On January 31, 2019, Vermont Governor Phil Scott, along with Susanne Young (Secretary of Administration) and Beth Fastiggi (Human Resources Commissioner) announced the new Infants in the Workplace program, which took effect February 1st.
Even though my children are now 7 and 4 years old, seeing the headline as I flipped through the morning news on the internet piqued my interest and I decided to see what this program entailed.
In general, eligible parents or legal guardians working for the state in participating departments, who have infants between the ages of six weeks and six months, can apply for approval to bring their children to work with them.
According to the Vermont State official website press release regarding this program, parents can bring their eligible infants to work when:
- “The employee receives prior written authorization from his/her supervisor, Appointing Authority, the Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources, or his/her designee; and the Commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services or his/her designee.” (Source: Vermont State Official Web Site Press Release, January 31, 2019).
- There are no safety concerns for the parent or the child.
- Bringing the baby to work is deemed not to be disruptive to the work environment.
It is based on the premise that bringing infants to work:
- Allows parents to bond with their babies early in life, contributing to the baby’s early brain development.
- Will result in improved parental health.
- Will give parents greater work satisfaction and decrease child care expenses.
- Assists the state in retaining employees and recruiting new ones.
- Helps maintain consistency in work productivity.
- Helps create a work-family balance for employees.
Areas in which parents would have their children at work would be subject to routine safety checks to ensure parent and child well-being. The workplace would also include a care provider who would be available to help parents in the workplace as needed.
As of 1/31/19, state agencies participating in the program include:
- Commerce & Community Development
- Digital Services
- Natural Resources
- Department of Public Labor
- Specific divisions of the Department of Public Safety, including the Division of Fire Safety, the Division of Finance and Administration, the Vermont Crime Information Center and the Vermont Emergency Management Division.
(Theoretically, this program would eventually be used when possible along with the proposed Bi-state Voluntary Paid Family Leave Program, which would create a Family Medical Leave Insurance Program. This insurance program would allow employed and enrolled parents and legal guardians in Vermont and New Hampshire to take a six week paid leave while receiving 60% of their wages for any one of a variety of reasons, including the birth of a baby).
There are many people who believe that the Infants in the Workplace program is highly beneficial. I agree that it could have its advantages for many people. After reading multiple articles on the subject, including the press releases found on the Vermont Official State website, and reading Facebook comments on the subject, I gathered my own conclusions and opinions.
-Not everyone can afford to take maternity/paternity leave for more than six weeks, if they can even do that, unpaid. This program would alleviate some financial stress for them.
-In addition, not having to compete to reserve daycare slots in Vermont, especially Chittenden County, is a huge bonus.
-There is a high demand for quality daycare in the state, but the limited space in popular daycare centers and the decreasing number of home daycares in Vermont, not to mention ever-increasing daycare costs, often limit family options when it comes to childcare.
-Also, when implemented with important child-parent bonding time in mind, there can be many advantages to the Infants in the Workplace program.
If parents are given the flexibility to build social interactions with their baby into their workday and are allowed to leave a meeting or take a break from an important phone call to respond to a need of their child, this program will be much more successful than if they are not. However, the program, as laid out currently, does not contain clear explanations about exactly what flexibilities parents will be granted during a workday.
I think there could be many downfalls to this program as well.
First, will mothers now feel obligated to return to work immediately after having a baby? Will state employers expect mothers to return to work after 6 weeks of leave, regardless of where mothers are in the healing process?
Having a baby is no joke. A mother’s body can take a real beating. Personally, I did not have to have a c-section, but it still took a full 10 weeks for my body to heal after my first baby. While some moms are back to normal workout routines at 6 weeks, my body rebelled when I tried to carry a laundry basket downstairs (my doctor was not happy with me). It is my hope that, despite the pressure this new program puts on moms to return to work, mothers speak out when their employers pressure them to come back when they aren’t ready. Better yet, I hope that employers educate themselves about what childbirth can do to a mother’s body and don’t put pressure on healing time in the first place. Having mothers that need more time to heal back in the workplace does no one any favors and won’t promote health or work productivity.
