Early learning and child care:
The cost of not doing enough
Executive Vice President
& Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Economic$ of Child
Fredericton, New Brunswick
November 19, 2004
Brenda, thank you very much for the generous introduction
a pleasure to have someone from Business New Brunswick set the tone for this luncheon.
After all, an investment in early learning and child care is very much about generating
economic prosperity, cultivating partnerships with stakeholders and seizing opportunities
for growth and innovation. Your Premier got it right in more ways than one when
he said: "Greater Opportunity (New Brunswick's prosperity plan) is
our long-term vision for economic growth. It's a vision based on one overriding
belief: that greater prosperity for our province is the path to greater opportunity
for our people." Greater opportunity - the path to prosperity - is very much
about an investment in early learning and child care.
It's always a great
treat to visit New Brunswick - my birth province - and it's a delight to join
all of you in Fredericton this morning. How could I say anything but "yes"
to Chrystele Pinsonneault's invitation to talk about one of my passions - investing
in early learning and child care? 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. And the link to prosperity is key, as is
the premise, there's the cost of not doing enough.
I'm convinced that business
(both large and small) has a vital role to play in what I refer to as the collaborative
solution on the path to prosperity. Strong, diverse public sector, community
and business leadership needs to be at the same table when it comes to policy
direction and issues about early learning and child care. And make no mistake
about it - child care is part of the early learning equation. And remember, history
has proven time and time again that shifts or changes in public policy don't usually
take off until the business community rallies behind them.
I liked the
news release about this event (dated October 14), as it told me that New Brunswick
gets it - important stakeholders came together to organize this event:
the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, as well as Business New Brunswick
and Training and Employment Development and Early Childhood Care and Education
NB. It also hit the high points: "The link between economic development and
child care services will be the uncommon theme of a provincial conference next
month aimed at economic development agencies and community leaders." This
is an uncommon theme for sure - in some cases, equating to "getting comfortable
with the uncomfortable"!
"This conference on child care is unusual
because of its interest in the return on investment of quality child care services,"
said Mary Lou Stirling, chairperson of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the
Status of Women. "New Brunswick seems ready for this. We were certainly met
with enthusiasm by both Minister Peter Mesheau of Business New Brunswick and Minister
Margaret-Ann Blaney of Training and Employment Development when we suggested this
initiative. Child care services are part of the infrastructure that enables people
to get to work, just like a transportation system. Without child care services,
employers have difficulty keeping staff and community development plans are stymied.
And without quality child care services, children as well as the economy suffer.
Early child development shapes the health of individuals and of societies."
I encourage you to ask Gord Cleveland, along with my panel partner today
Lynell Anderson, Jane Bertrand and Wendy Johnston, about the Child Care for
a Change: Shaping the 21st Century conference in Winnipeg last weekend - the
first major policy gathering focusing on early childhood education in over 20
In addition to Wendy, New Brunswick delegates will likely have much
to share with all of you
by all means connect with Gisele Bujold-Michaud
(NB Advisory Council on the Status of Women in Grand Sault), Jodi Campbell (New
Maryland Children's Centre), and from Fredericton, Sherry Canavan (Northside Daycare)
and Dixie Lee Mitchell (Early Childhood Consultant and Trainer). That's the good
news - the bad news is that business wasn't well represented at the conference.
it's clear that business has a vested interest in supporting the development of
sound public policy, as business has a stake in early learning and child care
outcomes, i.e., education, employment, health, safety and community engagement.
Show me a leading CEO who doesn't believe that cultivating, attracting and retaining
top talent is a strategic priority. Show me a leading CEO who doesn't get the
connection between corporate responsibility and building business, not to mention
employee commitment. Show me a leading CEO who doesn't equate the value of business,
government and community partnerships with advancing the economic and social justice
agenda. I'd like to chat with a leading CEO who doesn't understand that improving
shareholder value tomorrow has everything to do with investing in children and
families today. Generating a high level of business interest can help make the
The bottom line is that business leaders need to step up to
the plate. And they need to hear and discuss research findings - evidence. The
contribution of early learning and child 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."
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 in society."
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."
estimated that work-life conflicts cost Canadian organizations roughly $2.7 billion
in lost time due to work absences."
More research, can be found
on the Voices for Children web site - www.voicesforchildren.ca.
Voices for Children is asking Canadians to "Sign On for A Canada Fit for
Children" through an e-mail campaign. "Voices wants to see 5,000 messages
sent to the government by November 20th (tomorrow, which is National Child Day),
letting them know that Canadians endorse the government's vision and national
action plan to support children, youth and families, including the creation of
a comprehensive system of early learning and child care programs."
also good to see more insight sharing on the subject, with a different slant,
in articles such as: Socio-Legal Issues about Childcare by Mary Ross Hendriks
and Patricia DeGuire (in the Ontario Bar Association's newsletter Voices - the
Feminist Legal Analysis Section, October 2004). From Patchwork to Framework
- Highlights of a Childcare Strategy for Canada, produced by the Child Care
Advocacy Association of Canada, is another great piece of material
like Jane Bertrand and New Brunswick's Jody Dallaire will share more, as will
Lynell in a couple of minutes.
