State-paid family leave can help prevent child abuse, a new study finds.

Child maltreatment is a serious public health issue in the United States, particularly affecting young children who are most vulnerable due to their dependence on caregivers.

Infants under two years old account for over one-quarter, or 28.1%, of all maltreatment cases in the US, and infants under one year of age experience the highest rate of victimization, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Previous research found that paid family leave policies have the potential to promote secure and healthy attachments, improve maternal and child health outcomes, enhance parental mental health, and support household economic stability. These outcomes are known protective factors for child maltreatment.

Researchers have now established a direct link between paid family leave and reductions in infant maltreatment.

The World Health Organization states that child maltreatment includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence, and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development, or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust, or power.

“Child maltreatment is a complex issue that requires innovative tools to address the multiple challenges faced by vulnerable families,” says Jenny Tanis, an assistant professor of social work and doctoral candidate at Hope College at Michigan State University.

“Our research provides evidence that paid family leave policies may be an effective innovative policy tool to promote child safety and family well-being.”

The United States is one of only five countries in the world that does not provide federal compensation guarantee for maternity leave. The other four being the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, and Papua New Guinea, according to coauthor Sacha Klein, an associate professor in the College of Social Science’s School of Social Work.

“In the absence of a national paid family leave policy, US states have been left to decide whether they should adopt this as a state policy,” Klein says. “To date, 14 states and Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico have taken the matter into their own hands and enacted state-paid family leave policies. Several other states, including Michigan, are actively considering adopting this policy.”

Read the full article about paid family leave by Kim Ward at Futurity.