Investing in family friendly policies is good for families, businesses and economies. But for too many parents around the world, policies, such as paid parental leave, breastfeeding breaks, childcare and child grants, are not a reality.
The lack of such policies compromises parents’ ability to securely bond with their babies in the first critical years of life – a time, evidence tells us, when the combination of the right nourishment, a loving environment and stimulating care can strengthen a baby’s developing brain and give her the best start in life.
Not only do family-friendly policies pay off in healthier, better-educated children, greater gender equality and sustainable growth, they are linked to better workforce productivity and the ability to attract, motivate and retain employees.
The good news is that momentum for change is growing. An increasing number of businesses are beginning to see the value of offering family-friendly policies.
But progress in the business and policy worlds is too slow. Greater investment in family-friendly policies is urgently needed. It’s good for children, good for women, good for business and good for the economy.
Call to action: Investing in family-friendly policies
UNICEF calls on governments and businesses to redesign the workplaces of the future, to enable parents to give their children the best start in life, while boosting productivity and women’s empowerment.
- Sufficient paid leave to all parents and guardians, in both the formal and informal economies, to meet the needs of their young children. This includes paid maternity, paternity, and parental leave, and leave to care for sick young children.
- Supporting the ability of mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months, as recommended by global endorsed standards, and to continue breastfeeding for as long as they choose.Affordable, accessible and quality childcare services.
- Ensuring that all children have access to affordable, quality childcare and early education.
- Providing child benefits and adequate wages to help families provide for young children.
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Evidence briefs: The benefits of family-friendly policies
Investing in family friendly policies: good for everyone
Good for children
- Investing in early childhood development is one of the most effective ways to improve children’s skills, abilities and, ultimately, productivity. Yet, 43 per cent of children under 5 years of age – or 250 million children – are at risk of not achieving their potential due to poverty, poor health and nutrition, and lack of early stimulation.
- While parents want to do the best by their children, many have no option but to work long hours. This means that many are away from home, miss significant periods of time, or lack the time to spend with their young children.
- Only 42 countries have national policies that provide parents and caregivers with time and resources (six months of paid maternity leave and four weeks of paid paternity leave) to care for their children.
Good for women
- Affordable child and family care services can enable women to maintain their participation in paid employment, thereby contributing to their families, economies and businesses. According to a 2015 report by McKinsey, women's equal participation in the workforce would add US$12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.
- Access to gender-responsive quality childcare and family-friendly early childhood development policies are key to reducing gender imbalances and promoting greater co-responsibility between women and men.
Good for business
- In many countries, businesses are beginning to see the value of offering family-friendly policies that increase employee retention, reduce absenteeism and lower recruitment costs. They enable working parents, especially mothers, to advance in their careers which, in turn, helps boost employee engagement and morale, make companies more competitive and attract talent, as well as improving brand image and taking companies closer to global sustainability standards.
- Family-friendly policies increase the likelihood of women returning to work after maternity leave. Gender-neutral parental policies also help to alleviate the so-called "mommy tax". By redistributing domestic care work and enabling fathers to share in parenting responsibilities, women are less likely to drop out of the workforce, thus reducing the gender pay gap, improving gender parity and economic productivity.
Good for the economy
- Family-friendly policies stimulate economic growth and national GDP.
- The family-friendly policies introduced by Nordic countries over the past 50 years, and associated increases in female employment, have boosted growth in GDP per capita by between 10 – 20 per cent.
UNICEF advocates for an increase in the provision of adequate parental leave, paid breastfeeding breaks, affordable, accessible, quality childcare, and child support grants by governments and businesses.
UNICEF’s family-friendly policies agenda aims to create the following shifts:
From ‘maternal’ to ‘parental’ leave: Time and support from all key caregivers, including fathers, is important for young children’s development. The shift from maternal to parental leave is one way to strengthen the bond between babies and all caregivers.
From ‘infrastructure’ to ‘people’: We must invest in families – not just infrastructure such as safer work conditions and breastfeeding rooms – so that parents can provide time and support to young children.
From ‘individual’ to ‘co-responsibility’: The work-family balance is not just an individual matter. It is the shared responsibility of governments, private sector employers and families.
From ‘reducing parental stress’ to ‘enhancing family wellbeing’: Family friendly policies can help to reduce parenting stress and promote wellbeing in parents. This, in turn, leads to better businesses, happier families, and healthier children.