Facts, figures, and return on investment
are the kind of language that business understands. And the message is simple:
we all bear a burden for failing to provide the "right start" to our
children. We need more business leaders to view early learning and child care
as an economic issue, not just an education or social issue. It's an important
economic issue because early learning and care enables parents to work, learn
and train while helping to prepare children for a brighter future. It's a wise
investment in 2004 to ensure a competitive workforce and economy in 2014.
know that early learning and care has earned its place on the Canadian political
landscape. The time is now to push the envelope on an agenda that must move forward
(with the support of all three levels of government), which means making early
learning and care a national and universal priority, targeting the children most
in need and putting more money directly into high quality child care. Canada requires
a coordinated approach to ensure program quality and to serve more children/families,
including a focus on aboriginal children.
The Honourable Margaret McCain
(co-author of the Ontario Early Years Study and a name well known in this province),
and I sent an Open Letter to Minister Dryden on November 1, applauding
his vision for an early learning and child care system as the next great social
initiative. Among several points, we encouraged the provinces to rationalize their
disconnected early education, child care and parent support services to provide
a stable platform for expansion. We encouraged the raising of government standards
for early learning and care programs to promote quality and win public trust.
And we also encouraged the development of service plans with goals and timetables
for expansion and quality enhancements to hold governments accountable. The complete
letter is available on the Atkinson Charitable Foundation web site, www.atkinsonfoundation.ca.
has a key role to play in helping to nudge government action on early learning
and child care issues - in helping to influence public policy. Perhaps business
- workplace employees - can also participate in what could soon be Ottawa's "new
Lego-land, if a campaign by advocates of a national child care program starts
to build momentum across the country. Supporters are urging Canadians to send
politicians a piece of the popular kids' toy in a symbolic move to ensure the
building blocks of child care and early childhood education aren't ignored when
a proposed federal program rolls out. The move comes after Minister Ken Dryden
said last Friday he hopes the $5 billion over five years the Liberals promised
for child care in the election campaign can begin flowing as early as this coming
April." If anyone is interested in finding out more about this campaign,
let us know.
Creating innovative strategies for early learning and child
care contributes to Canada's path to prosperity. As such, why wouldn't innovative
business leaders consider workplaces that employ on-site/near-site child care
centres, child care subsidies, after-school programs, parental networks, information
and referral services, job sharing, flexible hours or extended parental leave/family
Why wouldn't innovative business leaders encourage investments
in targeted children's initiatives and representation on children's advocacy boards?
And why wouldn't innovative business leaders support partnerships with governments
and communities - and the sharing of best practices? These are all elements of
a sound business strategy that develops human capital, promotes a healthier workplace
and sustains a competitive advantage.
By the way, "the recent edition
of Today's Parent reveals Canada's Top 10 Family-Friendly Employers. Recent
studies indicate that employees can be more productive, are less likely to call
in sick and remain at a company longer when their employers are supportive of
family and personal commitments." It was gratifying to note the South-East
Regional Health Authority in Moncton, among the top 10.
It's clear this
room is filled with people who demonstrate the value of leadership in action and
collaboration when it comes to children and partnership building in the community.
I can't help but better appreciate the power of the collective voice plus the
value of raising the volume and the bar when it comes to investing in children.
From Richard LeBlanc (Enterprise Network), Stephanie Bolger (Aboriginal Head Start
- Under One Sky), Stephane Robichaud (Canadian Federation of Independent Business),
Carlena Munn (RBC Dominion Securities), Linda Gould (Early Childhood Care and
Education), to Katie Young/Ramona Solomon/ Kelly Paul (various students that are
here), Kristina Rogers (NB Aboriginal People's Council), Glenda Greene (Social
Development Canada), Misty McLaughlin (Office of the Official Opposition), Claudette
Landry (Public Health), Diane Hawkins (Public Safety), Lynn King (Urban Core Support
Network) and Belinda Allen (Enterprise Saint John) - if only there was time to
name everyone - each and every one of you is part of the collective voice.
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." As the saying goes, it takes a
village to raise a child
so when igniting the early learning and child care
flame with collaborative solutions and action, remember to count business in,
as there's a cost to not doing enough. Keep up the great work New Brunswick!
thanks to Chrystele Pinsonneault for coordinating my participation here today
- I look forward to an open discussion after Lynell speaks