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Sue Terry: Small things mean a lot

Monday 04 September 2017

Sue Terry, Acas guidance writer talks about new premature and sick babies' guidance - helping parents at a difficult time.

Sue Terry

Sue Terry is a Guidance Adviser based in Newcastle


Most employers and line managers treat their workers compassionately, but when a baby has been born prematurely or poorly, it can sometimes be difficult or awkward to know how best to support them.

It is reported that over 95,000 premature or sick babies are born each year. This can be a difficult time for parents and work might be the last thing they want to think about. Employers and colleagues can feel uncomfortable asking about the baby, or worry that they might say the wrong thing, but it's important that the new parents feel supported by their employers and not excluded.

Although parents deal with situations in different ways, and each birth will be different, it's important to many parents that the birth of their baby is acknowledged. For example, simply sending a card can be an acknowledgement that people are thinking about them. Employers could ask the parents what they would like colleagues to be told, whether they are happy if colleagues contact them, and what the best way is to do so.

Remember, being a new parent is difficult, and if your baby is born prematurely or poorly, it's even harder. Any extra support from friends and colleagues can make a big difference. Small things can mean a lot. You could offer them a lift to the hospital, take them some home-cooked food, or send a text or email showing support.

Returning to work can also be a difficult time for mothers as they may be worried or anxious about leaving the child: is the child ready for nursery; will the parents be able to balance the child and work; and how will they cope with time off for follow up hospital appointments? Employers should always talk to people about their needs, and how best to support them, for example by offering contractual benefits like allowing extended leave, parental leave or special leave with or without pay, or informal or formal flexible working arrangements..

Top tips on what employers can do to help:

  1. Understand the pressures facing parents and their changed priorities.
  2. Ask when they will be ready to talk to let you know.
  3. Ask what they would like colleagues to know and if they are happy to be contacted.
  4. Think about what kind of support parents need - financial, support from colleagues, compassionate leave.
  5. Don't forget partners of mothers may also need employers to be a little more flexible regarding time off so they can support the mother and be with the baby.
  6. Try to be flexible in giving time off when parents return to work as the baby may need follow up hospital appointments.

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