University of Leicester’s new support for parents of babies born premature or requiring neonatal care awarded charter mark

The University of Leicester has been recognised for its support of parents of premature babies and those who required neonatal care with the Employer with Heart charter mark from the charity The Smallest Things.

University of Leicester staff whose baby is born prematurely or requires an extended stay in neonatal care will receive additional support in the form of extended leave provision, in a new policy that took effect from 1 January 2023.

The University is also among the first three universities to sign up to the Employer with Heart charter, run by the charity The Smallest Things, who have awarded Leicester its Employer with Heart Charter Mark for employers who support premature babies and their families.

Each year, around 15 million babies world-wide are born preterm – before 37 weeks of pregnancy. In the UK alone, around 60,000 babies are born preterm each year. Last year, the UK Government backed a new law to provide parents whose babies require neonatal care paid leave. It will alleviate the need for parents to use their existing leave entitlements to be by their baby’s side or return to work while their baby is still receiving hospital care. 

Ahead of the legislation being introduced, the University of Leicester set up a working group that included members of staff with experience of having a premature baby to consider the best way to support staff. The new Neonatal Leave provisions introduced by the University ensure from 1 January 2023 that:

  • Staff who give birth to or adopt a baby who is born prematurely or requiring neonatal care will be eligible for extended maternity or adoption leave (where they are the primary adopter), on full pay. 
  • Staff taking paternity leave would be eligible for up to 2 weeks’ neonatal leave, in addition to their paternity leave, on full pay, where their baby is premature/requires neonatal care.
  • Staff whose baby was premature and/or required neonatal care will be eligible for paid time off for attendance at medical appointments for the child during its first year of life. 

Emma Stevens, Director of Human Resources at the University of Leicester, said: “We are delighted to have achieved our accreditation as an Employer with Heart, and to be able to provide this additional support to staff whose baby is born prematurely or needs an extended stay in neonatal care. We understand that this can be a very difficult experience for parents and want to give them the extra time with their babies that they need.”

Catriona Ogilvy, Chair and Founder of The Smallest Things said: "We are thrilled to award the University of Leicester with our Employer with Heart charter mark. These changes will mean that University staff will not need to worry about work or money following the birth of a baby born prematurely and will give back precious time to parents to be with their baby or babies once they come home. We hope to see many more universities and UK employers making these important changes, going above and beyond new statutory requirements outlined in the Neonatal (Leave and Pay) Bill to support parents through the trauma of neonatal care and beyond."

The Infant Mortality and Morbidity Studies (TIMMS) research group at the University of Leicester carries out world leading research to improve survival and long term outcomes for babies born preterm, and also developed training for schools in becoming ‘prem aware’ for The Smallest Things’s Prem Aware Award.

Professor Samantha Johnson from the TIMMS group who developed the training for schools said: “Research shows that having a baby who needs neonatal care after birth can be stressful for parents and may impact on their mental health and wellbeing. We are thrilled that Leicester has been awarded The Smallest Things’ Employer with Heart charter mark and that our colleagues in the University will now receive additional support during what might be a very challenging time.”

Pascale Lorber from the University’s School of Law and a member of the working group said: “When my son was born 5 weeks early, I would have really appreciated the extra time added to my maternity leave that started earlier than anticipated. This is such a supportive development for all colleagues who experience such difficult and emotional times.”