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Making a caring investment in the future:
The business / community imperative for children / youth

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice-President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Family & Children's Services of Guelph and Wellington County AGM
Guelph Place Banquet Hall
Guelph, Ontario
Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Cathy, thank you for the warm introduction…

Following the likes and achievements of Ben Tinholt, Gordon and Wilma Tosh, Jennifer Hamilton and the Community Mental Health Clinic team, Councillor Marilyn Shapka and the City of Guelph, Barbara/Larry Hurren and Charlie Whittaker - is more than a humbling experience - it's a tremendous privilege. When I accepted Moe's invitation to speak at this AGM tonight, I knew it would be a special event - I just didn't know how special until a few minutes ago.

Needless to say, it's great to be in "The Royal City" again (I was here in February for the Early Years Steering Committee's "community champions for kids" breakfast - I notice some familiar faces in the audience). And it's clear that the city's anniversary celebration is far from over. As many of you are aware, RBC Royal Bank's Kate Quarrie chaired the 175th anniversary dinner for the City of Guelph in April. I understand that the $120,000 raised at this dinner will benefit Guelph students through a scholarship fund. Kate would have joined us this evening, however the incoming president of the Rotary Club of Guelph, is attending the Rotary International Convention in Barcelona, Spain. I can only echo her words when Kate was asked why she gives to the people of her community…"it's a win-win situation - by giving, you get so much back. You get to be involved with people, meet friends, rub shoulders with some of the most kind and concerned people…you get to be fulfilled."

And when it comes to giving and caring in the community - to investing in children and families, it's clear that Family and Children's Services of Guelph and Wellington County, the Rotary Clubs in Guelph and Wellington, Wyndham House, MacMillan Marketing Group, McNeil Consumer Health Care, Community Health Centre and United Way are examples of leadership in action. From Cathy Downer, Barbara Brownell, Anne Godfrey, Nancy MacDonald, Neil Christie, Jessa Chupik, Joy Cole, Mindy Ferguson, Stephanie Gain, Phil Greenway and Doug MacMillan, to Konnie Peet, Ike Van Solen, Morris Twist, Pat Promoli, Bobbye Goldenberg, Vern Lediett, Maureen Jefferson, Liz Sandals, Deborah Whale, George Cuthbert, not to mention Norm and Jean Jary, (time permitting, I would have mentioned everyone by name), you're an impressive group of board members, foster parents, government/business/community leaders, partners and volunteers that brings new meaning to the phrase "making a caring investment in the future"! And since making a caring investment is a theme that's also close to my heart, I'd like to share some perspectives on what I also refer to as the business/community imperative for children and youth…in my mind, supporting early years development is where making a caring investment in our future begins.

So, how do we all become more engaged in supporting the early years, children and youth…and convince others to do likewise? What's the connection between the early years and the business community? How can government at all levels, as well as the private and voluntary sectors work together more effectively?

Let me start by telling you about my personal involvement in supporting early years development. A few years ago, I served on the Ontario Government's Early Years Study. We looked at ways to prepare children for scholastic, career and social success - from all socio-economic groups, not just at-risk youth or those with special needs. The study co-chairs were the Honourable Margaret McCain and Dr. Fraser Mustard.

After the McCain-Mustard study, Fraser Mustard, Margaret McCain and I assembled a group to look at how the private sector could become more involved in the Early Years challenge - a group that included individuals from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Auto Workers etc…
People willingly volunteered to look at tough issues - the possible need for tax reform, incentives to build child care facilities…the need to develop broader-based community networks…and how the provincial government's Early Years Challenge Fund could be structured to encourage matching non-government support. It was an incredible consciousness-raising session!

As a parent and banker, I'm involved in supporting early years development because it's an economic issue that all levels of government need to address, not just through words, through concrete action. I'm also involved because it's an economic issue that all businesses need to understand in order to take concrete action. And I'm involved because it's an economic issue that impacts concrete action in our communities - kids are everybody's business. There's the cost of doing nothing…and there's the cost of not doing enough.

As Dr. Mustard says, if you want an idea of what your economy will look like in say 15 or 20 years…if you want an economy that's vibrant, citizens who are productive and a workplace that's innovative - think about the investment you're making in very young people today.

As such, I continue to champion the early years, most recently through the Early Learning and Child Care Commission for the City of Toronto. The Honourable Margaret McCain and I were appointed co-chairs of this independent Commission last fall and on May 13th our Final Report was released. I want to spend a few moments on the Report because there's an important link between the goals/activities of organizations like Family and Children's Services and our findings/recommendations.

