Why investing in young children is imperative

Michigan's business voice is growing insistent regarding the need to substantially invest in children ages zero to five. This is no less true for the chambers of commerce that comprise the Northern Michigan Regional Chamber Alliance. "Investing" in these kids includes financial resources, parental engagement, and an overall raising of the bar relative to quality of child care.

Numerous studies prove the return for money spent on early childhood development. They range from $7 for each dollar spent to $17. Research shows the majority of brain development happens between the ages of 0-3, and as much as 90 percent of brain development happens by age five. This is not "early child education." It is "early child development" and it is holistic. While pre-school is important, other steps begin with the first and best teacher, the parent. The outcomes are the same and just as easy for poor or single parents as rich, married ones.

In December 2010 the Great Start Collaborative released a study called, "The Dividends of a Great Start: Regional Economic Impacts of Conditions Affecting Children Birth to Five Years." It estimated investments in early child development in just our region will return at least $6 for every dollar spent.

Here are some highlights:

– Investments in early care and education could benefit the region by $24.7 million annually at a cost of $7.1 million. The economic benefit derives from reduced costs associated with special education programs and grade repetition; enhanced income potential associated with higher rates of high school graduation; and reduced costs in law enforcement and incarceration related to higher rates of high school graduation.

– Support for parents will save the region $3.8 million annually through reduced incidence of births to teen parents. Employer policies that support parents through flex policies in the workplace will reduce costs associated with absenteeism, reduce costs associated with turnover and recruitment, and improve productivity.

-Providing for pediatric and family health will save the region $7.6 million annually through a combination of smoking cessation programs for pregnant mothers, prenatal care, infant nutrition programs, immunizations, and access to regular pediatric health care providers. Healthy kids cost less than sick ones.

-Targeting social and emotional health of children will save the region $7.2 million annually through a combination of home visitations and community interventions and treatment for maternal mental health. The economic benefit would come from a number of factors, but chiefly reduced costs of caring for children birth to five years who are assigned to care out of the home for abuse and neglect and improvements to adult earnings.

In the spirit of keeping the region's wealth from being exported, these are relatively simple ways to invest in our children's future and in the region's economy. To find out how you can help or to read the study, go to www.greatstartkids.com.

Doug Luciani is president & CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.