FORT WAYNE — Child care is expensive, and even when a family can afford it, costs, schedules or availability can get in the way of a child receiving a quality early education.
Although prevalent throughout the region, the issue of access to child care is not new. However, at this year’s Early Learning Summit for Economic Development, hosted at Purdue Fort Wayne on Thursday, the onus was placed on those who make decisions for their companies to prioritize child care.
Mainly, the conference made sure people in attendance understood just how important investing in child care is and how doing so benefits their bottom line four times over.
Not only that, but as far as retaining good workers, laying the path for efficient future employees and contributing to the overall health of the state, President and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership John Sampson said businesses need to see themselves as part of the solution.
“I think you’re beginning to see that this is not just an education issue. This is an issue of economic development, and I think that is what is so important that we’re here today. I think in the big picture, it goes beyond that,” Sampson said.
And to highlight just how important engaging young minds before the age of 5 is, Parkview Health pediatrician Tony GiaQuinta broke down the science behind it.
He mapped out how neurons in the infant and toddler brains develop differently depending on how engaged they were as children — whether that be from parents talking to them, cooking with them, reading to them, or, while they’re at work, enrolling them in child care that does those things in their place.
He also showed how that early development impacts later in life, outlining results from a study that said kids who were engaged before they went to kindergarten were much more likely to work a high-paying job and be a better worker as an adult.
But although businesses might understand how important it is to invest in child care for employees, they may not know how to do it.
A panel, comprised of business partners, early childhood development experts and community leaders alike broke down where employers put dollars to help families with child care.
One common theme was making sure employees had flexible benefits, or “adaptive benefits,” as Chief Community and Human Resource Officer of Parkview Health Dena Jacquay said.
As a place where 80% of its employees are women, focusing not only on child care, but the health of an employee’s family is important.
“I think a competitive advantage to be able to say it’s about choice, and it’s not one size fits all,” Jacquay said.
What this benefits plan looks like for Parkview is being able to possibly transfer money from paid time-off to child care money, or working from home more often, or utilizing flexible shifts so parents can be home with kids when needed.
Even with Parkview’s unique benefits system, Jacquay said she still is concerned about the lack of availability of high-quality child care both in Fort Wayne and in rural areas, whether that be due to cost or a lack of seats.
“I’m worried about those those wage earners that are for our co-workers, early childhood education quality is not on the top of their mind because they cannot afford it,” Jacquay said. “That’s where I feel like, as a community and as a region, we have so much opportunity to be able to not only offer quality, but being able to make it accessible for others.”
Aside from offering flexible benefits and schedules, Jacquay said Parkview also offers meals for families after work, since she said she knows how time-consuming it is to come home from work and cook a full meal for a family.
Executive Director of Early Childhood Development at Ambassador Enterprises Karyn Tomkinson said that idea, that ensuring child care for employees is more than just offering benefits, is important for employers need to remember for the immediate future.
“We look at it from two problems. One being, these are co-workers in your organization, and they want access to early education and quality childcare. But, this is also the future workforce that we’re going to be employing, and for some of us, depending on our age, these are people that we’re going to be hiring because we will still be in the workforce,” Tomkinson said. “So it is such an important thing, with a sense of urgency, to look at it from both sides, not just the benefits, but what will come later.”
The urgency of the situation was underlined by the money Indiana loses by not investing in early childhood education.
According to research presented by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, which hosted the summit, Indiana employers bleed $1.8 billion per year because of employees leaving or missing work because of a lack of child care.
In northeast Indiana, employers share $200 million of that cost.