Barry Kluger wasn’t always into politics, let alone political action. Growing up on Long Island, NY, Barry was part of the Corporate world working both as a Corporate PR representative and owning his own business. However in 2001, with the death of his 18 year old daughter in a car accident, all that changed. Barry found himself encountering a work force and employment system that failed to conceptualize grief. Stunned by the death of his daughter, Barry found himself up against a world where 3 to 5 days bereavement time is considered acceptable to grieve the loss of a child and then get back to ‘normal’ at work. This was never something that settled well with Barry, and for months he drifted in and out of his jobs.
Now, Barry is turning that grief into action. He currently acts as the CEO of the MISS Foundation, providing support and services to those who have lost a baby or child, and has become an avid columnist and writer about grief issues, having published a book titled A Life Undone: A Father’s Journey Through Loss. Most interestingly, Barry is also one part of The Farley-Kluger Initiative to add loss of a child to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Here’s what he has to say about these efforts:
SJS: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Barry. We at SJS are very interested to hear about the policies that are currently under debate in Washington as the efforts of The Farley-Kluger Initiative are so relevant to the field of social work. It is kind of obvious, but can you tell us why you feel it is important to add the of loss of a child to the FMLA?
Barry: Grief is a natural process, and the loss of a child cannot be addressed formally simply by allowing 3 to 5 days of bereavement leave. It takes time to grieve, and for many coming back to work that quickly decreases efficiency and causes further stress during a stressful time. For example, The Grief Recovery Institute suggests that over 200 Billion Dollars are lost in the work force each year by having parents who have lost children come back to the work force so quickly. For injuries we, as a society and work, force believe that if you have an accident you have to heal so your limbs don’t atrophy. Grief leave is a means of healing so your heart doesn’t atrophy. Of course people are going to deal how they can and some might return earlier, but it is better to have the option to take this time rather than be fired for poor work performance, as many are, under the current policy which asks that they return.
SJS: So true. Now, can you tell us a little bit more about the bills that you are currently working on with members of congress?
Barry: We are aiming to add loss of a child to the FMLA. This would allow parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the same as for any other ‘conditions’ listed under the FMLA. For the past 2 and a half years we have been working on getting bills passed both in the House of Representatives and Senate. During this time we have collected support, comments, and ideas from parents who have lost children regarding our idea. This has become the backbone of two bills introduced on February 5th of this year, the 20th anniversary of the FMLA. The Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act (HR515) , in the House, is sponsored by Steve Israel (D) of New York, and the Parental Bereavement Act of 2013, in the Senate, is supported by Jon Tester of Montana. We are hoping to have these bills passed during the 113th congress, but hopefully by the end of this year.
SJS: Okay, great to hear! And who have been some of your strongest supporters in Congress?
Barry: Representative Steve Israel and Senator Jon Tester have been big supporters from the start, but beyond that we have 25 sponsors in the house and 9 in the senate. In both, this includes 7 sponsors from Massachusetts, 4 from New York, 3 in California, 3 in Arizona, and others from Montana, Missouri, Connecticut (including the congressman representing Newton CT, where Sandy Hook occurred), Indiana, Colorado, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Illinois. Interestingly they are all Democrats. The Republicans overall seem to be against any further regulations, especially in the business world, and because of that they neglect to see the benefit to overall business productivity this bill could offer.
SJS: It is great you have that support, but so unfortunate that is isn’t Bipartisan. Now, I understand you feel these bills will be passed but what are the next steps in making this a reality?
Barry: We want to gain continued sponsorship from other members of the House and Senate. In addition to that, the next step at the Capitol is to request a hearing within committees of the House of Representatives as well as the Senate. We are approaching this with a two pronged approach and are asking for a hearing in each because the House is Republican run and the Senate is Democratically run. We are therefore pretty sure we can get one in the Senate, and are hopeful we will in the House as well.
SJS: What exactly does a hearing entail?
Barry: In this case, The Farley-Kluger Initiative and parents who have lost children, as well as supporters, grief organizations and others would gather in Washington and testify. The House or Senate committees would listen to these testimonies and then the bill would, hopefully, go to full vote then and there on the floor.
SJS: And how can our readers help?
Barry: We need continued support both from the public and from members of Congress. From signing our petition, sharing their stories, and speaking to their representatives and senators every little bit helps. Our petition has over 61,000 signatures and is still growing strong, so consider signing on. Write editorials about your experiences with losing a child, or your support of our efforts from a professional standpoint, but most importantly speak to your members of congress. members of Congress represent you and they need to hear from their constituents about what matters and what they should back. For any issue you believe in don’t just stay idle.
Readers can also help by speaking to the organizations they are a part of and getting them to support our efforts. For example, thus far, we have support from many organizations in which social workers are involved such as the National Association of Social Workers, American Counseling Association, the Elisabeth-Kubler Ross Foundation, Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA),American Academy of Grief Counseling, and the National Alliance for Grieving Children.
SJS: Okay, we hope that they can help you out! Thank you for speaking with us. We appreciate all that you are doing, and please keep us posted about how your efforts progress in DC.
Barry: Thanks to you as well. We sure will!
For more information about The Farley-Kluger Initiative please review the following links:
Website and Petition: http://www.FarleyKluger.com
NPR Interview: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/05/03/family-leave-act
To find out who represents you in DC, and locally, please see the following link: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml
Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer