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Lack of quality child care comes with heavy cost

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Author: 
Kline, John
Publication Date: 
16 Nov 2018
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The importance of early childhood education, quality child care access and community buy-in took center stage Friday during the eighth annual Success by 6 Early Childhood Business Summit at Goshen College.

Hosted by the United Way of Elkhart County and Gr8t Beginnings of Elkhart County with support from Growing Kids Learning Centers, Friday’s summit focused primarily on the importance of community investment in early childhood education and quality early developmental experiences, particularly as they relate to the local business community.

According to Carla Biro, coalition director with Gr8t Beginnings and facilitator of Friday’s summit, when it comes to Indiana businesses, lack of access to quality child care in particular is costing the state billions of dollars every year as employees struggle to balance their work and parenting obligations.

To date, Biro noted that Indiana has averaged about $1.1 billion in lost economic activity per year in recent years due to the child care shortage, about $35.2 million of which is directly tied to the Elkhart County economy. The shortage also equates to about $118.8 million in annual lost tax revenue for the state, with about $3.8 million of that impacting Elkhart County tax revenues directly, she explained.

“We have data charts that show a huge loss of economic dollars around lack of quality resources available to Elkhart County residents,” Biro said of the statistics. “With this summit, our overall goal is to provide concrete examples to local businesses that they can then take back and implement in the workplace, showing that they are involved in addressing the challenges and barriers toward quality care access for families and children in Elkhart County. And what’s more, it’s about realizing that this is a long-term investment. We’re investing in our youngest and most important investment in Elkhart County — our children. We’re investing in our future.”

Biro noted that there are currently about 18,460 children under the age 5 in the Elkhart County area, about 10,393 of which need child care. Of those children, 3,361 are currently enrolled in some form of child care program, though only about 766 are enrolled in a high-quality early childhood education program.

“We have some stories that will rock your world as a result of children being placed in poor-quality facilities,” Biro added of the issue. “We have many unregulated home providers in Elkhart County. That’s where many of the children are. And reason being, we don’t have other options for parents. We have what we call ‘desert areas’ in some parts of the county. So we’re looking at what partnerships do we need, what supports need to be in place so that we can change that.”

CULTURE OF CARING

Serving as the summit’s keynote speaker Friday was Jason Lippert, CEO of Lippert Components Inc., a leading supplier of components to the recreational vehicle and residential housing industries, as well as adjacent industries including bus, cargo and equestrian trailer, marine and heavy truck. The company employs more than 10,000 workers in 70 facilities located throughout the United States, Canada, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom.

As one of the preeminent business leaders in the area, Lippert was asked to share insights about his company’s recent shift toward a more employee-centered culture and the positive impact such a change can have on both a company and the greater community in which it is located.

A big part of that, he said, is acknowledging and actively working to change the reality that access to quality, affordable child care is currently a major issue in Elkhart County.

“Our culture is all about caring for people, and when we started really looking at the reasons people were missing work, and caring about the reasons people were missing work, a lot of it had to do with family circumstances that were completely out of their control,” Lippert said of the issue. “The most astounding thing is just the lack of supply (of child care), the quality, and then the affordability piece. The quality is not where it should be, there’s not enough supply, and it’s extremely expensive.”

While Lippert is actively working to address these issues of lack of quality child care access and early childhood education opportunities, he noted that his company is currently more the exception than the rule in today’s business climate. In agreeing to serve as the summit’s keynote speaker Friday, Lippert said his hope is that he can convince other business leaders in the area to follow suit.

“Our goal today is to inspire other businesses to do the same thing, because if we can get hundreds and hundreds of businesses in our communities and around the country to do something like this, we’d probably have a lot more impact on the communities around us than say just our company doing it, or a few companies doing it,” Lippert said. “We can do so much more as businesses, and child care is just a piece of it. Child care is not going to change, and early childhood development is not going to change, unless business gets involved. We can’t just sit around and talk about it. We have to get familiar with the numbers and decide to put some of our money and resources out there and make some changes.”

In keeping with that mission, attendees of Friday’s summit were presented with a three-tiered call to action asking local businesses to commit to various suggested options for how best to improve the child care and early childhood education climate in Elkhart County.

The first tier, titled “Gold,” involved the most impactful — and typically most expensive to implement — options currently available to businesses. Such options included offering subsidized child care options for employees, adopting or partnering with an existing child care program, and facilitating or joining an early learning advisory board.

The second tier, titled “Silver,” challenged local businesses to consider offering things such as flexible spending accounts to employees for child care; increasing tax deductions; offering on-site early learning informational sessions; and increasing volunteering opportunities and incentives.

Rounding out the options was the third tier, titled “Bronze,” which included such suggestions as having a company’s HR department develop employee information packets; offering on-site referrals for employees; establishing child care resource and referral partnerships; and exploring marketing partnerships.

“So we’re providing these businesses a list of solutions to these barriers, and the key will be for them to decide, ‘OK, what level of partnership are we willing to commit to,’” Biro said of the call to action. “Then from there, it’s up to them to jump on the bandwagon.”

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Entered Date: 
20 Nov 2018
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