the lead on this issue. Henry has proposed paid leave for all eligible parents, birth or adoptive, up to 120 hours which, in most cases, is three weeks.

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order providing up to 150 hours (four weeks by state time-cards) for full-time employees and 75 hours (two weeks) for part-time employees.

Netflix offers “unlimited parental leave” up to one year following a child's birth or adoption. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States is the only country of 41 developed nations that does not mandate paid parental leave.

The potential budgetary impact of the city's proposal is estimated to be less than $100,000, if the policy applies to all employees.

If the policy only applies to non-union employees, the potential fiscal impact is about $20,000.

This outlay arises from the potential need to backfill certain positions, incurring overtime expenses.

However, research shows the benefits to the employees, their children and the greater community far outweigh the cost.

For a birth mother, she no longer has to worry about a reduced paycheck at the same time she receives her hospital bill and has to pay for diapers and wipes.

For fathers who are encouraged to be part of their children's lives through community events such as City Councilman Glynn Hines' Back to School Fatherhood Initiative, the bond is strengthened from Day 1.

For adoptive parents who are needed for the 1,000+ children in foster homes in Allen County and countless others around the world who may be waiting for their forever families, they are offered a chance to focus on easing their child's transition.

Paid parental leave reduces the stress of adjusting to a new family situation and enables a parent to concentrate on nurturing a child during a crucial time of mental and physical development.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website on child development states, “Children are born ready to learn. ... Parents and other caregivers can support healthy brain growth by speaking to, playing with, and caring for their child.”

Children are like sponges in their early years, and we must do all we can to foster that learning so our children can grow into thriving adults.

One of the greatest gifts we can ever give our children is our time and attention.

This is also one of the most important investments we can make as a community, as time is a non-renewable resource.

Our children are not just our community's future; they are indicators of the current state of our community's health. Some sections of Fort Wayne have among the highest infant mortality rates in the state, and Indiana has one of the highest rates in the country. According to the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health 2017 Annual Report, 55 babies died last year before their first birthday. If this were the homicide rate, we'd be looking at every possible preventive measure to put in place.

Fort Wayne has been named “a great place to raise a family.” But we can't rest on our laurels. This policy will show that Fort Wayne values families as much as we say we do.

If you don't know what your company's family leave policy is, now is the time to contact your HR department. It's also time to let your councilman know if you think a parental leave policy is good for Fort Wayne's families.

This policy is not a requirement that Fort Wayne employers provide the same parental leave to their employees. Some already offer longer periods of leave for a range of caregiving responsibilities; others provide less.

But Mayor Henry and his administration hope this policy proposal sparks a conversation about how businesses, government and residents can support families in Fort Wayne before someone else announces, “I'm having a baby!”

Stephanie Crandall is director of intergovernmental affairs for the city of Fort Wayne.