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Reaching out to children and families... Getting right down to business!

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs & Business Development
RBC Financial Group
Haldimand-Norfolk R.E.A.C.H. 24th Annual General Meeting
Jarvis Community Centre
Jarvis, Ontario

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Her Worship Mayor Marie Trainer, ladies and gentlemen:

Thanks very much Lillian…what a treat to be introduced by a R.E.A.C.H. board member and someone associated with the Norfolk Nuclear Medicine Service. I've heard marvelous things about the medical technology there - the high quality diagnostic testing that's available - not to mention the great work that you and your colleagues continue to do.

It's a pleasure to visit Jarvis and join you on the occasion of your 24th annual general meeting. I see some familiar faces in the room - faces like Deb Young, Shelley Chatterson, Michelle Connor, Karen Dickhout, Laurie Giancola, Lisa Hill, Theresa Ransome and of course Wendy Carron - faces that remind me of my visit to Renton last October for the Kids Matter…from Charter to Action conference. And given her strong community leadership and support of children and families, I'm not surprised to see Mayor Trainer again.

I must tell you that I love the word REACH (in your case referring to Resource, Education And Counselling Help), as the word itself and the phrase "reaching out" (a phrase you use for your newsletter), have such a positive, inclusive and caring undertone. I even used the word and phrase for the title of my presentation this evening - "Reaching out to children and families - getting right down to business."

When I think about the importance of children and families, a couple of quotes come to mind. Novelist Edward Phillips once said: "Nobody brings out your shortcomings more quickly than a member of your family." How true is that? At the same time, it says so much about deep family ties and connections. And then there's one of the Famous 5, Nellie McClung's observation: "It's not so much a woman's duty to bring children into the world as it is to see what sort of world…she is bringing them into." R.E.A.C.H. is certainly helping to make the world a better place for children and families.

As you're aware, the future economic well-being and growth of our country rests in very small hands - Canada's kids. Our kids will be the keepers of the key for Canada in 2020 and beyond…that's why they deserve the very best start in life right now. An investment in children and families strengthens the very fabric of our workplaces and our country. We must make smart investments in children and families - in early learning and child care - to ensure a competitive workforce and economy. Advocating sound policy and establishing innovative strategies for children and families will contribute to Canada's path to prosperity - Ontario's path to prosperity - Haldimand-Norfolk's 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 children, families and early learning and child care. 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. You may remember what John Kenneth Galbraith said nearly 25 years ago: "The views of one articulate and affluent banker, businessman, lawyer, or acolyte economist are the equal of several thousand welfare mothers in the corridors of political power" (Toronto Star, February 21, 2005).

It's clear that business has a vested interest in supporting and influencing the development of sound public policy; as business has a stake in children and families, along with early learning and child care outcomes, i.e., education, employment, health, safety and community engagement. The link between economic development and reaching out to children and families may be an uncommon one - but it's time for corporate Canada to "get comfortable with the uncomfortable"! The time is now to convince corporate Canada to take a more active interest and leadership role in supporting initiatives like R.E.A.C.H. It's time for business to be better represented at AGMs like this one.

Business should know that Haldimand-Norfolk R.E.A.C.H. "helps children and youth who are experiencing emotional difficulties, who are in trouble with the law or who are over 16 years of age with no safe place to live." Business should know that R.E.A.C.H. "assists families who have children with developmental or physical challenges, as well as parents with a variety of child care needs." And business should know that R.E.A.C.H. offers counseling to adults with personal or relationship difficulties and contracts with businesses to provide Employee Assistant Program (E.A.P.) services to employees. It's time we get right down to business.

Business should know that over the years, R.E.A.C.H. has grown to include developmental services for children and adults, child care services, early years/CAPC/ family services and a residential program for youth. Business should know about R.E.A.C.H.'s Family Early Intervention Program, the licensed home child care program, initiatives connected with Child Clinical Services and the Partner Assault Response Program (PAR), starting this month - and that the organization is also a single point of contact for children's and developmental services funded by the Ontario Ministry. It's time we get right down to business.

Business should also know that last year (August 2004), R.E.A.C.H. submitted its first Community Service Plan for Children's and Developmental Services to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and the Ministry of Community and Social Services. This is the kind of blueprint that will go a long way in engaging community partners and pushing the envelope on community leadership priorities. It's time we get right down to business.

And business should know that the children and youth of Haldimand and Norfolk Counties have led the way with the development of their own Charter of Rights - "that a responsibility statement was developed by adults regarding the community's accountability to uphold the rights and that the goal is for the Charter to be adopted by schools, businesses and social service agencies." I was delighted to see the Charter of Rights pamphlet - and the, oh so amazing quilt. As a side bar, I want you to know that your work with children's rights won't go unnoticed by the National Advisory Council for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a museum that will be built in Winnipeg. As chair, I'll ensure the Haldimand-Norfolk voice of children is heard.

Why am I involved, you might ask? Supporting children and families is an economic issue that requires more federal, provincial and municipal government action. Supporting children and families is an economic issue that needs corporate/business action. And supporting children and families is an economic issue that requires more community action - kids are everybody's business. As a business executive, children's advocate and parent, the only way to make a difference is to get involved and get others involved.

