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The Business Case for Early Childhood Education and Care:
Building a bridge to economic prosperity

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
NPF Atlantic Canada CAPC/CPNP Training Conference
Charlottetown Hotel
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Thanks very much for the warm introduction Judy…I often hear or see your name, in connection to the fine work that you and your colleagues do with the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP) - colleagues of course in Ottawa as well as the Population and Public Health Branch (PPHB) in the Atlantic Regional Office.

Needless to say, the proof is right here in this room; some of the programs that provide nutrition counselling and lifestyle support to pregnant women who may have unhealthy babies, are represented at this conference - and represented well by the champions who make things happen with both CPNP and the Community Action Program for Children (CAPC) in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Since there are a few champions who have joined us from outside this region, I want to acknowledge everyone's contribution and tireless efforts - plus encourage all of you to make the most of this experience by networking and sharing best practices.

It's always a pleasure to visit Prince Edward Island - Charlottetown - especially this time, as I get to tag team with one of my favourite people and children's advocates, The Honourable Margaret McCain. I was last here on October 8, 2002 when Rob Paterson, the Principal of Renwal Consulting Group (and an avid thinker on early years development) and Ann Robertson, the Executive Director of C.H.A.N.C.E.S. Family Resource Centre, invited me to participate in a series of meetings to help push the envelope on the children's agenda and private sector involvement/partnerships.

After chatting with Premier Binns, James Ballem (now Minister of Environment/Energy and Attorney General), Mitchell Murphy (now Provincial Treasurer), Rory Francis (now with PEI Business Development Inc.), former Charlottetown Mayor Frank Zakem (who also co-chairs the Child Alliance Advisory Committee), not to mention business and community leaders, I said to myself and out loud: "they understand the importance of early childhood development in this province...they get it big time." I was impressed with the excellent political leadership backed up with sound public policy, as well as a sense of grassroots/community-driven implementation. And thanks to Ann Robertson, I also learned more about the "Building on Success: Best Start Program," sponsored by C.H.A.N.C.E.S. (Caring, Helping, And Nurturing Children Every Step). Ultimately, I came away with the view that PEI, is not only on the right path, it's a role model for the rest of the country! This is in large part why I accepted Rob and Ann's invitation to participate in this conference, without hesitation. It's great to see familiar faces in the audience.

Speaking of familiar faces…my first up close connection with CAPC/CPNP dates back to October 2001 - when I was asked to be the keynote speaker at Ontario's annual conference in Muskoka. Karen Hunter, who is co-presenting a workshop with Cathryn Fortier - Teen Pregnancy Prevention - not only helped me plan my presentation and workshop, she delivered an unforgettable introduction of yours truly (only on few occasions do my cheeks become a deep shade of red). The leading-edge work at Brighter Futures for Children of Young Single Parents in Ottawa will make for a super workshop tomorrow with Karen and Cathryn.

I've mentioned quite a few names in my opening remarks - this is just a sampling of the collective voice and power we need to raise the volume and the bar when it comes to investing in early childhood education and care (ECEC). Each and every one of you is part of the collective voice!

In the next few minutes, I want to share some thoughts about the business case for early childhood education and care, building a bridge to economic prosperity. Please don't hesitate to jot down some comments and questions, as we really want to hear from you this afternoon during the Q/A.

There's no doubt we have Dr. Fraser Mustard and the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research (CIAR) to thank for expanding our brainpower in the area of early childhood development. The groundbreaking Early Years Study (1999), and The Early Years Study, Three Years Later (2002), will be referenced for years on end, as will their amazing co-authors Fraser Mustard and Margaret McCain. And there's also no doubt that the time is now to convince corporate Canada to take a more active interest and leadership role in supporting ECEC. The key to convincing business revolves around building and selling a compelling case - demonstrating that investing in our children is good business.

