Advocates for quality child care have long argued that giving children a strong start in life benefits not only parents but also society.
Research shows that 90 percent of a child’s brain has developed before kindergarten, that by then, the foundations for critical-thinking skills, teamwork and communication have been established. For every $1 invested in young children, the Federal Reserve found, society gets a $7 return in the form of reduced special education costs, lower crime rates and increased graduation rates.
In South Hampton Roads, nearly two-thirds of preschool children attend some form of daily child care, so it’s critical that we make sure the preschools and day care centers are well staffed, clean, safe — and financially sound.
This past year, the Small Business Development Center of Hampton Roads, an affiliate of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, partnered with the city of Virginia Beach and Smart Beginnings South Hampton Roads to help independently owned preschools and child-care centers improve their business management skills. The goal was for them to establish best practices and develop resources that would increase their enrollment, business acumen — and their profitability.
Affordable, quality child care is necessary not just in the civilian marketplace but also in the military arena. Nearly one-fourth of the nation’s active-duty military force is stationed in Hampton Roads, and waiting lists for base-sponsored child care are long.
In the initial group of child-care providers in Virginia Beach, the Small Business Development Center counselor found talented, dedicated people who loved their jobs and worked hard. But they didn’t have a firm grasp of critical business practices. It’s similar to a restaurant that offers good food in the front, but the back part of the business isn’t efficient, so the front suffers.
So, too, with the child care industry. If the business is not at least breaking even, then the quality of the employees it can hire and the programs it can offer will be diminished.
That’s where the counseling, research and education from the development center came in. Business specialists held classroom sessions and mentored one on one, helping providers to create business plans, analyze accounting and record-keeping to develop budgets, learn Internet and social networking skills, implement marketing plans and work on customer feedback.
Some centers have struggled with the process, which has required significant time investment from owners and managers, as well as crucial organizational changes. Some centers did not complete the work. But many are working hard to improve their businesses, acknowledging that it’s a long-term process.
They understand the connection now, that with pressures from the back of the house minimized, the providers have more time to concentrate on providing a higher level of service in the front, to the children.
They’re better able to help children improve those critical skill sets necessary for future success.
It just does not make sense to ignore this critical part of life, both for the parents and children now, and for children in the future.
Childcare is not simply fun and games. It’s a business that prepares children to be students and future employees.
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