The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 05, 2021 1:00 am

Company collaborator in family success

Investment in early education has benefits for working parent, child

Corinna Ladd

I know a young woman who started a new job in August.

At the time, she was eight weeks pregnant, barely ready to share the news. Heeding the advice of other working parents, she and her husband began their search to lock in high-quality child care options for their unborn daughter, knowing that her future success in school starts in infancy.

Their hope was to identify a facility highly rated on Paths to Quality, Indiana's child care rating system. A high rating indicates the providers are not just addressing health and safety, but also brain development and early learning opportunities.

Now, at 37 weeks into her pregnancy and after months of searching and adding her name to multiple waitlists, she has only one option to enroll their unborn child in a high-quality early learning center. To add to their stress, the monthly enrollment is more than their mortgage payment.

Is her story unique? Unfortunately, not.

Focus on Five, the Planning and Advocacy Coalition working on early education issues in Allen County, recently has declared that the lack of high-quality, affordable openings for children from birth to age 5 has reached a crisis point. And according to a new poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 34% of families with young children are facing serious problems finding child care when adults need to work.

As a regional bank president and an active member of our Indiana business community, I see firsthand the state of the labor market and know what disruptions – such as lack of quality, affordable early child care and education –  could do to its precarious state.

This soon-to-be mother is talented and has a bright future ahead of her. She wants to keep her full-time job and grow her career, and wants what's best for her child, which includes an early education that provides the strongest foundation for success in school and life.

These two desires should not be mutually exclusive.

Consider the myriad ramifications if this young mother isn't able to find affordable, quality child care and education.

As a family reviewing limited options, she may elect to stay home with their infant instead, which means a reduction in their family income and likely less consumer spending as a family. Importantly, it also means we lose one more qualified employee from our Fort Wayne talent pool. Last, but not least, her employer will have to fill the vacancy and spend more money to hire and train someone new.

In 2019, before the words COVID-19 and social distancing were in our vocabulary, I co-chaired the Statewide Early Learning Summit here in Fort Wayne. At that time, we reported the harsh reality that we are not winning when it comes to early learning and child care in Indiana. Statewide, the direct costs to employers related to 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. As a community, and a business community specifically, we must come together to lower this number.

One tool helping build up our ecosystem of support is Early Learning Works, a program to help businesses in Indiana design solutions that make sense for their workforce.

These include a variety of options, such as reserving employer spots in a nearby licensed facility or providing priority access at designated centers.

Programs like Early Learning Works can help make a difference in Indiana in building capabilities around child care and early education – especially when businesses also are committed to finding ways to help do their part in support or advocacy.

For 17 years, the PNC Foundation has committed resources to advance high-quality early childhood education through PNC Grow Up Great with a mission of preparing young children for school and life. For every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education, society gains as much as $13 in long-term savings.

That's why we remain committed to raising awareness about the need for a more robust and sustainable early education ecosystem. This investment benefits much more than the young child.

It's critical for employers to understand that quality and affordable early education is an important cog in the wheel of our economy that we can no longer ignore.

Corinna Ladd is PNC Bank's regional president for northern Indiana.

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