The obvious place to get started is with my involvement - and making the business case for private sector participation. I'm involved in supporting early years development because it's an economic investment that requires more federal, provincial and municipal government action. RBC can help influence public policy and public opinion. After all, the development of human capital at an early age is key to a successful economy.

I'm involved because it's an economic investment that needs corporate/business action. As a business leader, I have a responsibility to push the envelope on high priority issues - and what's more important than children? Businesses "should strive to be family and child-friendly employers; to provide enriched child care that connects to elementary schools where appropriate; to have policies that are sensitive to the involvement of employees in the education of their children; and to be bold and creative regarding the importance of parental leave for new parents."

I'm also involved because it's an economic investment that requires more community action - kids are everybody's business. Integrated early years programming is one of the best investments communities can make. As a children's advocate (and parent), the only way to make a difference is to get involved and get others involved!

Business leaders need to hear and talk about research findings to get the message about various elements at risk: current and future customers, employees and stakeholders, a healthier workplace (work/life initiatives), increased productivity, a more attractive bottom line and corporate responsibility. Equally important is the contribution of early childhood development and care to the creation and nurturing of human capital. Here's some research at work that shows investing in children is good business:

  • "For every $1 spent on child care there is a $2 economic benefit. The benefit comes back through increased tax revenues, and decreased social, education and health costs."

  • "A child's brain development in the first six years of life sets the foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour and health."

  • "If the first few years of life include support for growth in cognition, language, motor skills, adaptive skills and social-emotional functioning, the child is more likely to succeed in school and later contribute to society."

  • High-quality early childhood education produces "long-term positive outcomes and cost-savings that include improved school performance, reduced special education placement, lower school dropout rates, and increased lifelong earning potential. Not only does high-quality early childhood education make a difference for children, it matters to their employed parents. Employers increasingly find that the availability of good early childhood programs is critical to the recruitment and retention of parent employees."

  • "It's estimated that work-life conflicts cost Canadian organizations roughly $2.7 billion in lost time due to work absences (this figure does not include indirect costs such as replacement of the employee during the absence, overtime costs or reduced service or productivity.)"

More research, references and links, including the Report, "Never too early to invest in children: Early childhood education and care matters to business!" can be found on the Voices for Children web site that some of you may be acquainted with - www.voicesforchildren.ca.

Facts, figures, and return on investment are the kind of language that business understands. And the message is clear: we all bear a burden for failing to provide the "right start" to our children. We bear it as parents, taxpayers and businesspeople.

We need more business leaders to view early childhood programs and child care as an economic issue, not just an education or social issue. It's an important economic issue because early childhood education and care enables parents to work, learn and train while helping to prepare children for a brighter future. We must make the wise investments in child care today to ensure a competitive workforce and economy tomorrow and beyond.

Minister John Manley's budget announcement (February 17, 2003) of "$900 million over five years to assist provinces and territories to increase access to quality child care and early learning opportunities, and $35 million over five years…for First Nations children, primarily on reserve", was a critical step in the right direction. It's clear that early childhood education and care is on the political agenda. Now, this agenda must move forward to the next level, which means putting money directly into child care and making high-quality early childhood education and care a national/universal priority, while targeting the children most in need. This investment in early childhood education should be a coordinated effort to ensure program quality and to serve more children and families, including aboriginal children. Community-driven programming through family resource centres is a most effective way to reach young children and families - to help make a difference.

Business has a key role to play in helping to nudge government action on early childhood development and care issues - in helping to influence public policy. Business also needs to support governments in developing national/regional early childhood education and care programs to replace the "patchwork" of projects and initiatives that are in place today. Since the underlying goal of corporate responsibility is prosperity for Canada, the private sector should increase its support of children, learning and education. Prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. Advocating sound policy and establishing innovative strategies for early childhood education and care will contribute to Canada's prosperity.

