Child care has long-term impact

I can hardly wait to cheer on “our” home team, the Carolina Panthers, on Super Bowl Sunday! It is easy to see how having national sports teams feed our state’s economy. The money that the sports industry generates is obvious, and it clearly impacts many associated markets.

Would you believe me if I told you that the child care industry in North Carolina generates more than $1.7 billion a year, and that figure is on par with the revenue generated by the spectator sports industry in North Carolina (think Carolina Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes and Charlotte Hornets)?

I was pretty surprised to learn that fact, even though I am keenly aware of the economic infrastructure child care provides to our workforce. The Committee for Economic Development estimates that North Carolina’s child care industry supports an additional $1.3 billion in indirect and induced output to other industry sectors.

A child care center is a small business that employs staff, pays taxes and supports other employers by providing care to the children of their employees. In North Carolina, there are 16,641 child care establishments serving nearly 500,000 children and providing nearly 50,000 jobs.

Child care allows parents to work outside the home and is essential to the success of the state’s business sector. Employers report a decrease in absenteeism due to family issues (a cost of $2.75 billion each year to North Carolina businesses) and an increase in productivity when their employees have access to stable, quality child care.

The Federal Reserve Bank has numerous bodies of research illustrating the economic impact early childhood investments have on our nation’s economy, and how those investments critically impact businesses today.

What I get most excited about, however, is thinking about its impact on tomorrow. Child care has important long-term implications on the workforce we’re building for our future. High-quality, early learning environments will ensure that workers are ready.

Research proves over and over that high-quality, early learning environments will result in children who are: better prepared for success in elementary school; less likely to need special education interventions; 43 percent less likely to be held back in school; more likely to graduate from high school and college; less likely to commit a crime; more likely to be employed; more likely to have high earnings as adults; and less likely to become dependent on welfare or involved with law enforcement.

I’ve reported before that more than half of the students entering kindergarten in Henderson County are entering “unprepared” for success. The Pew Charitable Trust reports that “each year more than 200,000 children repeat kindergarten. North Carolina spent more than $170 million for children retained in kindergarten, first, second and third grades during the 2001-2002 school years.”

The foundation for future learning and skill development is laid in a child’s first five years of life when the brain develops at its most rapid rate. Children in a high-quality, early learning environment should feel safe, loved and nurtured. Their environment should be an enriching one where they have opportunities to learn how to have conversations, how to wait their turn, how to work in groups and how to share. Given these opportunities, they will develop social skills they will use for the rest of their lives.

In a child care setting, children have access to materials that may not be available at home and activities that help them develop their gross and fine motor skills. Again, these are skills they will use throughout life. All of this happens in free and creative play, and is an important part of brain development.

They will also develop pre-literacy skills, early math skills and problem-solving strategies that will help in school. A high-quality child care environment can be especially important to children in poverty by providing enriching environments and important support to the child while also supporting the whole family.

In 2001, North Carolina began to measure the quality of child care on a five-point scale. When the Children & Family Resource Center opened its doors, the average rating of child care in Henderson County was only 1.95 stars. Over time, we have improved to 4.37 stars!

A critical indicator of quality is the child care provider’s education level. Quality has improved because we have made investments in teaching and training child care professionals in our community, providing personalized technical assistance and coaching and professional development course work for continuing education. A partnership between the Children & Family Resource Center and Smart Start of Henderson County, along with the contributions of our donors, has supported this work.

The home environment is equally important to ensuring that our children are ready for school. More children enter kindergarten having no prior preschool or child care experience than children who do. We believe parents are their children’s first and best teachers.

Therefore, it is important that families have access to information and support when parenting young children. The Children & Family Resource Center’s Early Learning Center provides that support to families of young children by offering books and learning materials that can be used in the home to enhance learning.

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