Extended paid parental leave for families with premature or sick newborns

Every year in Australia more than 48,000 babies require the help of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN) and sadly, up to one thousand will lose their fight for survival. Yet, not all parents are given the same opportunity to support their baby in hospital.

For these families, the experience of having a baby come into the world not as expected or planned is life changing. Caring for these babies creates increased financial, emotional, and time investment for parents. These families, often, find themselves needing to take leave from work unexpectedly and much earlier than anticipated.

In Australia, parental leave allows employees to take time away from work for the birth of their children. Eligible employees who are the primary carer of a newborn receive up to 18 weeks' paid parental leave at the national minimum wage. In addition to this, eligible working dads and partners (including same-sex partners) get two weeks leave paid at the national minimum wage (Reference: Fair Work Ombudsman - Parental Leave). However, for the parents of premature and sick babies, parental leave starts as soon as the baby is born. Current legislation doesn’t consider the needs of parents with babies who spend their first weeks or months of life in a NICU or SCN.

As Australia’s leading organisation supporting premature and sick newborns, their families and the hospitals that care for them, Miracle Babies Foundation recognises a gap in paid parental support for families of premature or sick newborns who require the support of a NICU or SCN.

We conducted a parent survey to determine the real-life experiences of these families and their opinions around extended parental leave.

The research conducted by Miracle Babies Foundation found 83% of families surveyed experienced additional financial impacts on their family above the normal expected impact of having a newborn as a result of having a baby born requiring specialised hospital care. And 95% of mums couldn’t work while their babies were in the NICU or SCN. 

Due to ongoing care requirements, the financial and emotional pressures of having to return to work earlier than planned can cause immense stress to the whole family unit. We know from previous research that parents of preterm babies are 2.5 times more likely to suffer postnatal depression. And one in five parents of very preterm babies still show symptoms of depression and anxiety six months after birth.

Furthermore, there is a gender-gap for parents in terms of parental leave, this is accentuated for parents dealing with pre-mature births. Research conducted by Miracle Babies Foundation found 86% of dads or partners of premature or sick newborns surveyed needed to return to work while their baby was still in NICU or SCN. And we know from previous research that a third of fathers to very preterm babies experience high rates of depression, while half suffer from elevated anxiety levels.

Australia is falling behind other OECD countries when it comes to best practice regarding parental leave for families of sick or premature newborns. New Zealand already provides extra parental leave for premature babies, and the UK Government is currently conducting a neonatal leave and pay consultation.

The recent Miracle Babies research has established a clear gap in parental leave legislation with more than 99% of families surveyed supporting the introduction of extended parental leave for NICU/SCN parents. 

 

MIRACLE BABIES FOUNDATION - EXTENDED PAID PARENTAL LEAVE SURVEY RESULTS

Survey Responses: 349

Key findings:

  • 77.84% of families did not reach their maternity leave date.
  • 83.38% of families experienced additional financial impacts on their family above the normal expected impact of having a newborn as a result of having a baby born requiring specialised hospital care.
  • 95.63% of mums didn’t return to work while their babies were in the NICU or SCN.
  • 86.01% of dads or the partners returned to work while baby was still in NICU or SCN.
  • 77.84% of families didn’t have the option of extended parental leave available at their workplace.
  • 99.71% of families support introducing extended parental leave for NICU/SCN parents.
  • 41.11% of families believe more than 8 weeks additional paid parental leave would have helped their situation?

Was your baby born early or sick, requiring the help of a NICU or SCN?

  • 343 Yes (All responses below relate to these participants)

 

What gestation was your baby born? If more than one, please select earliest.

<27 weeks

75

21.87%

<27 weeks/ 28-32 weeks

2

0.58%

28 – 32 weeks

155

45.19%

33 – 36 weeks

90

26.24%

33 – 36 weeks/ 37+ weeks

1

0.29%

37+ weeks

20

5.83%

 

Which Australian state was your baby born in?

ACT

9

2.62%

NSW

144

41.98%

NT

5

1.46%

QLD

48

13.99%

SA

56

16.33%

TAS

12

3.50%

VIC

42

12.24%

WA

27

7.87%

  

Did you or your partner reach your maternity leave date?

Yes

74

21.57%

No

267

77.84%

Yes/No

2

0.58%

  

Was extended maternity or paternal leave available at your (or your partners) workplace?

Yes

75

21.87%

No

267

77.84%

Yes/No

1

0.29%

  

Did mum need to return to work while baby was still in NICU or SCN?

Yes

15

4.37%

No

328

95.63%

  

Did dad or the partner need to return to work while baby was still in NICU or SCN?

Yes

295

86.01%

No

46

13.41%

Yes/No

2

0.58%

  

Was there an additional financial impact on your family as a result of having a baby born requiring specialised hospital care? Only answer yes if this was above the normal expected impact of having a newborn.

Yes

286

83.38%

No

57

16.62%

  

Would you support extended paid parental leave for NICU/SCN parents?

Yes

342

99.71%

No

1

0.29%

  

How much additional paid parental leave would have helped your particular situation?

2-3 weeks

30

8.75%

4-6 weeks

89

25.95%

7-8 weeks

73

21.28%

More than 8 weeks

141

41.11%

Any support would be helpful

10

2.91%

 

 

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