Let's "get on with it..." Investing in children - it's our business!

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Early Childhood Development Speaker Series
The Grand Okanagan Lakefront Resort and Conference Centre
Kelowna, British Columbia

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Linda, thanks very much for the warm introduction…

While on a flight to Calgary last weekend, I had time to catch up on some reading and the name Linda McKinlay popped up in all sorts of material. In one instance, there was a reference to your association with Bankhead Family Place, the play-based, parenting enrichment program right here in Kelowna. I was pleased to discover this project is aligned with the Family and Literacy Centre model originated by Mary Gordon. I understand that "research in Canada and the U.S. demonstrated that this approach can greatly enhance a child's abilities - intellectual, social and emotional…(and) this will facilitate earlier detection of sensory and developmental delay, enhance social support and enable parents to address other childhood and family problems."

Then I saw Linda's name on a news release of Parenting Press, a Seattle Washington based organization that "publishes the best how-to information available for child guidance, problem solving, emotional competence, and kids' personal safety issues." As part of its 25th anniversary celebration, various champions were singled out for achievements in parenting education - "people who see needs in their own communities and are persistent and creative in meeting those needs, even when resources are limited." Congratulations Linda on being selected as one of the 2004 award recipients in the category of University Faculty - how very impressive for early childhood education at Okanagan University College, for Kelowna, British Columbia and Canada!

Thanks to Menno Salverda's invitation to participate in this speaking series today, I'm visiting Kelowna during its exciting centennial year. As the Kelowna Centennial Celebrations Committee says on its web site: "the Centennial will give us an opportunity to recognize that wonderful mix of hard work, vision, determination, creativity and planning that has gotten us here 100 years later."

And how marvelous that the major festivities to mark one hundred years take place this May - which in British Columbia coincides with Child Care Month. "It's a time to recognize the importance of child care to families, and the exceptional work of child care givers in communities around our province. Everyone has a role to play in delivering child care. Each day, parents make child care choices for their families, and contribute to decision making with their providers. Children interact in healthy, nurturing environments. Caregivers receive training in early childhood education, and carry out exceptional work to provide this valuable service."

Congratulations to everyone in this room for the extraordinary work you do when it comes to investing in children.

Speaking of extraordinary…I want to acknowledge my RBC colleagues from our Westbank First Nation Branch: Jacquie Anderson, Branch Manager, Karen Parker, Assistant Manager and Brett Drysdale, who is celebrating his third day at RBC today. I'm very proud of what all RBCers in this area do, not only for our clients, for the community at large.

I'm here to talk about investing in children - as it is our business - it's everybody's business. It's clear that investing in children is Kelowna's and B.C.'s business. Who can't help but be impressed with what's happening in this city and region - some of your initiatives have got us talking about "the buzz" on the west coast - for example:

  • On February 4, Stan Hagen, Minister of Children and Family Development (MCFD) announced that "the quality of child care in B.C. will be improved as a result of $1.5 million in one-time funding to aboriginal and multicultural agencies, eligible early childhood education students and organizations that train child care providers." This statement followed the Minister's words on October 26, 2004: "ten thousand more children will be eligible for child care subsidy and thousands of existing recipients will see their subsidies increase in 2005…with a $33 million boost, we're creating a stable, sustainable child care system, and we're doing so in a responsible, accountable way." This is excellent progress. It's good to see Doug Hayman and Kevin Ward from MCFD here, along with Nadine Johnson who plays double duty with Interior Health.

  • The there's the work of Success By 6® - a community based partnership that supports the enhancement of services to young children and families, and that includes programs which "help parents develop skills they need to provide the nurturing, stimulation and nutrition that are essential for their children to reach their potential." When I read that "helping BC's aboriginal children get the best possible start in life is the goal of a recent partnership between the BC Aboriginal Child Care Society (ACCS) and the provincial Success By 6® initiative, I could only smile out loud. I'm confident that people like Carol Ellison and Susan White will do a top-notch job of helping to "raise awareness of the importance of early childhood development, mobilize community resources and strengthen services for young children and families" through Success By 6®.

