The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.
As the head of a manufacturing business, I’m a strong advocate for career and technical education, and post-secondary pathways that prepare people for careers at companies like mine. I also recognize the path to these careers begin during a child’s earliest years, and know that two current policy proposals will create better lives for kids and better outcomes for families and employers.
I’m talking about quality child care to ease stress among working parents, and guidance that gives vulnerable kids and parents a fighting chance for productive lives.
The child care proposal comes from the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council. Representing some of the best minds in child development and public policy, the Council recommends we expand access to high-quality child care so that it’s available to twice as many children five years from now as it is today.
The voluntary home visiting recommendation comes from Governor Scott Walker as a second major component of his “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” plan. The plan recommends several measures for increasing parental responsibility, including investments in voluntary home visiting programs. These programs enable professionals and trained mentors to offer guidance to young parents so they’re better prepared to manage the stressful situations that arise with young children. These programs can produce a range of impacts – including reductions in child abuse and neglect, and success in school. Babies don’t come with instruction manuals and home visiting has been demonstrated as a best practice to help new families be successful.
Here’s why this matters to me as a grandfather and businessperson with a deep personal stake in Wisconsin’s prosperity. Right now, 74% of Wisconsin children under the age of 6 are in families where both or either parent is in the workforce. If you’re one of these parents, you know it’s hard to keep your mind on the job if you’re worried your kid isn’t getting enough quality attention in child care. That’s also bad news for an employer’s bottom line because research shows that parents who are struggling to find good child care take an average of five to nine unscheduled days off work every year.
On the positive side, research shows that women who have access to subsidies that help them afford child care are more likely to work, earn more, and have more stable employment. And if their kids are in high quality programs they may do especially well down the line. Children from a program studied by the National Institutes of Health experienced greater pre-academic skills at the age of 4 ½ years and higher levels of academic achievement by the age of 15.
Evidence of the impact of voluntary home visiting is equally compelling. A study of families participating in one Early Head Start home visiting program found a $3,600 increase in the annual earnings of the mothers. And a study of the Nurse-Family Partnership program showed a savings of $14,500 in reduced welfare benefits per family over one decade alone.
While child care and home visiting are two distinctly different topics, they’re linked by the fact that the early years of a child’s life are critical for so much of what comes later. These are the years when brain development occurs the fastest, which is why we need to nurture, protect and inspire kids both in and out of the home.
Both proposals would do this in a pragmatic way. The Advisory Council supports grants that will fund quality advancements in child care programs. That’s money that will be devoted to better resources, better facilities and better learning materials, among other things. It also expands funding for child care workers and preschool teachers who expand their education, and rewards them for that experience. As a business owner, I recognize that this is about encouraging people to fulfill their potential – in this case for the good of kids. An increase in rates for child care subsidies would support quality child care.
Meanwhile Governor Walker’s doing his part by requesting $3.9 million in new funding for home visiting programs that have proven their worth.
Both of these investments will improve the lives of children and families right now, and achieve long-term benefits for employers and everyone who cares about the strength of Wisconsin’s workforce and economy in the years to come.
— S. Mark Tyler is Founder & President of OEM Fabricators, Inc., chairs the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment, is a member of the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, and a member of ReadyNation