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Economics of Early Childhood Development and Care: The "path to prosperity" that matters to business

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
"Path to Prosperity" Luncheon
World Trade and Convention Centre
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Her Honour, The Honourable Myra A. Freeman, His Honour, Lawrence A. Freeman, The Honourable David Morse, The Honourable Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, ladies and gentlemen:

Elaine, thanks very much for the marvelous introduction. Over the years, I've read several of your insightful papers, including Child Care: Becoming Visible…and Reflecting on Attracting/Keeping Qualified Staff in Child Care. I also discovered one of your workshop pieces, which remains fixed in my memory - I'm referring to the CCC-NS Workshop, Earning Respect in Child Care that still stands the test of time. Here's an excerpt from the accompanying article:

"Our meeting room at Child Care Connection-NS is adjacent to the street. There are a number of child care centres in our neighbourhood, so whenever we hear children we jump up and look out the window. On one particular occasion we saw two teachers with nine children. What questions would you ask about the scene? On the other side of the street was a woman looking at them. We wanted to run outside and ask the woman, what she was thinking. We didn't know if she had any early childhood background and chances are, her questions or thoughts would be very different from ours. Would they be positive? What do people outside of the child care community think of us? How do we ensure that we get more respect?"

These are powerful words and questions all right…and in the next few minutes, I want to share more powerful words and messages with you about the economics of early child development and care - the path to prosperity that matters to business. As Elaine says in the workshop, "by getting in control of our messages and pausing, we'll improve the perception of the work we do." So watch out for carefully placed pauses - during my remarks, as the goal is to ensure message received.

Let me begin by saying, it's an absolute pleasure to be back in Halifax - the gateway to Atlantic Canada - especially during Child Care Awareness Days, as this month is meant to acknowledge the vital contribution child care workers make to Nova Scotia's economic and social well-being. I enjoyed the reception for the Coady International Institute last night, hosted by the Honourable Myra Freeman. Not only do I have a better idea about why the Institute is world-renowned as a centre of excellence in community-based development, I learned a great deal about your Lieutenant-Governor's distinguished record of community service in Nova Scotia. Lieutenant-Governor Freeman, many guests commented about your energizing interest in children and youth…and of course you and His Honour Larry Freeman are here today, which speaks volumes. Thank you.

As you may be aware, one of Canada's communications pioneers, the late Marshall McLuhan, often shared his thoughts about children. You may recall his remark about changing infant diapers that goes like this: "Diaper backwards spells repaid. Think about it." Many interpretations have followed over the years - I prefer the one that suggests there are short/long-term "benefits" for taking care of children early on.

As I glance around this room, I can't help but appreciate the power of the collective voice plus the value of raising the volume and the bar when it comes to investing in early child development (ECD) and care. Each and every one of you is part of the collective voice. And it's the same collective voice that will help ensure more business people are in the room at the next luncheon or event in Halifax and communities across the province where the focus is on investing in children.

There's no doubt the time is now to convince corporate Canada to take a more active interest and leadership role in supporting early child development and care. The key to convincing business revolves around building and selling a compelling case - demonstrating that investing in our children is good economics - good business.

The obvious place to start is with my involvement. I'm involved in supporting early child development and care 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 prosperous 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? 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!

That's why I accepted the role as Chair of the newly founded Council on Early Child Development and Parenting in Ontario. The Council is a community-based network organization committed to the advancement of human development through enhancement of early child development. It's designed to help communities establish, in association with primary schools, early child development and parenting centres. This initiative will involve school boards, public health, municipal government and community groups.

The bottom line is that business leaders need to step up to the plate. They need to hear and talk about research findings to get the message about what's at stake: current and future customers, employees and stakeholders, a healthier workplace (work/life initiatives), increased productivity, more attractive returns and corporate responsibility. The contribution of early child development and care to the creation and nurturing of human capital cannot be ignored. Here's some research at work that shows why investing in children is good economics and 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. 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.)"

Last fall, a US-based conference "The Economics of Early Childhood Development: Lessons for Economic Policy", provided a unique opportunity for economists, public policy analysts, professionals and educators to share research on early childhood development. James Lyon, first vice president at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, conveyed a very clear message in his opening remarks: "One of the charges of the district Fed banks is to provide analysis and insight into regional economic development. State/local governments have been debating how to best use public funds to encourage economic growth, and research has shown that early childhood development programs should be viewed as economic development." This matters to business.

In the May 2004 edition of the magazine Today's Parent, there's a child care report card by John Hoffman, that begins with the question: How good is daycare in your province? (Elaine Ferguson will be most familiar with this report since she was Hoffman's "expert source" from Nova Scotia.) Not surprisingly, Quebec won big time, mainly because of its higher spending on child care and higher number of child care spaces. I'm sure most of this audience knows that Quebec launched an early childhood education policy in 1997/98 that resulted in "a 56% increase in child care spaces by 2001, higher training standards for staff and the $5-a-day fee" (recently increased to $7-a-day)." This matters to business.

And how does Hoffman's article say Canada stacks up with other countries? "The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) sent a team of international researchers here to assess Canadian child-care programs in the fall of 2003…part of an ongoing effort to review early childhood education and child care policies/services in industrialized nations. While the report is still under wraps, based on the OECD's research on what makes good child care, Canada is not likely to stack up well. Canada is considered well behind many European countries in national investment in child care as well as quality." This also matters to business.

More research and references, 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. You may also want to check out the March 2004 edition of Policy Options magazine, as it presents four articles that explore child care and early child development. And speaking of child care, on May 20th the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba launched its report, Time for Action: An Economic and Social Analysis of Child Care in Winnipeg, that's an excellent read. It gets the economics! I'm very pleased that Glenn Crook, RBC's Sales and Market Manager in Winnipeg, continues to serve on the Advisory Council for this very significant project.

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 child development and care enables parents to work, learn and train while helping to prepare children for a brighter future. We must make this wise investment today to ensure a competitive workforce and economy tomorrow…and beyond.

We know that early child development and care has earned its place on the political landscape - as part of current leadership campaign platforms and government agendas. The time is now to push the envelope on an agenda that must move forward to the next level, which means making ECD and child care a national/universal priority, while targeting the children most in need…and which means putting more money directly into high quality child care. This investment should be a coordinated effort to ensure program quality and to serve more children/families, including aboriginal children. The fact that your own Minister of Community Services, David Morse and Minister of Human Resources, Carolyn Bolivar-Getson are here, tells me that Premier John Hamm and his team consider early learning and child care a leadership in action priority.

Business has a key role to play in helping to nudge government action on early child development and care issues - in helping to influence public policy. Business also needs to support governments in developing national/regional early child development and care programs to replace the existing "patchwork" of projects and initiatives.

Prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. Since the underlying goal of corporate responsibility is prosperity for Canada, the private sector should increase its support of children, learning and education. Advocating sound policy and creating innovative strategies for ECD and care contributes to Canada's path to prosperity.

Let's talk about bold, innovative strategies and action plans, as business should strive to be family/child-friendly employers…when it comes to children, there are unlimited possibilities:

  • workplaces that employ on-site/near-site child care centers;
  • 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 parental 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 sustaining a competitive advantage.

Let's talk about business, government and community partnerships…there's a whole host of unlimited opportunities for business investment in early child development 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. Partnerships are an essential piece of the early childhood development and care investment. Corporations are part of the community. Best practices are community-based. And best practices are about collaborative community leadership and almost always about partnerships. What a great way to build a civil/civic society and promote shared responsibility.

Perhaps we'll see business well represented at the Child Care and Early Learning Conference in Winnipeg - November 2004. Entitled "Child Care - For a Change: Early Learning and Child Care for the 21st Century", this conference may interest many of you. As the promo says:

"Today we know that early learning and child care is a social and economic driver for many interconnected issues: it's integral to lifelong learning and healthy child development, and to a sound and prosperous economy; it has significant implications for women's equality, effective labour strategies, and ameliorating poverty; and it contributes to flourishing cities and strengthens social equity. High-quality child care and early learning strengthens our social foundations - it benefits children, women, parents, families, and communities - ultimately, it benefits all Canadians. It's expected that the (international) conference will play a key role in influencing public policy and public perceptions about early learning and child care and help set the agenda for the next decade."

Early child development 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. That's why champions like Danny Graham, Marilyn More, Diana Whalen, Peter Doig, Kathy Moggridge, Michele Rivard, Matt McIvor, Chris O'Neil, Kathy Black, Lauren Copeland, Margaret Fowler, Elizabeth Hicks, Eric Hicks, Barbara Bigelow, Laurie St. Amour, Lynda Rice, Susan Johnston, Jon Kronick, Chris Kronick, Fred MacGillivray, Connie McGowen, Karen McGinnis, Rose Dean, Sandra McFadyen, Brigitte Newman, Darlene Shortell, Fiona Merry and Andrew Starkey are here - that's why all of you are here - that's why I'm here.

And when we talk about leadership in action (not to mention a focus on children) in this province, the name Goldbloom also comes to mind. Richard, not only have you achieved milestones in pediatric medicine, pioneered family participation in the care of hospitalized children and introduced one of the first Care-by-Parents Units in Canada, I understand you were named to the Discovery Centre Hall of Fame last year. The Goldbloom family just never stops…Ruth, is a driving force behind the Pier 21 Immigration Memorial and now your granddaughter Ellen is the fourth-generation member of the clan to add the initials MD to her name.

RBC Financial Group must also continue to do its part in supporting children and youth. We take much pride in our After-School Grant Program and other children-focused initiatives It's great to see members of the Atlantic team here this afternoon - Wayne Bossert (who leads the region), Denise Mounce, Nan MacDonald and Trish Vardy. Talk about colleagues who "get it"!

Special thanks to Elaine and the CCC-NS board for inviting me to this special luncheon…and to Morgan Hicks for coordinating this event. Child Care Connection Nova Scotia is doing great things in this city and province - connecting child care professionals with information, resources and support for quality child care is making a real difference!

In closing, it's long overdue for the business 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." This is the path to prosperity that matters to business - that matters to all of us!

Thanks very much. Now let's hear from you!


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