As a basic premise, the state of our cities determines Canada's social and economic health. Successful cities are those with a skilled, innovative workforce - investing in skill development simply makes sense. Early learning and childcare supports innovation, as it improves school performance, reduces social assistance costs, expands economic activity, supports diversity and improves family/work life.

Among Commission findings, we discovered that early years development has often been interpreted to mean 'ABC' - anything but childcare. We know that children learn from birth and the everyday aspects of life are their textbooks. We also know that a young child's development cannot take place without nurturing and care. Any attempt to separate development from care is therefore artificial. It's also counterproductive to separate the needs of children from their parents. How ironic that so much of the provincial Early Childhood Development Initiative (ECDI) allocations are targeted at compensating children for the inadequate care they receive. Canadians deserve and expect accountability for public investments. After all, the city of Toronto - cities across the country including Guelph - are centres of human and capital development.

Here's a sampling of Commission recommendations (by the way…if anyone is interested, I brought a few copies of the Report with me and it's also on the web site, www.torontochildren.com):

  1. The federal government must lead the way... creating a childcare partnership under the provisions of the Social Union Framework Agreement would provide additional support to the provinces and municipalities. Publicly committing to a renewed Early Childhood Development Initiative structured to produce measurable outcomes is another important step.
  2. The provincial government should establish a legislative and funding framework to implement the main recommendations of the Early Years Study. The province also needs to provide municipalities/school boards with authority to integrate existing early years services into a comprehensive system.
  3. The City of Toronto should make a commitment to expand the First Duty coalition, including the district school board and community partners; the City also needs to work more closely with Toronto First Nations to access federal funding for programs like Aboriginal Head Start.
  4. The private sector needs to recognize that early years development is a business issue (where the stakes are high) and a topic for the boardroom. Business can also use its clout to encourage/support government action. At the same time, the community at large must continue its role of advocacy. Increased funding is directly connected to program quality and reorganization.

The important link for Family and Children's Services is primarily one of advocacy and accountability…we need a collective and consistent voice to effect change. The Toronto Commission Report is one document; yet look at all the voices, energy and skills in this room? Your service model tells the story - on any given day, you can provide information on progress plus track/assess results. You can also put a face on your effectiveness in helping to "protect children, support families and promote community care for children". And the Partnerships for Children and Families research project, is another opportunity to help push the envelope on values and change.

Research from the Child Care Education Foundation, says that today, it costs Canada $2.5 billion every year for remedial education because of delayed interventions or negative early experiences. Work-family conflicts cost businesses another $4.7 billion a year. This is the kind of language that business understands. It says that we all bear a burden for failing to provide the "right start" to our children. We bear it not only as parents but also as taxpayers and as businesspeople. Quite frankly, I don't hear enough of my corporate colleagues talking about their support of early childhood development.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently ran a story with the headline: "Business of Preschool - Children get support from an unexpected corner." It started with a pop quiz: "Who just made an impassioned case that the federal government should start cranking up a $30 billion program to ensure every American child a crack at a good preschool? Is it (a) Hillary Rodham Clinton, (b) The Children's Defense Fund, (c) The Nation magazine, or (d) the Committee for Economic Development? This is one of those multiple-choice questions where the weird answer is right. It's the Committee for Economic Development, a Washington-based group that includes 250 business leaders and educators."

Talk about a group of businesses and educators that understands the ultimate return on investment - a group that would nod in agreement about more research which shows that for every dollar spent on quality early education services, two dollars comes back through increased tax revenues, and decreased social, education and health costs. The private sector in Canada can also use its influence with governments/institutions and collaborate with partners for the development/support of children.

At RBC Financial Group, the underlying goal of our corporate citizenship programs is prosperity for Canada/Canadians. To achieve this, we must support education and learning - we must support our young people - our future, as prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. And we must support partnerships that work towards these ends. I can't say enough about the value of partnerships among business, government and the voluntary sectors - communities. When it comes to making a difference for children and youth, we all have a shared responsibility. Partnerships encourage business to be catalysts for change - to show their heart. What a great way to build a civic/civil society and promote social development.

The new Shelldale Centre (described as a "village of support") demonstrates the power of partnerships and the power of building caring communities. What an impressive line-up of partners to boast about: Family and Children's Service, Onward Willow, Community Mental Health Clinic, Public Health Unit, Women-In-Crisis, St Joseph's Speech and Language programme, Guelph Community Health Centre, Family Counselling and Support, Noel's Children's Centre, Lutherwood/CODA, 2nd Chance, Conestoga College, Action Read, Guelph-Wellington Association for Community Living, Guelph Police Services and City of Guelph Community Services. Given its wide-range of services, i.e., early childhood development, youth recreation, family support, adult education and employment training, community police services and family counseling/health programs to name a few, it's not surprising to hear that the Centre is already viewed as a service model in Ontario.

