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January 5, 2016

Boulder County Supports Families by Extending Paid Family Leave

Boulder County, Colo. - Beginning January 1, Boulder County is leading the way for many organizations in Boulder County and join other states, counties, and municipalities around the country by extending paid leave for new birth or adoptive parents. The action is guided by the advice of public health and Boulder County early childhood advocates promoting the importance of a child’s early experiences.

“Positive experiences in the earliest years are vital for healthy brain development. Just like building a house, future development depends on a strong foundation,” said Heather Matthews, Boulder County Public Health Family Health Division manager. “Supporting parents to take time after the birth of a child or an adoption is an important step towards helping children grow up to be healthy and productive, which ultimately leads to healthy and prosperous communities.”

The new policy extends paid parental leave for county employees from one week to four weeks, which can be followed by available paid leave and/or utilized as part of Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave for a maximum of 12 weeks off.

The county’s parental leave extension follows growing recognition across the country about the importance of early childhood development and the impact that experiences at that age can have on the child’s health and well-being in the long run.

Paid parental leave has significant positive social and economic implications, including:

  • Increased female labor force participation by making it easier for women to stay in the workforce after giving birth or adopting, which contributes to economic growth.
  • Increased staff retention and reduced turnover, saving significant costs associated with replacing employees.
  • Reduced reliance on public assistance.
  • Improved health for parents and children, ultimately reducing health care costs.
  • More potential for new moms to breastfeed successfully, if they choose, which ultimately improves the health of both mother and baby.
  • Increased involvement by both parents.

“We hope the county’s action will spur other employers to consider extending their paid leave for new parents. We’re grateful for Boulder County’s commitment to supporting working families,” said Matthews.

Extended family leave programs have been proposed in 17 states and adopted in California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Similar policies have passed in King County, Washington; Multnomah County, Oregon; and the City of Portland, Oregon.

"We are pleased to be able to offer additional paid leave to our new or repeat parents as a way of letting our employees know how much they mean to us, and to help more families get a healthy start,” said Boulder County Commissioner Cindy Domenico. “Additionally, when we looked at the long-term benefits of adding three weeks paid leave for new parents to our plan, it was pretty clear that the initial investment was worth the increased stability and continuity of county operations that result from a more generous family leave structure.”

Boulder County Human Resources Manager Julia Yager was also a champion of the policy. “This small investment in our employees and their families can make a lifetime of difference. And it helps us reach our human resource goals of keeping employees engaged and returning to work. It was just the right thing to do,” said Yager.

The United States remains the only advanced economy that does not provide paid parental leave. Only 12 percent of people working in the private sector in the U.S. have access to paid family leave through their employers. While FMLA guarantees workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or sick relative, in reality, few can afford to go that long without pay.

Residents can learn more about the importance of early childhood experiences by watching the documentary series, Raising of America, on Rocky Mountain PBS beginning January 7, 2016. The series explores how a strong start for all kids leads not only to better individual outcomes (e.g. learning, earning, physical and mental health, etc.) but also to a healthier, safer, better educated, more prosperous, and more equitable society.

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