Why early childhood education?

Carol Loughrey, Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation Inc. Board Member
Presentation to the Headstart Gala Moncton, May 18, 2023


Thank you for that kind introduction.

Moncton Headstart logoC’est un grand plaisir pour moi d’être ici ce soir pour le premier gala de levée de fonds pour Moncton Headstart.

I am honoured to be representing the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation. It has been my pleasure to serve as a non-family director since 2007.

The examples of Margaret and Wallace’s philanthropy can be seen on buildings, schools and named university chairs across the Maritimes and elsewhere. What some may not know is the personal time and energy that Margaret puts into making Canada a better place to be --beyond writing cheques.

My first experience with Margaret was over 30 years ago when as President of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Foundation, I phoned, having never met her, and asked if she would be the honorary chair or (fingers crossed) actual campaign chair to endow the now well-established Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence. After a slight pause she said: “I guess I can be the actual chair”. That was the start of what ultimately became five family violence research centres across Canada.

Margaret’s commitment to the campaign was enormous. She called in many personal favours to make it a success. That was in the 90s when few people were openly talking about family violence. I recall sitting at a table at an event -- much like this one tonight -- after our campaign goal had been reached, and overhearing a man at the next table asking in consternation: “How did a bunch of frumpy middle aged women in Fredericton, New Brunswick raise over two million dollars for family violence!” I wanted to turn to him and say: “Because we had Margaret McCain on our side”.

The cause of universal early childhood education and care has been similarly blessed by Margaret’s determination and enthusiasm. From her partnership with the late Dr. Fraser Mustard producing the first Early Years Study of 1999, to putting the resources of her family’s foundation to bringing decision-makers the evidence for programs such as Moncton Headstart.

Margaret recognized the science and research that showed the vital importance of the early years and the importance of good early childhood programs for all.

Working through the Foundation, Margaret has succeeded beyond anything we might have imagined. Who would have thought that the federal government could be convinced to invest $30 billion dollars into the early learning and care of its youngest citizens! By the end of April 2022, all 13 provinces and territories had signed Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreements with action plans for implementation. Fee reductions are underway across the country. The Federal legislation has passed second reading and committee review. Challenges include lack of capacity to meet demand, a critical shortage of early childhood educators and lobbying by large commercial child care companies and investors to allow for profits.

Creating a high quality, publicly-managed system with a focus on early childhood education for all children will take time and commitment. The $30 Billion commitment from the Federal government in 2021 was a big leap forward.

You may wonder how I, this person trained in business, management and accounting, came onboard with Margaret. In one of my careers, I was appointed first female and non-teacher Deputy Minister of Education in the late 90’s. Early on in my new job, I decided I needed to hear from the people on the ground and who better than elementary school teachers.

I held focus group across the province. For those of you not familiar with focus groups they involve asking very open-ended questions and accepting all comments as valid. I was surprised to hear repeatedly that teachers could already identify children on the path toward failure when they entered kindergarten at age 5.

It made me think about the very poor job we, as a society, were doing to help parents in the birth to 5 year old span of a child’s life. We just hand over the baby and say here you go. I became a passionate believer in finding ways to support parents and children in these early years. What I have learned since about the enormous economic and social benefits of early childhood education has only strengthened my passion.

Moncton Headstart founder, Claudette Bradshaw, figured this out many decades before. What a great gift to your community! Moncton Headstart has been helping vulnerable children and families for almost 50 years. Bravo.

Moncton Headstart and the Margaret and Wallace McCain Foundation have much in common.

Our vision is “a Canada where what we know about early child development benefits children and families and furthers the development of a democratic, pluralistic and prosperous society.

Our Mission is to champion effective early childhood programs that provide equal opportunities for all children, align with the school system and operate within a provincial or territorial framework.”

Early childhood education as the first tier of education is as important – and probably more important – than the elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels that follow. It is here where the foundations of language, reasoning, and social and emotional development are laid. This makes early learning and child care a powerful equalizer, narrowing achievement gaps that emerge before children even start school.

At the Foundation we strive to accomplish our mission, in part, by supporting early childhood demonstration sites in communities and by hiring independent university researchers to evaluate their effectiveness. We show policy makers how these programs work and just how powerful they can be.