There's always a place for business in these type of community/neighbourhood initiatives - there's an opportunity for business to "get it" and "get on with it" when it comes to investing in children, youth and families. Investing in children is not just the domain of the public sector. For one, governments don't have the resources to do it all. And that's not to say that governments aren't committed. We know that in the fall of 2000, the federal government announced new investments of $2.2 billion over five years for early childhood development, as part of the National Children's Agenda. We also know that provincial/municipal governments are also committed to the early years in various ways and degrees.

That's why partnerships with the private sector are an essential piece of the total Canadian caring investment. Corporations are part of the community. And the best solutions are community-based. When it comes to the early years, let's open our minds and talk about all sorts of possibilities. Let's talk about how companies can create early child development/parenting centres for employees and receive a tax credit for opening them up to the community. Let's talk about child-care centres that are supported by employers, either set up on-site or in a local school/community centre.

Let's talk about broadening family-friendly arrangements in the workplace. Job sharing, flex hours, and paid leave for family responsibilities are all ways that RBC helps our people (many of whom are mothers with young children), meet their family responsibilities, including the nurturing of young babies…they're also elements of a sound business strategy.

Let's talk about how the private sector can provide on-line, over-the-phone or face-to face information resources for questions/concerns on family issues, i.e., child development, parenting skills, childcare arrangements, school selection and special services for children. RBC has moved in this direction.

Let's talk about private sector advocacy for financing of early child development initiatives. We need to make the link between the financial well-being of corporations, shareholder value and the need to invest in the early years. And let's talk about encouraging more corporate representation/support on children's advocacy boards…

Last October, I spoke at the annual Community Action Program for Children (CAPC)/Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP) conference in Muskoka, where Health Canada sponsored projects like Healthy Babies, Healthy Children and Healthy Start were well represented by the province of Ontario and interests from coast to coast…where partnerships and sharing best practices was the focus of the conference - where the aboriginal voice was heard for the first time. It has since struck me that Moe's involvement with Tikinagan Child and Family Services (near Sioux Lookout, Ontario) is making a significant difference for the aboriginal voice - for aboriginal children/communities (just read Moe's Tikinagan diary). There's much work to be done in partnership with this aboriginal organization and other ones similar to it, as delivering child protection services via agencies in native communities, is enormously different than delivering similar services via mainstream agencies across the country. As Cathy Downer noted in her President's Report, "no wonder Tikinagan keeps calling."

I also want to acknowledge the various articles that appear on the Guelph Mercury web site (especially for those of us who don't receive hard copy) - articles such as, "Our generosity must extend to public policy" (January 2002), with a focus on the early years/First Nations communities and "67,000 Children Need Special Care" (March 2002), especially the story about "Ashley". This material is more than an advocacy tool; it's a testament to outstanding leadership, a marvelous team (I must single out Colleen Reardon, who's been instrumental in coordinating this event) and the tremendous value of partnerships. "The local Family & Children's Services is proud of the successes of many children in our care. Over the past five years, six youth in care have received provincial bursaries and grants to pursue post-secondary education. Several have been selected to compete in the Ontario Special Olympics. Most former youths in care have gone on to create positive and constructive lives and to become successful parents. Some have even become foster parents for other children in care." Your words Moe…and this is why young people like Ben are such key role models.

The bottom line is that best practices are almost always about partnerships - the bottom line is that the time is now to encourage increased corporate/community involvement with early years projects, with Family and Children's Services and with other associations. The bottom line is that challenges are often opportunities.

In closing, given the economic benefits down the road, early years development is very much a strategic initiative. At RBC Financial Group, we'll continue to make children and youth one of our priorities and give even greater focus to the early years…RBC has a super local team in Guelph to help us do just that - people like Dave Cross, Dwayne Murray, Dawn Oberle, Rick Tessaro and Dwayne Anningson, who are all here tonight. And I'll continue to urge my colleagues in business to look for ways to partner with the public/voluntary sectors and to speak out on making a caring investment in the future. I also urge all of you to remind business associates/colleagues about the strategic value of this early years investment - not once, but over and over again.

It's a pleasure to be among children's champions this evening, as you put making a caring investment on the top of your agendas. In the wake of an uncertain environment that continues to preoccupy the world, it's doubly important that we all champion children/youth and put making a caring investment in our future on the top of our agendas.

Thank you.

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