  • Interior Health's report, Investing in the Early Years (May 2004) was right on the money when it said "investing in early childhood requires striking a balance between meeting the needs of the majority while addressing inequities." And it didn't stop there…the report goes on to quote Paul Hasselback who notes in "Moving Forward - For the Sake of Our Children, 2002 (that) one of the greatest debates within the public health community has been about the relative value of targeted versus universal programming. He concludes that both are needed. Effective preventive services are important for families and children considered most vulnerable - those often termed at risk - but to achieve the greatest possible gains for the population, the needs of the majority must be addressed. Studies elsewhere have shown that large numbers of children who need support are missed when the focus is narrowed to those defined as at risk." Thank you Paul for helping all of us on the road to self-enlightenment.

  • I'm told this community is a pacesetter on a number of initiatives. When a group of child care stakeholders partners with the City of Kelowna to develop a child care plan and the partnership translates into a strong networking group of early childhood development advocates, who get together (on a regular basis I might add) to discuss and support investing in children initiatives, this is something to boast about. It's great to hear that the City of Kelowna continues to be a part of this group - talk about an amazing community-building model!

  • Community Action Toward Children's Health (CATCH), is another example of partnership and collaboration - another "opportunity to bring together a similar, yet expanded crew of stakeholders motivated to better support the healthy development of young children." The future of your community - "as it develops over the next few years, will rely heavily on this kind of umbrella, as it seeks to leave no child (or organization) behind during a time of interest in the healthy development of young children." Whether it's community asset mapping, the development of school based preschool projects, the CATCH web site, the Central Okanagan Family Resource Program, or a partnership with Success by 6®, CATCH is making a difference!

It's no accident that I mentioned these achievements in advance of talking about early learning and child care - investing in children. Just as it's no accident your achievements are so significant. Kelowna's investment in children is also an investment in Kelowna's prosperity - in B.C.'s prosperity and in Canada's prosperity. I'm often reminded of two quotes and one myth when I think about children:

  • "The best inheritance a person can give to his children is a few minutes of his time each day"
    (O. A. Battista);
  • "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters."
    (Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis); and
  • "Child rearing myth #1: Labour ends when the baby is born" (unknown author).

The bottom line is that the earlier we invest in a child's life, the greater the future dividend. As a business leader I clearly understand that improving shareholder value tomorrow has everything to do with investing in children today.

I'm involved in supporting early learning and child 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…as I said before: kids are everybody's business. As a children's advocate (and parent), the only way to make a difference is to get involved and get others involved!

There's no doubt in my mind 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. 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. Just 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 early learning and child care outcomes, i.e., education, employment, health, safety and community engagement. The link between economic development and child care may be an uncommon theme - but it's time we start "getting comfortable with the uncomfortable"! This speakers series is an important step in the right direction…

Last November, Winnipeg hosted the Child Care for a Change: Shaping the 21st Century conference - the first major policy gathering on early childhood education in over 20 years. Ken Dryden, Minister of Social Development was there, as was his Chief of Staff, Sandra Griffin, who I learned is a graduate of your ECE Diploma Program and advocate for a less fragmented national program with a focus on better quality and more accessible childcare. I'm pleased to hear this community is optimistic about the potential of a National Child Care Strategy and welcomes such change! Needless to say, this will trigger the need for even further collaboration with existing early learning and child care initiatives!

I mention the conference for two reasons - firstly, to say that it was very well received. I encourage you to check out the web site: http://www.ccsd.ca/subsites/childcare/ for more information and insight. That's the good news - the bad news is that business wasn't well represented at the conference, nor is business taking a lead role in the early learning and child care debate.

Yet, 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. Generating a high level of business interest in early learning and child care can help make the difference in making the connections.

Business leaders need to step up to the plate - it's as simple as that. 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."

  • "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."

  • "It's 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. 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…

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.

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 care leaves? 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.

The underlying goal of RBC's corporate citizenship programs is prosperity for Canada/Canadians. To achieve this, we support education and learning, as prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. We continue to foster relationships with business, government, communities and our own employees to help meet our goals.

Making a community difference is 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. Best practices are almost always about partnerships.

RBC's After-School Grants Program is all about partnerships - it's one of the ways we invest in children and help encourage kids to stay in school. We're currently inviting community-based providers of after-school programs to apply for grants of up to $40,000, for the 2005-06 school year. In order to qualify for a grant, after-school programs should offer structured, supervised activities in an environment that provides what RBC has termed the "3Ss": safety, social skills and self-esteem. Programs should also offer activities such as computer instruction, sports, literacy tutoring, music and art lessons, nutrition guidance, and homework-help.

Right now, RBC has ten programs operating in this province. And Penticton Boys and Girls Club is one of them. I'm especially pleased that Craig Monley, Diane Entwistle, Lisa Cameron, and Richelle Leckey, from the Okanagan Boys & Girls Clubs are here today. By the way, the deadline for new applications is May 2, 2005.

