Best Practices: 6 Policy Traits

The best caregiving policies have these six characteristics in common: inclusiveness, contextualization, permeability, formalization, supportiveness, and publicity.


  • Decouple caregiving leave from gender, sexual orientation, legal partner status, family size and type (e.g. single parents, adoption, fostering), race and ethnicity, and contextualize different caregiving situation.


  • Understanding different needs for different caregiving circumstances.
    1. Illness, injury and disability care, both acute and chronic
    2. Mental and physical health care
    3. For self, partner, child, parent, grandparent and other possible relationships
  • Caregivers are classified as either primary or secondary caregivers. Primary caregivers receive longer leaves and more options for modifications for service.
    1. “Maternity leave” is replaced with “childbirth leave.” This is (re)classified as a type of self-care and made available only to those who birth. Caring for a partner recovering from a birth is (re)classified as partner care or child care.
    2. Contextualized policies acknowledge distinct needs for eldercare, injury recovery, mental health management or treatment, disability, and chronic and terminal diseases for self and others.
    3. Minimum one full semester or quarter for any primary caregiving context (e.g. childbirth, care leave for self, partner, child, and other kin) recommended.
    4. Secondary caregiving, such as for a new mother or in support of a primary caregiver, may need longer term leave, but can typically be addressed by modified service.


  • Permeable policies acknowledge the fluidity of both work and caregiving and normalize the flow of both. Employers already expect work to flow into caregiving spaces and time; in return, employers normalize the flow of caregiving into the workplace and time.
  • Alternatively, employers can decrease permeability where employees and students are not expected to take work into caregiving space and time. Leave is leave. Caregiving does not flow into the workplace. If on full-leave: no service, teaching, advising, or research should be expected or demanded. If any of these are demanded, this is a modified caregiving arrangement and not leave. Non-permeable approaches keep work in the workplace and caregiving out of the workplace. Decreased permeability is not best practice because its rigidity does not realistically approach human needs.


  • All leave and modified service policies are formally established
  • Clarity is essential
  • Reduces both actual and perception of unfairness or discrimination


  • Caregivers with career role models are more successful in career growth and caregiving in part because role models help difficult to address policy gaps
  • Create and encourage role model networks
  • Create institutional anchor offices to implement, monitor, and maintain quality practices
  • Maintain access to continuous health care insurance for students and employees
  • Develop family-friendly scheduling for after-hour events (e.g. do not schedule events after-hours, provide alternative caregivers, or do not penalize for non-attendance)


  • Policies must be clearly written and formal. Moreover, tenure and graduation requirements and expectations need to be extremely clear, predictable and fairly applied.
  • Employees and students need to know what policies exist and they need to be widely publicized to neutralize use stigma and fear or penalty.
  • Policies need to be accessible across multiple, easy-to-use platforms (e.g. websites, bulletin boards, HR, admin offices, student networks, listservs)
  • Provide caregiving information, without stigma, to students and job-seekers. Institutions need to operate under the assumption that every applicant has some caregiving responsibility.

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