The recent passing of the Employment [Maternity Leave Extension and Paternity Leave] Amendment Act is to be celebrated. This reflects recognition that the first few months of a child’s life are critical to attachment and bonding in families. The Employment Act changes, due to take effect in January, make provision for 13 weeks of paid maternity leave and five days of paid paternity leave.
This legislative change will provide tangible benefits for young children in our community. Paid-leave policies also yield significant benefits for employers by reducing staff turnover and the subsequent costs of rehiring and retraining new staff.
The early bonds parents develop with their babies are important, as they nurture early brain connections that form the foundation for all learning and relationships that follow. Nurturing and responsive parents let infants and toddlers know they are loved, safe and cared for. This is vital to the child’s ability to learn, form positive relationships, self-manage and mitigate stress. It takes time to develop the parent-child relationship such that it promotes the child’s long-term cognitive, social and emotional development. Extended time at home helps to ensure these bonds form.
There is evidence to support the benefits for extended leave beyond 13 weeks. Longer leave periods are associated with health benefits for new mothers, including a decline in depressive symptoms thus a reduction in the likelihood of severe depression, and an improvement in overall health. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, but breastfeeding can be challenging for mothers and babies. Studies show that paid leave yields higher rates and longer periods of breastfeeding, which reduces the rates of childhood infections.
Fathers who take two or more weeks off after the birth of a child are more involved in that child’s direct care nine months after birth than fathers who take no leave. Involved fathers in turn promote child educational attainment and emotional stability. The role of both parents is equally important in developing the nurturing relationships that foster a child’s long-term cognitive, social and emotional development. Increased paternal involvement in childcare has been shown to have multiple benefits for children, fathers and mothers.
Positive, consistent relationships during a child’s early years yield confident individuals who are better equipped for success in school and in life, paving the way for a higher-quality workforce and strong economic growth.
In Bermuda, Hamilton Insurance Group recently announced that its family-leave policy will now provide five months of paid leave for primary caregivers, and ten weeks of paid leave for secondary caregivers, with a view to transitioning to a gender-neutral, family-leave policy in the future. Hamilton Insurance Group’s shift towards an extended gender-neutral family-leave policy is particularly progressive and in alignment with the best interests of children, and can serve as an example for other organisations to follow.
• Gwendolyn de la Chevotiere Creary, LLP. LMSW has 33 years’ professional counselling experience. She is an Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant specialising in early intervention, parent guidance and family mediation. Edward Tavares is the cofounder of the charity ChildWatch Bermuda