The businessperson’s case for investing in kids
Investing in early childhood development not only strengthens the business economy in the long term: It benefits individual businesses in the near term.
Both scientists and economists make a compelling case for early childhood investment. Scientists have determined that 90 percent of physical brain development occurs by a child’s fifth birthday. It follows, then, that investments in health and in the development of social and cognitive skills during that critical period should pay off handsomely.
Indeed, according to University of Chicago economics professor and Nobel laureate James Heckman, investing in the development of young at-risk children leads to increased productivity, better health outcomes, a decreased need for special education, remediation, social services, and less likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system. But investing early is the key: The “Heckman Equation” demonstrates that an investment made before a child is three produces a far better return than, for example, job training efforts several years later.
The really good news is that, in Colorado, the effectiveness of early investment is not just economic theory because early childhood development efforts have made a difference. Participants in Colorado’s state-wide Preschool Program, which provides free high-quality preschool to at-risk 4 year-olds, are demonstrably better prepared for school than children from similar backgrounds who did not participate in the program; and the program’s graduates have continued to achieve greater success in math, science, reading and writing than their peers. Similarly, third graders who participated in Denver’s Preschool Program perform better on standardized tests than those who were not part of the program.
However, for individual businesspersons and businesses, the benefits of investing in early childhood development are not limited to a stronger business economy in general or a better educated workforce in the future. Instead, by investing now, individual businesses can benefit now. For example, by supporting high quality childcare in their communities, businesses can respond to the chronic need of their employees with young children for high quality child care.
According to the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, Colorado’s licensed early child care facilities can serve only 23 percent of the state’s children, and 48 percent of a single parent household’s income goes to child care costs. Understandably, a high percentage of employees with young children are preoccupied by the need to find, and pay for, high quality child care located reasonably close to their homes or workplaces.
Unfortunately, many parents cannot find affordable high quality child care; and, consequently, they must cope with unreliable, frequently ad hoc, and inadequate arrangements for their children that can leave their children woefully unprepared to start school. Employees, however, do not suffer alone because businesses bear the cost of their employees’ unmet child care needs through employee absenteeism and distraction. But, by supporting – and demanding – high quality child care in their employees’ neighborhoods, employers can earn employee good will and reap the benefits of a workforce that, because its child care needs are met, is more focused and productive and less likely to be absent or tardy.
Supporting early childhood development can also be a powerful means of meeting a company’s corporate social responsibility goals. As David Eves, the President and CEO of Xcel Energy’s Public Service Company of Colorado, recently explained, Xcel invests in the communities it serves – including in early childhood development – because it believes that doing so is the right thing to do. But, according to Eves, Xcel also recognizes that investing – by donating both money and volunteer time – in early childhood development is a sound business strategy. Xcel benefits from the public’s awareness of its commitment to our youngest citizens, and a reputation for community engagement helps it attract and retain employees.
So, how can individual businesses and businesspersons invest in early childhood development? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Support local and state initiatives to invest in early childhood development;
2. Support early childhood development in the workplace by taking advantage of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children’s (“EPIC”) Early Childhood Development Toolkit for Employers, www.epicemployertoolkit.org;
3. Organize a corporate volunteer program; or
4. Donate to high quality childcare providers listed at www.coloradoepic.org/home/cccitc.