This is why I accepted the role as Chair of the Council for Early Child Development in Ontario last year. The Council "promotes the application of knowledge about human development to create a system of early child development and parenting programs for all children." This initiative involves school boards, as well as public health, municipal government and community groups. Dr. Fraser Mustard, who established the Council, recently received the Lawson Foundation Lifetime Achievement award that recognizes his contribution to early child development (ECD). Fraser has directed his $100,000 grant to the Council, particularly to the revision of the Early Years Study and the incubation of a national network on ECD evaluation.

More business leaders need to step up to the plate when it comes to investing in children and families. And they need to hear and discuss research findings - evidence. Here's some research at work that shows why investing in children and families 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."

  • "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 in 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."

Facts, figures, and return on investment, is language that business gets. It also needs 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 message is simple: we all bear a burden for failing to provide the "right start" to our children (and families).

We need more business leaders to view supporting children and families as an economic investment, as well as a health, education and social investment. It's an important economic investment 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 2005 to ensure a competitive workforce and economy in 2015.

As such, why wouldn't business 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 care leaves? Why wouldn't business encourage investments in targeted children's initiatives, such as R.E.A.C.H., and representation on children's advocacy boards? And why wouldn't business support investments in children and family partnerships with governments and communities - and the sharing of promising practices? These are all elements of a sound business strategy that develops human capital, promotes a healthier workplace and sustains a competitive advantage.

May was a good month for reaching out to children and families. On May 6 (in Hamilton), Prime Minister Paul Martin, Social Development Minister Ken Dryden and Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, Ontario's Minister of Children and Youth Services, "announced an historic Agreement in Principle that further supports the development of quality early learning and child care for children and families in Ontario." The Prime Minister said: "For years, Canadian parents, child care organizations and governments have been working together to strengthen child care in Canada. This Agreement in Principle between Canada and Ontario…builds upon those efforts and moves our country significantly closer to fulfilling a shared vision for early learning and child care." It's time we get right down to business.

On May 19, "ideas, energy and the enthusiasm of diverse sectors came together at the first meeting of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services' Leadership Council. This Council will work closely with the Partnership Strategies Office to promote and develop quality cross-sector partnerships in support of healthy and active children and youth." The Council chaired by Minister Bountrogianni, "brings together key business and community leaders to assist the Ministry in ensuring all children and youth have the best opportunity to succeed." It's time we get right down to business."

On May 26, Minister Bountrogianni, also spoke to the Ombudsman Ontario Special Needs report, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." She said in part: "The report…helps us understand how government-funded services have helped families -- and where there are gaps. New investments totaling more than $100 million -- more than a 15 per cent increase -- are already at work providing more services through children's treatment centres, children's mental health and autism programs. The Ombudsman has signaled that more needs to be done, and this government agrees. It's time we made special needs services for children friendlier and more sensible for families." It's time we get right down to business.

And the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) supports government action. On May 28, CanWest News Service reporter Eric Beauchesne stated in his Canada needs child care piece: "One in three Canadian sole parents are without work and face an increased risk of poverty," according to the OECD report - Babies and Bosses - released last month. "Although employment among single parents in Canada has increased in recent years, more can be done to reduce the risks of children growing up in poverty." The report also "recommends that governments here increase their support for child care, including out-of-school-hours care services, to ensure that a broader group of families have access to affordable good-quality child care." It's time we get right down to business.

RBC Financial Group must continue to support children and families too. We take pride in our After-School Grants Program and other children/family-focused initiatives. "As part of our ongoing commitment to create work/life options that support employees in meeting their diverse needs, we piloted (in 2004) an Emergency Back-up Child Care program for staff in the downtown Toronto area. Designed to respond to the needs of employees whose regular child care provider is ill/not available, whose usual child care site is closed, or whose child's school is closed due to bad weather, RBC sponsored free coverage for up to 5 days of a licensed child care provider close to the office. Based on the positive response from employees, we plan to continue offering some version of this program in 2005."

It's clear this room is filled with people who demonstrate the value of leadership in action and collaboration when it comes to reaching out to children and families - to partnership building in the community. Your President Kathryn Sloat, who's turning over the chair of the board this year (and remaining on as past president), has demonstrated remarkable strength, foresight and leadership for R.E.A.C.H. Then there's Don Stewart (who I also recall from the conference in Renton) and his tremendous work with the Children's Charter of Rights. And let's not forget Kelly Loro's impressive work with the Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) group. I'm also gratified to see Marion Kuiper-Lampman here with her husband and daughters Sara and Samantha. Your father and grandfather, Evert Kuiper, was a REACH volunteer driver who will be remembered, always.

If only there was time to name all of you out loud… In any event, it's an honour to be among champions - champions who appreciate the importance of investing in children and families.

I want to thank your outstanding executive director Leo Massi and the marvelous Carol Grant for inviting me to speak this evening and for helping to coordinate my involvement in this event. Leo, I understand you and your motorcycle made a special trip to the office last Saturday that had something to do with this presentation. And another thank you to everyone here - to the board - to the staff - to community leaders - to government and business representatives - to parents - to all volunteers - for what you do for children, families and for your neighbourhoods - and for what you'll continue to do in the months and years ahead. And thank you Sara and Samantha for being bright stars in our midst tonight.

In closing, children and family investments thrive on collaboration in order to work and work effectively. They also require leadership at all levels and business leadership at a high level. As the saying goes, "it takes a village to raise a child"…so when igniting the reaching out to children and families flame, please remember that influencing a child's future and our community's future - is one of the most important choices we'll ever make! It's time we get right down to business.

Thanks very much…