April 2012 Archives

Paid Family Leave - Good for Kids and Moms

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At an April 25th forum at the Ford Foundation, coordinated by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), researchers discussed the benefits of paid leave for children and parents' wellbeing, particularly for low-income families.

 

"In 2012, the United States remains the only industrialized nation without a national paid family leave program that supports workers who need time off to attend to important family needs, such as caring for a new baby or sick child," said Curtis Skinner, PhD, director of family economic security at NCCP.

 

"The status quo, whereby the lowest-paid workers are least likely to have paid sick leave or other leave that enables them to take care of family responsibilities, forces working parents to choose between not taking care of their family or losing their wages (or losing their job altogether)," observed Work and Family issue editor Jane Waldfogel, who presented at the forum. And many low-income workers cannot afford to take the unpaid leave provided under the Family and Medical Leave Act, even if they are eligible.

 

Forcing parents to choose between family and work not only strains families but also costs employers in terms of diminished employee productivity, engagement, and retention. Even in the lowest paying jobs, it costs more to train a new worker than to provide current workers paid leave options.

 

U.S. businesses are often resistant to discussing paid leave options - assuming that the costs of paid leave will fall to them. However, as Waldfogel explained at the forum, this is not necessarily the case.  Paid leave can be provided by a social insurance fund, such as the one provided in New Jersey. New research on the impact of such policies on children and families in the United States will be critical to larger scale implementations of family leave policies in the U.S.

 

For more on Work and Family, go to www.futureofchildren.org. Building a Competitive Future Right from the Start: A Paid Family Leave Forum was coordinated by NCCP with the help of the New York State Paid Leave Coalition and A Better Balance, with support from the Ford, Annie E. Casey, and Hagedorn foundations.

Combating Cyberbullying

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Lee Hirsch's new documentary "Bully," portrays the difficulties children often experience when they are tormented by school peers. With the widespread use of social media, that bullying often includes cyberbullying.

 

The Kaiser Foundation reports that media are among the most influential forces in the lives of young people today, who spend more time with it - 7.5 hours a day, 7 days a week - than with most other activities. In the Future of Children volume Children and Electronic Media, researchers highlight the findings of a 2007 web-based survey of 1,454 adolescents, which found that seventy-two percent of respondents in the study experienced at least one incident of cyberbullying in the previous year.


In their chapter "Online Communication and Adolescent RelationshipsFuture of Children authors Kaveri Subrahmanyam and Patricia Greenfield summarize other research findings regarding cyberbullying, showing that youth aged 10 to 17 with symptoms of depression are more likely to report having been a victim of online harassment. Those that cyberbully are more likely to report delinquency, substance abuse, and poor parent-child relationships. The authors note that more research is needed to determine the causality of these relationships.

 

The Children and Electronic Media volume indicates three areas of intervention for regulating and promoting positive social media use for children and youth: families, education, and government.  In terms of the family, Subrahmanyam and Greenfield indicate that while more research is needed to determine how much parents know about their children's use of electronic media, both adolescents and parents agree that youth know more about the internet than their parents do. The authors suggest that parents may be able to influence their children's media use by monitoring through internet filters and by limiting their time and activity online.

 

Initiating change through education and government intervention is more complicated. Schools have begun to monitor or restrict access to social media but this is controversial because it may compromise the educational benefits of social media. And although some states such as Arizona and California have taken steps to introduce legislation that aims to reduce cyberbullying, as the Children and Electronic Media volume notes, "First Amend­ment considerations and the increasing reality that many media forms are exempt from government oversight makes broad regulation of content close to impossible."

 

The volume continues, however, saying "although the government's ability to regulate content may be weak, its ability to promote positive programming and media research is not. Government at all levels should fund the creation and evaluation of positive media initiatives such as public service campaigns to reduce risky behaviors and studies about educational programs that explore innovative uses of media."

 

The message? When it comes to social media, content matters. 


Although it may be difficult to combat cyberbullying through regulation, social media can be used as a tool to promote positive youth behavior. As the Children and Electronic Media volume reveals, media content designed to promote pro-social behavior increases social capacities such as altruism, cooperation, and tolerance of others - a powerful positive tool in efforts to reduce bullying of any kind. 


Read more on this topic in the online Future of Children volume Children and Electronic Media. Join the conversation by commenting on this and similar blog posts.

