Steve Lewis: Lack of access to quality, affordable childcare is an obstacle for our businesses and our region.
Today’s employers face a number of challenges in recruiting and retaining top talent. One of the major barriers to any parent entering the workforce or advancing his or her career is uncertainty around, and lack of access to, high-quality childcare for children.
We know that children who attend a high-quality childcare center from an early age are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to learn and are more likely to succeed in math, reading and language skills. As they progress through K-12 education, these kids are less likely to need special education, or face disciplinary action, and more likely to graduate high school on time. These graduates are better positioned to attend post-secondary schools, receive advanced training and achieve higher lifetime earnings as adults.
Unfortunately, only 20 percent of zero-to-four year-olds in the five-county region in and around Atlanta attended a high-quality childcare center in 2016. High-quality childcare includes well-trained teachers, safe environments, individualized instruction, engaged families and a focus on social-emotional development. This level of care should be an option for every family, regardless of its income level or its neighborhood.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the United Way and others have focused on the well-being of children in metro Atlanta for more than a decade. These efforts, and others like them, are incredibly important to parents and employers in the region as they provide a measure of our communities’ investments in our children and our future. With nearly half a million children in the metro region living in communities with low access to services and resources, it is time for us to act on behalf of these families.
Here are three things we as a region can do. First, we can expand opportunities for low-income families by increasing flexibility in the federal CAPS program, which offers limited subsidies for high-quality childcare. Second, we can promote greater investment in the BOOST scholarship, which helps complete the funding gaps between what families can afford and the actual cost of quality care. And lastly, we can increase business and government investment in childcare centers to ensure every child in the region has access to affordable, high-quality childcare.
As employers, we have a vested interest in being a strong partner to these communities where our employees live and work, and where our future talent lies. We can help improve our workplace culture and the health of our region by investing in high-quality childcare. Our employees feel secure when their children are in a safe, caring and nurturing environment, while learning valuable skills that will support and strengthen our communities, our businesses and our region.
As part of our effort to keep metro Atlanta competitive, businesses must invest in our communities and in our people. By advocating for smart policies that boost high-quality childcare, we can help strengthen our cradle-to-career pipeline and keep our region on a continued path for success.
Steve Lewis is a managing partner with Troutman Sanders. Prior to becoming managing partner in 2011, Steve served as the chair of the firm’s corporate law practice. He serves as chair of The Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Educated Workforce Council. – MY AJC