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Childcare – an economic driver in our community

by Victoria Compton, EDC; Jim Connell, Early Childhood Education Initiative; Jennifer Armstrong, SJI Family Resource Center; Barbara Schultheiss, Lopez Family Resource Center.

Our economy has a problem, and it’s not one that many of us think of when we’re considering facets of our economic situation. It’s a problem that targets some of our most vulnerable community members — kids, their hardworking parents, and our small businesses.

Childcare is tough to find here, especially during hours and days that many parents need it, and particularly for children under preschool age, and care can be expensive for our families. And distressingly, we are losing caregivers while childcare demand is increasing.

That means some local parents can’t return to the workforce, and some of our island kids are being left in less-than-ideal situations.

Whether we see this as primarily a “parent problem” or one for social organizations, market forces, or governments to solve, the lack of quality childcare impacts all of us.

Access to quality education and childcare ensures that parents can get to their jobs, and allows businesses to have assurances that the labor pool will remain steady. It is one of the most important drivers for a strong economy.

Childcare is work that enables other work to happen — just like roads get workers to their jobs, childcare enables parents to keep working.

An investment in childcare also pays significant returns — research suggests that every dollar spent by communities on early childhood education returns over $7 in economic benefits in the future (www.ffyf.org). Working parents with access to quality childcare miss less work, and can work more hours or pursue advanced education if they choose to, helping them – and the businesses they work for – to become stronger economically.

Kids who attend high-quality early childcare and educational programs fare better in school, which saves our school districts money, with fewer students being held back or requiring additional support to catch up. Plus, those kids continue to fare better after leaving school, with lower rates of arrest and lower rates of participation in governmental assistance as adults.

Our island communities have begun formulating a response, but we must continue to engage in honest conversation and work hard to determine a good plan in the near future, finding workable models for our families and small businesses, including our childcare businesses.

This will require creativity, flexibility and a concerted, focused effort so we can get our hard-working parents back to work, get more island kids great childcare, and get our businesses operating at their full potential.