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The Journal Gazette

  • Sampson

Friday, October 18, 2019 1:00 am

Child care: an overlooked business expense

John Sampson

John Sampson is president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

To learn more For more information about the 2019 Early Learning Summit, visit the website at indianaearlylearningsummit.org.

Northeast Indiana companies are losing $200 million annually from a lack of early childhood education and child care resources in our 11 counties. That's why the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership graciously accepted the privilege of hosting Indiana's annual convening on one of the most critical elements to families, communities and employers alike – high-quality early childhood care and education.

We plan to gather more than 300 attendees with a focus on business leadership at the 2019 Indiana Early Learning Summit from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 7. The event will be hosted for the first time in Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana.

The harsh reality is that Indiana is not winning when it comes to early learning and child care. Statewide, the direct costs to employers from absences and employee turnover from child care-related issues amount to just shy of $1.8 billion annually.

For northeast Indiana, our share of the challenge is about $200 million.

The costs of the absences are systemic in the workplace: lost production, overtime pay, pay to temps and pay to absent salaried employees. Working parents with children younger than 5 will miss, on average, about 13 days of work annually to essential child-care responsibilities.

Adding insult to injury, almost 3% of working parents will find it necessary to quit their jobs to fulfill their critical responsibility to their family's child care.

You would think we in northeast Indiana would be way ahead of the curve in the attack on this issue, yet there's still more to do. It was almost 20 years ago that the team at the Early Childhood Alliance, based in Fort Wayne, conceived the successful Paths to Quality voluntary approach to raising the quality and access to child-care provider selection. Now, the program is the foundational standard throughout Indiana.

We may have a rightful claim for an early start credited to the leadership of the Early Childhood Alliance, but we are still way behind on access to high-quality early childhood care.

And, let us not forget, most importantly, at the heart of this matter are children.

Caring for our children is not simply a burden, a mere inconvenience leading to absenteeism and an unnecessary business expense. The first years of their lives are undoubtedly the most important not only from a brain science standpoint but also for security and relational development that leads to healthy and productive lives. Let us not overlook or underestimate the benefits of supporting employees to assure that they are able to fulfill the critical needs of our youth and future workforce.

With the national talent shortage at a critical stage, how can we afford not to engage and confront this issue? For our region, solving this challenge could offset the equivalent of more than 3,000 full-time employees.

For context, this loss of engaged employee time and contribution is equivalent to all the new job commitments announced by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation in 2018 for all business attraction and expansion projects.

Unfortunately, this $200 million is not some other company's problem. It's our problem as business leaders. Big or small communities, many employees or few, industrial or office operations – it really doesn't matter. The effects of the challenge are callously indiscriminate.

Business and community leaders attending the Early Learning Summit will learn critical information that can transform how we as business leaders approach our workforce's greatest issue – early childhood education.