The need for paid paternity leave, especially for fathers of children with disabilities

A preschool age girl with a prosthetic leg is at a medical appointment. The child is meeting with her physical therapist. The child is sitting on the floor building with wooden toy blocks. The medical professional is sitting on the floor assisting the girl.

Posted in Disability  |  Tagged ,

by Olivia Carney, Sophia Centola, Natalia Porras, Veronica Williams, Aileen Cui, and Michelle Reyazuddin (GU)

Raising a child with a disability is challenging, and family dynamics tend to shift significantly as members adjust to meet the demands placed upon them. Providing care is especially difficult in the early years of a child’s life, and many parents of children with disabilities report struggling to find appropriate and affordable early childhood care (Novoa, 2020). Oftentimes, one parent takes on the primary caregiver role and either leaves the workforce and or greatly reduces their work time. Other parents opt to split the caregiving time, leaving them to navigate staggered work schedules. Job disruption is a common occurrence for this group, with parents of children with disabilities being three times as likely to make career sacrifices compared to parents of nondisabled children (Novoa, 2020). The combination of parents being driven out of the work force along with the additional expenses that come with raising a child with a disability contribute to the disproportionately high rate of poverty among families with disabilities, which is almost double that of families without a disability (Boat & Wy, 2015).

In order to better support families of children with disabilities, a federal paid family and medical leave program must be implemented. While the Family and Medical Leave Act helps, it only guarantees up to twelve weeks of job-protected leave each year for the birth and care of a newborn child or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. In addition to these restrictions, those who are new to jobs or work part-time are often excluded from the benefits, leaving only 56% percent of workers eligible for this important benefit (FMLA). As the act does not guarantee paid leave, it does little to help prevent the economic difficulties faced by parents of children with disabilities. A paid leave program, however, would enable parents to care for their children without facing the threat of losing income. An important piece of this legislation would be to incorporate paid paternity leave to the provisions. The majority of workers do not have access to paid parental leave at all, but more employers provide paid maternity leave than paid paternity leave. As a result, 70% of fathers tend to take less than ten days off from work for the birth of their children (United States Department of Labor, 2012). Many fathers are expressing a desire to take on greater responsibilities and be more involved in their children’s lives, but clearly this is not feasible with the system we presently have in place (Seymour et al., 2020). Fathers need extended paid leave in order to increase their caregiving role, and this is especially true for new fathers of children with disabilities who must learn to navigate the complex service system while also providing significant support and attention to their children in the first years of their lives. There are too many barriers to participation in caregiving for fathers, including service providers’ and employers’ misconceptions about the father’s role in parenting and conflicting work schedules (George & Kanupka, 2019). In order to enable these fathers to take on greater caregiving responsibilities, we need to provide them with the necessary support rather than force them to make major economic sacrifices. Paid paternity leave is one step in the right direction and would be particularly helpful for parents who struggle to find early childhood care for their children with disabilities. If we want to serve children with disabilities, we need to ensure that family members are being properly supported and that parents are in position to provide the care that their children deserve and need to thrive.


Boat, T., & Wu, J. (Eds.). (2015). Poverty and Childhood Disability. In Mental Disorders and Disabilities Among Low-Income Children (pp. 105–123). essay, The National Academies Press. 

Family and Medical Leave (FMLA). United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Retrieved April 5, 2022, from 

George, C. L., & Kanupka, J. W. (2019). Educating Pre-service Teachers on Fathers’ Involvement in Raising Children with Disabilities. International Journal of Special Education, 34(1), 51–67.

Novoa, C. (2020, January 29). The Child Care Crisis Disproportionately Affects Children With Disabilities. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from 

Seymour, M., Giallo, R., & Wood, C. E. (2020). Perceptions of Social Support: Comparisons Between Fathers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Fathers of Children Without Developmental Disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 64(6), 414–425. 

United States Department of Labor. (2012). DOL Policy Brief: Paternity Leave – Why Parental Leave for Fathers is so Important for Working Families, 1–6.