Panel asks for national action on parental leaves

The idea of the ``supermom'' who easily manages a full-time job while caring for her children just isn't working, says a Yale University panel recommending subsidized six-month job maternity leaves for working women. ``Women are literally splitting themselves in two,'' said Harvard University pediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton at a Tuesday news conference announcing the committee's recommendations.

The Yale Bush Center Advisory Committee on Infant Care Leave called the absence of adequate leave for most parents a problem of ``magnitude and urgency'' that ``requires immediate national action.''

The committee plans to take its recommendations to the federal government, including at least two congressional committees, and says it hopes to begin educating the public about the need for child-care leaves.

The panel noted that nearly 50 percent of mothers with children under the age of 1 are working mothers, many without maternity benefits. Provisions must be made, it said, to ensure adequate time for physical recovery from childbirth as well as bonding between parent and child.

Leaves for either fathers or mothers should be at least six months long, provide 75 percent of the salary for at least three months to the parent on leave, and ensure job protection and the continuation of benefits, the committee said. To finance the leaves, the federal government should require establishment of an insurance fund, on federal, state, or employer levels, at an annual cost estimated at $1.5 billion.

Both employers and employees would contribute to the program, which could be modeled after disability funds, the proposal said.

Until that can be done, the committee said, employers should begin providing infant-care leave. Only about 40 percent of employed women have access to maternity benefits, according to a 1981 study.

The committee also warned of mounting social problems if conditions for working parents do not improve.

The United States is far behind other countries in supporting families with newborns, it pointed out. More than two-thirds of the world's countries, including many third-world nations, have some provisions for parental leaves of absence.

The committee also recommended that employers look for other ways of assisting parents of newborns and newly adopted infants, including flexible work schedules, reduced work hours, job sharing, and child-care information and referral services.

The quality of out-of-home infant care also needs to be improved, said the committee, which called for a strengthening of state licensing requirements for day care for infants.

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