Let's talk about business strategies and action plans…when it comes to children, there are unlimited business possibilities:

  • workplaces that employ on-site/near-site child care centres
  • child care subsidies
  • after-school programs
  • parental networks, information and referral services
  • investing in/sponsoring targeted children's initiatives
  • workplaces that broaden their scope re job sharing, flexible hours, extended maternity leave, and family care leaves
  • workplaces that encourage representation on children's advocacy boards.

These are all elements of a sound business strategy, and they will aid in developing human capital, promoting a healthier workplace and creating a competitive advantage.

Let's talk about business, government and community partnerships…there's a whole host of opportunities for business investment in childhood education and care - in employees and families. We must continue to listen to the voice of our employee partners (primarily through work/life initiatives) in order to help meet objectives and expectations.

We also know the private sector can collaborate with governments and community organizations for the development and support of children. Partnerships are an essential piece of the early childhood education and care investment. Corporations are part of the community. Best practices are community-based. And best practices are about community leadership and almost always about partnerships.

Partnerships encourage business to be catalysts for change…to show their heart. What a great way to build a civil/civic society and promote shared responsibility. So my question to you is similar to the one I posed in Hamilton and Winnipeg over the past few weeks: "how many business leaders know about your resource centre or project? Have you invited them in - shown them what you're doing?"

RBC Financial Group supports partnerships that focus on learning and children. For example, we announced $1.3 million in funding for our 2003/2004 after-school programs that offer development opportunities for kids. The Adventure Group (Charlottetown), St. John's Boys and Girls Club, Community YMCA (Halifax), Fredericton Boys and Girls Club and the Miramichi Boys and Girls Club, are just some of the new and renewed after-school grant recipients.

There are unlimited possibilities for private sector involvement! From the Kids R First Family Resource Centre (Summerside) and the Mi'Kmaq Child Development Centre (Halifax), to the North Shore Early Childhood Committee (Corner Brook) and Healthy Baby and Me (Moncton), these CAPC/CPNP programs (and many more like them), help promote healthy child development in each community. Where there's a community need, there's an opportunity for private sector involvement. And where there's private sector involvement, there's an opportunity for partnership building.

On October 30th, Premier Binns invited Islanders to submit nominations for the Premier's Council on Healthy Child Development "Champions for Children" Awards. These awards are presented each year to individuals who have contributed to the well-being of young children and their families in PEI.

That same day, more than 120 parents, caregivers, educators and representatives from community organizations, business and government gathered for the third annual Children's Think Tank, held in Cornwall. Some of you may have attended this event last week. And from November 23-25, 2003, Prince Edward Island will host the national conference - "The Early Years: Making a World of Difference." This is all good news for PEI and Atlantic Canada. This is all good news for children and families across the country. This is all good news for all of you and partnership building.

To everyone…take pride in the leadership difference you make for families and children in your communities each and every day. Keep up the great work while you're here and when you head home to your centres and projects…and remember to stay focused on the pursuit of partnerships. This will go a long way in ensuring quality programs are maintained and new ones are nurtured in your province and from coast to coast. To Michelle Rivard, Joan Mendes, Lee Merrigan-Thomas, Diane Levesque, Karen Beresford, Carolyn D'Entremont, Trudy Reid, Julie MacDonald, Janet Payne and Lurlean Palmer, your support of this event has been well worth the time and effort expended. And to Laura Quinn, specials thanks for your instrumental role in coordinating this conference and our involvement.

In closing, early childhood education and care thrives on interdependence and collaboration in order to work and work well - it requires leadership at all levels and business leadership at a high level. It's time for business to step up to the plate - it's time for our leadership voice to be heard in greater numbers. "In today's world, where education and skill levels determine future earnings, the economic and social costs to individuals, communities, and the nation of not taking action on early childhood education are far too great to ignore, especially when the benefits far outweigh the costs."

The bottom line is that early childhood education and care is good business…and building a bridge to economic prosperity - building a bridge to a brighter future (the theme of your conference) is also good business. Why not make good business, your business?

Thank you…now let's hear from you!

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