Another issue I have is the vagueness of the provision of ‘caregivers’ of assistance to mothers in the workplace. What will this part of the program look like?
I remember looking at daycares for my son when I was working. I visited no less than five and, if my questions weren’t answered during the tour of the center or home, I grilled the providers with my list. There were definitely providers I crossed off my list based on these interviews. Handing your baby over to anyone is a huge deal and parents need to feel comfortable and confident in doing so.
The guidelines for the program do not state how caregivers will be hired. Will the parents participating in the program have a say in the hiring process? Or will the state departments hire whomever they want to be a caregiver? How many caregivers are being hired per number of babies? Do departments intend to hire new people, or will they just delegate this job to people who are already employed? Will caregivers be required to have an appropriate educational background and experience? What if a parent doesn’t click with the caregiver provided? Are they allowed to request a new caregiver?
Let’s say that my child was out of sorts one day and cried for a half hour straight for an unidentifiable reason, like if they were teething and I hadn’t figured it out yet, and causing what the program refers to as ‘a disruption.’ What if, at that point, I was required to hand my child over to this caregiver who I really don’t feel is a good match for my family? I’d be stressing out the whole time they were out of my space, accomplishing absolutely nothing work-wise.
How will the caregiver be used, exactly? Even if my child is content if he or she is awake, will a caregiver be allowed to give my child the social attention I cannot while I’m working or on the phone? Or are they only supposed to interact with my baby when I am in need of assistance? It would be great if they could interact at all times, as that brings me to my next point.
How much attention/socialization will a single child receive between their interactions with the parent and the caregiver during the day? Due to my early education background, I am quite concerned about this.
I’ve been a mom with a newborn trying to work from home before. My baby girl was at arm’s length the whole time. At the time, I couldn’t wear her because I just couldn’t type with her there comfortably. I suppose maybe I could’ve tried several different carriers to see what was better, but life didn’t happen like that. I just wanted to get my work finished and submitted to my employer.
It was slow going. My daughter was cluster feeding at the time and it took me double the amount of time to get anything done as she was still trying to get the hang of latching to breastfeed.
For me, if she’d been older when I did that work from home, the temptation to interact with her while she was awake would have taken over. In my child development classes in college, I learned that between the ages of 2 and 4 months are key times for parents and/or caregivers to engage in face-to-face interaction and play with babies to help develop their cerebral cortex, which increases their ability to respond to stimuli and develop their self-regulation skills.
If I had my baby at the office, and the caregiver was tending to another baby or not allowed to be with my child when they were content, my day would have to be a balancing act. I would have to have a delicate balance of my baby being able to see me, having the freedom to take a couple of minutes here or there to go smile at them or try to hold their hand if they were sitting in a bouncy seat, be able to talk out loud to them to promote their language development and so many other things I might do to encourage my baby’s development. All the while, working. It just doesn’t seem feasible.
Despite the possible challenges to the Infants in the Workplace program, the Vermont state government is on the right track. Babies do need their parents early in life.
Of course, the best case scenario would be to offer prolonged, paid, parental leave to everyone- like they do in many other countries. The reality, however, is that this probably will never happen in our society. Our finances and priorities are different.
Part of me wonders if another option might be for state departments to designate a space within their buildings or adjacent buildings to house small in house daycares for employees of their departments when possible. (I do recognize that this may not be possible for all departments). Daycares where parents would be in the same building or close enough to go visit and/or feed their babies on breaks and lunch hours. They could allow parents who are going to send their children to these in house daycares to be in on the hiring process for their daycare workers, eliminating the fear of random caregivers. This would theoretically mean that children would be receiving more attention from adults and be near peers while having the added benefit of the parents’ undivided attention multiple times during the day.
For now, the Infants in the Workplace Program is a step in the right direction. Despite all of my questions about it, and thoughts as to why it may or may not be a good idea, I am hopeful that the state will continue to work towards allowing parents to give their relationships with their babies and young children more of a priority than we have previously as a society.