Need for and Use of Family Leave Among Parents of Children with Special Health Care Needs

Published in: Pediatrics, v. 119, no. 5, May 2007, p. e1047-e1055

by Paul J. Chung, Craig F. Garfield, Marc N. Elliott, Colleen Carey, Carl Eriksson, Mark A. Schuster

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OBJECTIVE: Parents of children with special health care needs are especially vulnerable to work-family conflicts that family leave benefits might help resolve. The authors examined leave-taking among full-time-employed parents of children with special health care needs. METHODS: They identified all children with special health care needs in 2 large inpatient/outpatient systems in Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California, and randomly selected 800 per site. From November 2003 to January 2004, the authors conducted telephone interviews with 1105 (87% of eligible and successfully contacted) parents. Among the sample's 574 full-time-employed parents, they examined whether leave benefits predicted missing any work for child illness, missing >4 weeks for child illness, and ability to miss work whenever their child needed them. RESULTS: Forty-eight percent of full-time-employed parents qualified for federal Family and Medical Leave Act benefits; 30% reported employer-provided leave benefits (not including sick leave/vacation). In the previous year, their children averaged 20 missed school/child care days, 12 doctor/emergency department visits, and 1.7 hospitalizations. Although 81% of parents missed work for child illness, 41% reported not always missing work when their child needed them, and 40% of leave-takers reported returning to work too soon. In multivariate regressions, parents who were eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act benefits and aware of their eligibility had 3.0 times greater odds of missing work for child illness than ineligible parents. Parents with >4 weeks of employer-provided leave benefits had 4.7 times greater odds of missing >4 weeks than parents without benefits. Parents with paid leave benefits had 2.8 times greater odds than other parents of missing work whenever their child needed them. CONCLUSIONS: Full-time-employed parents of children with special health care needs experience severe work-family conflicts. Although most have leave benefits, many report unmet need for leave. Access to Family and Medical Leave Act benefits and employer-provided leave may greatly affect leave-taking.

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