In 2004, California introduced its Paid Family Leave (PFL) program, which allows for up to six weeks of paid leave for the birth of a newborn or to take care of a sick family member in a 12-month period. Despite there being proven benefits to having paid family leave, a number of other states have not followed suit. A recent study published in the journal Injury Prevention aimed to compare to the impact of the PFL program in California to states that have not enacted any parental leave laws.

Researchers from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gathered data on the number of children hospitalized from deliberately inflicted head injuries between 1995 and 2011 in California. They compared this data to that from seven other states without any paid leave policies: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.

Admission rates for abusive head injuries dropped significantly among children under the age of 2 following the PFL enactment. When researchers incorporated influential factors, like unemployment rates and low education levels, the PFL program led to a drop of 5.1 admissions per 100,000 children under the age of 1. The policy also led to a 2.8 per 100,000 drop in admissions among children under 2.

States without a similar policy saw no significant drops in hospital admissions among children due to abusive head injuries, although these rates did increase at times. Between 2007 and 2009, the height of the “Great Recession,” admission rates remained stable in California while rates in the other seven states increased. The research team is confident results would be more pronounced if “at risk” parents were more aware of such policies, were able to afford it, or took advantage of the full 12 weeks (six weeks per parent).

According to the CDC research team, abusive head trauma is a leading cause of fatal child abuse in the United States and most prevalent among infants between 9 and 20 weeks old. The CDC estimated that over one in 10 children have experienced some form childhood maltreatment in the past year and over 1,400 American children died as a result of abuse and neglect in 2013. Strengthening the bond of the parent-child relationship by spending time together is the best way to prevent child abuse.

While presidential candidates debate paid family leave during this spirited election season, some magnanimous CEOs have already independently launched programs within their companies. Richard Branson and his team at Virgin Management, for example, implemented a year-long parental leave policy for both female and male employees in April 2015. Netflix enacted a similar policy shortly after, and even Mark Zuckerberg announced that he would be taking two months of paternity leave following the birth of his daughter — even though his employees get a full four months that they can choose to take at any time throughout the year.

Source: Klevens J, et al. Paid family leave's effect on hospital admissions for paediatric abusive head trauma. Injury Prevention. 2016.