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Shared Parental Leave can be hugely beneficial for parents and their children. A new Government campaign aims to highlight those benefits.
“Taking Shared Parental Leave was an unbelievably special time for my family and I think it was the single most impactful part of my life so far,” says Richard Brooks.
He adds that he couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Brooks, who is Deputy Director of Strategy and Performance at the Government Equalities Office, says everyone he knows who has taken the leave has had a similarly positive experience. “It was a big learning experience but hugely positive,” he says.
Brooks and his wife were able to be on leave together. He took two separate chunks of leave – the first in the early weeks after his wife had an emergency c-section and the second a few months later. “It was really flexible and we could tailor it to our needs,” says Brooks who works part time. His son is now seven months old and his wife is still on leave. “I feel I have developed an amazing relationship with our little boy and it has improved my relationship with my wife as I understand more what her day is like because I have experienced it first hand.”
The Government has recently launched a new campaign to raise awareness about SPL. It will focus on the benefits of taking SPL, including how it helps dads bond with their children. Debbi Jackson, Assistant Director at Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, says she has been overwhelmed at a recent parents’ event at the positive experiences reported by those who had taken SPL. “There has been some negative reporting on low take-up so it is wonderful to hear about instances of the policy working,” she says.
For instance, one dad said the family had been able to visit their child’s paternal grandparents in Canada. Mums had felt able to go back to work earlier than they might have done.
Jackson says sharing leave is hugely beneficial all round. Mums have more support and dads develop confidence in looking after their children. There is also evidence that greater involvement of dads in childcare is beneficial for children’s development.
The Government is in the process of evaluating a large survey of mums and dads and expects to publish its findings later in the year. A lot of the evidence until now has been anecdotal, but Jackson says it appears that interest in taking SPL is increasing among both genders. The research will highlight enablers and barriers to taking SPL, including financial ones. Lack of awareness is another barrier.
Jackson says SPL is the only employment right which involves two people since both the mum and the dad need to be eligible. “It involves parents talking to each other,” she says.
The Government’s research suggests that the vast majority of parents do not speak about how they will share care before the baby arrives. “We want to encourage conversations as soon as possible,” she says. “Once the baby has arrived applying for something like Shared Parental Leave is probably the last thing on their minds.” The danger is that they may find themselves falling unintentionally into gender stereotypical roles because they haven’t had time to talk through alternatives.
The current campaign follows on from a previous one last year. That was aimed at addressing the complexity of the legislation through providing revised tools and guidance. The Government is now looking at developing a tool for parents where they enter basic information and it comes up with their options.
Its preliminary research suggests that many employers know less about the legislation than parents and that parents are the ones driving change. The Government is therefore keen to prioritise getting quality information to parents.
It also realises that it needs to keep raising awareness given people only start paying real attention to it when the mum is pregnant. “The information does not tend to register when it is not relevant. The audience is continually changing so we have to keep our messaging current,” says Jackson.