I spent parts of three days in Colorado Springs this past week at a meeting for Christian leaders convened by the Center for Public Justice and sponsored by the Flying Horse Foundation on providing paid leave to parents and caregivers who are eligible to take unpaid time off under provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) but are unable to do so for economic reasons.
I discovered during my time in Colorado that considerable bipartisan support exists in Washington for legislation to provide paid leave to parents around the birth or adoption of a child. I also discovered that many churches and parachurch organizations are far less supportive of families dealing with a birth, an adoption, a disability or acute care needs than secular organizations.
I saw data presented at the meeting from a Seattle Pacific University study of family- supportive employment practices in the "sacred sector" - churches, schools, charities and healthcare facilities associated with a broad range of Christian denominations. Here is one slide that caught my attention...
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the minimum time required for mothers to recover from childbirth is 6-8 weeks. The typical length of paid leave for new mothers working for Christian organizations from all sources (vacation, sick leave, short-term disability) is six weeks.
I've become aware of two situations* involving ministry families through my practice that illustrate ways Christian organizations failed to demonstrate integrity with their professed ministry values. In one instance, a parent resigned because their employer refused them the necessary scheduling flexibility to get multiple children to regularly scheduled mental health appointments. In the other, a parent from an adoption ministry needed to leave their job when evening and weekend work demands threatened their ability to bond with a newly adopted child.
I have no reason to believe after the meeting that any legislation likely to become law will help address the day-to-day challenges of parents of children with chronic disabilities. But surely the church can do more to support the caregivers in our midst. We shouldn't have to wait for the government to take care of our own. Consider the following:
What could your church do to support new mothers in spending more time with their infants - especially new mothers who live paycheck to paycheck? What about parents who have recently adopted a child - especially children with significant trauma exposure or special emotional, behavioral or developmental needs?
What could your church do to help support families in which parents regularly need to use unpaid family leave time to attend school meetings or transport kids to medical and therapy appointments?
Does your church provide pastors and staff members with health insurance that enables each member of the family to access the medical and mental health care they need with affordable copayments and deductibles?
If you're interested in learning more about evangelical efforts to expand the availability of paid family leave, check out Families Valued.
*Some details were changed to protect the confidentiality of the families described in this post.