 

Paid Leave: Keeping People Employed

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"Though it may seem counterintuitive, providing paid family and medical leave when people cannot work due to caregiving responsibilities helps keep people employed. In the short term it keeps people away from work, but in the long term it reduces the number of people who have to quit their jobs when they need time off to care for a seriously ill family member or when they have a new child. Paid medical leave serves this same purpose for workers who have short-term but serious illnesses that prevent them from working" write Heather Boushey and Sarah Jane Glynn in a report released yesterday by the Center for American Progress.

 

At a time when the majority of American women are employed outside the home, many single mothers and fathers are heading families on their own, and older Americans increasingly need care from younger relatives, the challenges of meeting family responsibilities and holding down a job are more difficult than ever. As the Future of Children's Work and Family volume documents, when U.S. families need care for children or elderly relatives, they rely primarily not on government policies and programs but on themselves and their employers. Employer supports, however, are inequitably distributed, with the best packages of benefits going to the highest-paid workers. As a result, employees who may most need employer assistance in meeting family needs may be least likely to receive it.

 

As Boushey and Glynn show, providing paid family and medical leave would most likely have positive effects on employment and lifetime income, with the largest impact among less-educated and lower-income families - those who currently have the least access to any form of leave.

 

Workers who have a new child, experience a personal medical emergency or have an ailing family member often either have to quit their jobs to provide short-term intensive care or lose their jobs because they are unable to take job-protected leave. As Boushey, an author in the Future of Children's Work and Family volume noted at its fall release at the Brookings Institution, "we did all that work on welfare reform in the 1990's that encouraged low income individuals, especially women, to work... and so [workplace flexibility, leave policies] must be the next step. We want that single Mom in the workplace, but we have to make sure that she can stay in the workplace, that she can hold on to her job while taking care of her children."

 

Yet, as Jane Waldfogel and Sara McLanahan note in Work and Family, providing additional paid leave could be difficult for many U.S. small businesses, particularly as the nation continues to struggle with the aftereffects of the recession. Waldfogel and McLanahan suggest that it is reasonable to ask all employers to provide a minimal amount of paid sick leave and other leave time to all employees. But longer leaves, where required for parents of newborns or for caregivers of those with serious longer-term health conditions, would probably be better provided through some other mechanism, such as a social insurance fund like the one that undergirds Social Security retirement and disability programs. Boushey and Glynn describe what such a fund might look like in their recent report.

 

For more research-based information on work and family in the United States, go to the Future of Children's fall 2011 volume Work and Family.

Juvenile and Criminal Justice and the Transition to Adulthood

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In their chapter Vulnerable Populations and the Transition to Adulthood, D. Wayne Osgood, E. Michael Foster, and Mark E. Courtney explain that while the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a rocky road for working-class non-college-bound youth, it is even more uncertain for vulnerable populations, such as those involved with the juvenile or criminal justice systems. For these youth, activities are more restricted, making it harder to obtain a college education or develop stable relationships that could increase their chances of success as adults. Among fathers, incarceration has been linked to lower earnings and education, homelessness and material hardship, as well as poorer relationship skills, according to findings from the Fragile Families Study. Effective programs and policies are needed to help protect against these hardships and provide a less troubled transition to adulthood.

 

One effort to provide support to youth in the criminal justice system is to provide GED and other educational opportunities in correctional facilities. An example of this effort is Princeton University's Prison Teaching Initiative, which operates in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Corrections and Mercer County Community College (MCCC) to provide access to MCCC accredited college courses at New Jersey correctional facilities. Faculty, staff, graduate students, and other Princeton affiliates with advanced degrees volunteer to teach courses in several disciplines. Another example is the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program, a volunteer-based program in Princeton that recruits and trains students and community members to tutor and teach in nearby correctional facilities.

 

Osgood, Foster, and Courtney indicate that a major problem adolescents and young adults in vulnerable populations face is that access to services often ends abruptly as they reach adulthood, despite persisting needs. Without continued support, many youth who have been involved with the juvenile or criminal justice systems may return to crime. Thomas Grisso, author of Adolescent Offenders with Mental Disorders, indicates that many youth who have had contact with the juvenile justice system need ongoing mental health treatment, with community and family support. Laurie Chassin, in her chapter, Juvenile Justice and Substance Use points out that among youth who have been successfully treated for substance use disorders, there is a high relapse rate, suggesting a need for aftercare services. While independence is the ultimate goal, the chances of success may be increased with continued support.

 

While researchers and advocates point to many educational and treatment programs for youth and young adults, more research needs to determine which programs are best for ensuring a successful transition to adulthood and better life outcomes. Join the conversation on offender education and re-entry by commenting on this or other related blog posts. Also, check out the Future of Children website and follow the journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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