Associate Director for the Berger Institute, Claremont McKenna College
The Berger Institute conducts research and educates the community about relevant issues affecting work, family, and children. As Associate Director, Dr. Sherylle Tan is personally involved in all of the institute’s ongoing research projects. One such project is the impact of California Paid Family Leave on families and children. California is the first state to provide partially paid family leave, which allows workers to take up to six weeks off for a new child or the illness of a family member, and receive up to 55% of their pay. As data shows that mothers tend to be the individuals who use this program most often, the initial data collection will focus on new mothers. In the future, however, they hope to extend this research to fathers as well.
In order to examine the impact that California Paid Family Leave is having on new mothers, Sherylle and her colleagues are looking into several of the opportunities afforded by the program. One big opportunity is that of maternal leave. Studies have shown that longer maternal leave has a positive effect on the mental health of mothers. Sherylle is examining rates of postpartum depression and other measures of mental health to see if there is a link with the program and mental well-being. Another opportunity afforded by this program is the ability of new parents to bond with their children. Sherylle and her colleagues will try to determine if the program may have some sort of positive effect on maternal bonding.
Dr. Tan is planning to wrap up data collection soon. If the results do show a link between the California Paid Family Leave program and positive impacts on new mothers, this could have big implications for public policy with regards to paid family leave. As other states begin to enact similar laws and programs, the spotlight is on California to see what the impact of such a program might be on the mental health and well-being of mothers and children. Many families are faced with tough decisions when it comes to taking time off from work for their families. “The family medical leave act provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave for newborn children and family illnesses, but as a nation, we are still far behind other countries.” Not all Americans have sick leave or vacation time and can’t afford to take the time off or be sure of their job security if they do.
Dr. Tan is also working with a student to look at cultural and structural models of decision making for parents, primarily from the Latino community, who are making decisions about preschool enrollment. There seems to be a discrepancy about the amount of participation that Latinos have in preschool. Although some preschool options have become relatively less expensive over years, with even universal preschool in Los Angeles, there has not been much of an increase in Latino enrollment. Sherylle and her student plan on surveying the parents of children in kindergarten to determine why parents decided to either enroll or not enroll their children in preschool, while taking into account cultural perceptions.
This research is aimed at determining if there are some cultural and social factors independent of economic factors that are playing a role in this trend. Because preschool does appear to be linked with future success, hopefully these findings can be used to better inform parents about the benefits of preschool in a culturally significant way.
Dr. Tan has a couple pieces of advice for current students at CGU. One is, to get as much research experience as they can. She also stresses how important it can be to try new things. “Even if you know your focus, you never know how well a different area might fit in with your focus.” She also thinks that the relationships students make at CGU are really important for future endeavors. “My relationships with other students offered me a lot of support in my five years at CGU, and you never know what opportunities these relationships could lead to in the future. I still keep in touch with these friends regularly, and continue to learn from them.”