Mara Powell

Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates

The word “unicorn” is more than those one-horned flying horses my granddaughter loves, more than the term applied to start-up tech companies that boomed in 1990s, and more than unicorn quarterback Lamar Jackson – it is anything that is rare and valuable.

Today we joined diverse community partners in an announcement about a unicorn of a public policy proposal – a pre-filed bill that includes 12 weeks paid family leave for Kentucky’s state employees. In a political environment of bifurcation and toxicity, it takes a unicorn idea to bring together a collection of leaders, like state Representatives Jason Nemes and Josie Raymond, and an array of other leaders of rural and urban communities and of conservative and liberal backgrounds. It’s no secret that these leaders more frequently disagree than agree, yet they found a unicorn that galvanizes and inspires us.

As a first step measure, this unicorn paid family leave measure is a notion through which many win – our state workers, their kids and families, and local economies today and the Commonwealth’s budget tomorrow.

When we think of unicorn policies, we often think about return on investment, and the unicorn of paid family leave creates an array of those ROIs:

  • On one hand, paid family leave contributes to fewer low birthweight babies, fewer incidents of pediatric abusive head trauma, fewer infant deaths and higher rates of breastfeeding. And on the other hand, paid family leave boosts worker morale and other productivity-related factors.
  • On one hand, paid family leave is linked to children having better developmental outcomes, including fewer behavioral problems and better cognitive attainment. And on the other hand, paid family leave is a catalyst for the employer through greater employee satisfaction and reduced turnover
  • On one hand, paid family leave is associated greater income stability for families. And on the other hand, paid family leave actually is a lever for local economies and a hedge for savings in the state budget.

Along with these identified benefits, Representative Nemes’ bill just may dramatically and positively intersect with the ongoing reform of the child welfare system as consideration is being given to including foster parents and kinship caregivers as part of the state’s workforce. That kind of commitment to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children and to those who are stepping up to care for them can be a significant catalyst to that fragile care system.

It is that “on one hand and then on the other hand” quality that makes paid family leave such a unicorn. It’s also why Kentucky Youth Advocates applauds Representative Nemes for taking this first step for the Commonwealth’s hard-working employees and is committed to taking today’s unicorn and even expanding its scope as the 2021 legislative session unfolds.


About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at