Prior to the pandemic we invited a group of high level officials and politicians to one of these sites in a small community in rural New Brunswick. They were impressed by the passion of the early childhood educators and the positive feedback from the families, but what really blew them away was what they heard at the elementary school next door.

The kindergarten teachers raved about how much more comfortable, and enthusiastic, the children who attended the early years program (by then most of their students) arrived for kindergarten. These children were on the road to success. This in turn caused the teachers to up their game to help the children be the best they can be.

The research had long proven that early intervention such as provided by Headstart here in Moncton, can identify and address challenges in children before they become biologically embedded. This makes a huge difference for vulnerable families. Now we know it makes a difference for all families.

While children from disadvantaged families are more likely to have challenges, not all do. In fact, the greatest numbers of children who struggle are from middle and moderate income households; including a hefty number of children from affluent families.

This is why every child deserves a Headstart.

It is more than a clever tag line.

The science behind programs supporting the early learning and care of children is broad and compelling. When early learning and child care are combined, they provide significant benefits for children, parents, governments, the economy and society.

The immediate impact is to increase the opportunity for parents, particularly women, to participate in the labour market. The pandemic revealed how critical childcare is to labour participation. It also reduces stress on parents, allowing them to be more productive. The additional income generated by increased labour participation adds tax revenues to public coffers.

The impact of low cost childcare on women’s labour force participation is evident in Quebec. Young women’s labour force participation in Quebec is the highest worldwide —86%, exceeding Switzerland and Sweden — two countries with generous leave packages and high rates of workplace equality.

The effect of participation in a quality ELCC program can be seen in secondary school. Those with an ELCC experience were 8% less likely to require special education, 8% less likely to fail a grade, and 12% more likely to graduate on time.

A 2017 study by the conference board of Canada found that every $1 in ELCC spending yields $6 in economic benefits, a combination of higher labour force participation, higher tax revenue, lower social costs, reduced special education costs, and a more productive workforce.

A 2016 economic analysis examining the impact of child care spending in New Brunswick found every $1 spent on child care in New Brunswick returns $1.15 to the economy in increased spending and $1.10 in increased labour income. So monetizing only two of the benefits gives payback of $2.25 for every dollar investment. Who wouldn’t make an investment like that! Also every additional job in child care creates 1.05 jobs.

Accessible child care would allow over 7,000 more New Brunswick mothers to join the labour force; lower the number of families on social benefits by 25%.and raise the provincial GDP by 2.2% or $741M.

The availability of quality early learning and care is scarce for all households, but lower income families are often the most excluded. So, investments in this space can be part of poverty reduction strategies and can lessen demand for support programs – another area of fiscal savings.

The mid to longer-term benefits are accrued by children who develop stronger foundational cognitive and emotional skills. This increases their readiness for school, decreases demands for special education, and helps advance skills development. Robust skills are how we build a future workforce with the capabilities employers demand and create a workforce that is more resilient to labour market disruptions.

Early learning and childcare should be considered critical socioeconomic infrastructure. The COVID pandemic propelled early learning and care to the forefront. By investing wisely, we can empower this generation of children to confront the disparities, environmental degradation and other conditions that gave rise to the pandemic and create a more sustainable and just world.

Margaret’s contribution was noted in the Federal Budget 2021, which funds the establishment of a Canada wide early learning and child care program.

Margaret has received numerous awards as well as recognition like this. Awards are not what motivates her. She receives her energy from the people who every day do their very best to make children’s lives richer, happier, safer, more playful. People like you.

By coming here tonight you have already said that what Moncton Headstart does is valuable to you. What else can you do? Continue to support this wonderful program that has proven to change not only the lives of those who directly participate but also the lives of those with whom they interact. Talk about it to decision makers and let them know how very much you value this service in your community. And learn about the other excellent programs that Headstart provides.

And of course, I can’t finish my talk without encouraging you to talk to every decision maker you know about how wonderful the federal investment has been in early childhood and how no matter who is running the government, this is a no brainer in terms of economic and social payback.

I love this wonderful quote. “A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman, of the next generation” I challenge us all to think – and act -- like statesmen and women. Like Margaret McCain. Like Claudette Bradshaw.

Thank you.

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