And here's another opportunity for Kelowna to invest in children…a week ago today, Social Development Canada announced its Call for Proposals for the federal government's Understanding the Early Years (UEY) initiative. "Through community level research and mapping, UEY provides communities with high-quality data on their children's readiness to learn and on family and community factors that influence children's development. The goal is for communities to better understand their children's readiness to learn and to develop action plans to respond to their needs." The deadline for proposals is April 11th.

The Honourable Margaret McCain (co-author of the Ontario Early Years Study) 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.

"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."

And it's evident this room is filled with people who demonstrate the value of leadership in action and collaboration when it comes to investing in children and partnership building in this 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 I look around the room.

Key stakeholders have come together to endorse this speaker series. It's supported by the Centre for Population and Health Services Research and the Early Childhood Education Department at Okanagan University College, in collaboration with Interior Health, Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), and Community Action Toward Children's Health (CATCH), not to mention funding from the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development through the Human Early Learning Partnership and Success By 6®. Let me tell you, this is an important leadership and education project.

From Minister Stan Hagan, Minister Linda Reid, Colin Reid, Angela Cleveland, Margaret Blair-Cook, Barbara Duffy, Myrna Kalmakoff and Hollie Henderson, to Phil Long, Angela Roy, Heather Parsons, Carolyn Ludwar, Monica Nelson, Michele Blais, Terry Beaudry and Bev Guest, all I can say is talk about leadership in action. Each and every one of you here today is part of the collective voice. Special thanks to Menno Salverda for coordinating my visit and also to Linda, Angela Cleveland and Amy Fulton.

Early child development and care thrives on interdependence and collaboration in order to work and work well - it requires leadership at all three levels of government and business leadership at a high level. It's long overdue for the business leadership voice to be heard in greater numbers. And on that note, I'm delighted to see Laurie Weisgarber here from Sun-Rype Products, as well as Peter MacPherson from Petraroia Langford Edwards & Rush. If I've missed any other business people, please speak up. It's time we all get with the program!

On February 11, "Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services met and discussed a national vision and principles for early learning and child care systems. Given the urgent need to accelerate development of quality early learning and child care across the country, Ministers agreed to meet again once funding is confirmed in the federal budget", which is being delivered by Finance Minister Ralph Goodale in the House of Commons this afternoon. As Mindelle Jacobs said in her Edmonton Sun column (February 13), Caring for kids in an imperfect world, "Not surprisingly, Dryden's efforts to get the provinces to agree Friday to a national child-care deal didn't quite come together. But Ottawa must press ahead, with or without all the provinces. A partial deal is better than nothing. Stay-at-home parents can still fight for tax breaks and other family-friendly initiatives. But we still need a quality day-care system from coast to coast. It will benefit us all."

"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."

In closing, I leave you with something to think about. John Ivison, of the National Post, wrote an article titled, "Old white guy takes the high road" (February 18). As you may recall, "Ken Dryden was assailed as an old white guy" in the House of Commons last week by an Opposition MP. The phrase was used in the context of "Working women want to make their own choices; we do not need old white guys telling us what to do" - obviously the debate revolved around early learning and child care. And then Jane Taber of the Globe and Mail followed up with her own story on the same topic, "Pull the Goalie, pull the goalie" (February 19). Believe it or not, the whole thing got me thinking about Dr. Phil, who in Monday's National Post was characterized as a "lumbering, middle-aged bald guy with a silly moustache" by Michelle Cottle for The New Republic. Is it fair to say that North America is a society that likes to label…let's face it, many men (including yours truly), could also be characterized as an "old white guy." What does it all really mean? Absolutely nothing.

And on this note, my final words are appropriately from the so-called "old white guy", who obviously takes the high road more often than not. Here's an excerpt from Minister Ken Dryden's statement in the House Commons last week: "For economic reasons, for reasons of lifestyle, for reasons of independence and lots more, in the great majority of cases both parents, even with young children, are in the work force. We can feel guilty and we can wish it were not so, but it is so. All the time we are wishing, our kids are growing up without the rich, important learning experience that early learning and child care can offer. Our kids are paying the price for our wishful thinking. We need to get on with it, do it right and do it the best we can."

Let's just "get on with it" when it comes to investing in children - and remember to count business in!

Thank you...and now let's hear from you!