Other Notable Trends (Paid Family Leave, Home Visiting and Early Childhood Mental Health)
The well-being of children is inextricably linked to their parents’ or caregivers’ well-being. States across the country continue to explore and enact legislation that enhances parents’ abilities to support children’s healthy development. Policy and program solutions including home visiting, paid parental leave and other two-generation strategies help support the health, welfare and future success of children and families.
Paid Family and Medical Leave
This is the second year NCSL tracked and monitored paid leave legislation with an eye toward parental leave. In 2022, approximately half of the states introduced bills. At least five states codified paid leave policies this year, which was an increase from the previous year. Consistent with NCSL’s previous research of paid family leave laws, states exercised a great deal of latitude in how they designed their programs.
Delaware (S 1) and Maryland (S 275) created statewide paid family and medical leave insurance programs, which, among other things, include parental leave to bond with a new child. Paid leave benefits begin in Maryland in 2025 and the following year in Delaware. Both will be funded by employee and employer contributions.
In Maryland, to qualify for 12 weeks of paid parental leave after the birth, adoption, foster placement or kinship care to bond with the new child, employees must work at least 680 hours over the 12 months immediately preceding the leave. The wage supplement in Maryland will be on a sliding sale of up to 90% of workers’ incomes.
Delawareans who have been employed for at least 12 months and have worked for at least 1,250 hours are eligible to receive 12 weeks in one year to care for a new child. If both parents work for the same employer, then they can only take up to 12 weeks combined. The maximum weekly benefit in Delaware is 80% of the employee’s average weekly wage rounded to the nearest dollar, and during the first two years of the benefit program (2026 and 2027) the maximum weekly benefit is capped at $900.
Other bills, such as South Carolina’s (S 11) and Utah’s (S 100), have a narrower focus limiting who qualifies, how long paid leave can be taken and what life events make an employee eligible to receive the benefit.
Under South Carolina’s new paid parental leave policy for state employees, which took effect Oct. 1, parents who welcome a new child via birth or adoption are eligible for six weeks of paid leave for primary caregivers and two weeks for secondary caregivers. In addition, state employees who foster a child will receive two weeks of paid leave. Eligible state employees do not have to use their paid vacation or sick days before taking paid parental leave.
State policymakers in Utah enacted a paid parental and postpartum recovery leave program for state workers after the birth, adoption or being named a legal guardian of a minor child. To qualify, employees must work part-time or more than a 40-hour work week or its equivalent. Paid postpartum recovery leave runs consecutively with parental leave and both provide three paid weeks that must be used in a continuous period only once in 12 months.
Virginia took a different approach than all previously mentioned states by enacting bipartisan legislation (H 1156/S 15) authorizing insurance companies to offer policies employers can purchase to provide paid leave benefits for their workers. The new law, which went into effect in July, includes neither an employer mandate nor a payroll tax.
Not to be outdone, nine states that already had paid leave laws—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington—and the District of Columbia enacted legislation refining or studying their program. For example, New York (A 10224), currently on the desk of the governor, directs the state's commissioner of labor to study the current use of paid family leave and offer recommendations on how to increase access and visibility of the program. Oregon (S 1515) and Washington (S 5649) made minor adjustments to their existing policies. Oregon clarified its benefit year, and Washington added time away from work during the seven days following the death of a family member as a qualifying event. In addition, Washington now requires its Office of Actuarial Services to report annually to an advisory committee on the experience and financial condition of the family and medical leave insurance account, and report quarterly on premium collections, benefits payments and any other program expenditures.
Home Visiting and Supports for New Parents
In recent legislative sessions, state policymakers have been looking into offering universal, voluntary and cost-free postpartum home visits by nurses to all new parents. In 2022, New Jersey (S 2023) allocated over $10 million to their universal home visiting program enacted the year prior. Oregon (S 1555) clarified rules addressing provider reimbursement for the universal home visiting program it enacted in 2019. In the same budget bill, New Jersey also allocated another $10 million to its existing home visiting programs already operating in the state.
Beyond home visiting, states took other actions to support new parents. For example, Vermont’s (S 91) Parent Child Center Network provides children, youth and families with strength-based, holistic and collaborative services with a focus on early childhood education and prevention services. The bill will provide funding to authorized parent child centers, help develop accountability measures and create an advisory committee to meet regularly. Understanding how inextricably linked parent well-being is to child well-being, Louisiana (H 784) and other states now provide pregnant women and their family members with information about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including how to recognize symptoms, treatment options and other available resources. Hawaii (S 3111) established and funded a pilot program within its Department of Humans Services to develop and implement school- and community-based family resource centers. Such resource centers offer a suite of services for children and their families, including programs to enhance children's development, improve parenting skills and provide community referrals.
Early Childhood Mental Health
With families, young children and the early childhood education workforce facing increased stressors born out of the COVID-19 pandemic, legislatures responded with support for mental health needs. With this newer and growing trend, five states enacted eight bills specific to infant and early childhood mental health that establish or investigate consultation programs or financial support to an existing program.
Addressing the needs of both children and caregivers, Maryland enacted multiple bills related to early childhood mental health. H 513 established an infant and early childhood mental health support services program to train early childhood educators and caregivers to address children’s challenging behaviors and promote positive mental and behavioral health practices for young children experiencing developmental, social, emotional or behavioral issues. Additionally, H 725 and S 506 established grant programs to support providers of specialized child care and early education to children under age 6 with developmental delays; physical disabilities; or delays in social, emotional or behavioral functioning.
Maine (S 220) expanded its statewide voluntary early childhood consultation program and also allocated nearly $1.5 million in funding for the program for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The program provides support, guidance and training to early childhood educators, families and foster parents of infants and young children exhibiting challenging behaviors that put them at risk for learning difficulties and removal from early learning and education settings.
Rhode Island (S 2614/H 7801) required the executive office of health and human services to establish a task force to develop a plan benefiting children ages birth through 5, their families and the workforce. To strengthen families, the plan will identify parenting support programs that promote social and emotional well-being and will address intergenerational effects of racism, economic insecurity and toxic stress that influence mental and physical health. To support the workforce, the plan will establish a registry of trained infant and early childhood mental health professionals and strengthen their skills, knowledge and practices across the health care, mental health care, early childhood and child welfare service fields.
Legislatures also considered opportunities to reduce adverse childhood experiences. Idaho (HCR 29) encouraged state employees who interact with vulnerable children and adults to gain a deeper understanding of ACEs and implement evidence-based interventions to cultivate resiliency. New Hampshire (S 444) established a pilot program with a statewide network of mental health professionals to provide evidence-based prevention, assessment, diagnosis and treatment services for families with children ages birth to 6 who have experienced ACEs or who are considered at risk.
You can find bills related to early childhood mental health by searching for legislation under the ‘Prenatal, infants and toddlers’ category in NCSL’s Early Childhood Legislation Database.