Improving Our City By Making Kids a Business Priority

By Sandy Parker, President & CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance, and Jim Brush, CEO of Sentry Safe

The Children’s Agenda is celebrating its 10th anniversary with 10 blog posts from community leaders committed to making the next 10+ years a decade of dramatic change and achievement for kids. Click here to learn more. This month’s installment is about the business imperative for accelerating progress on children’s issues.

Imagine our community becomes known throughout the country over the next 10 years for the best workforce, customers, resource management, and quality of life:

  • Our workforce: Enviable levels of productivity, with absenteeism, turnover, recruitment, and HR expenses among the lowest in the country. A future workforce in the pipeline that’s developing the right skills to match next-wave 21st century jobs.
  • Our customers: Prosperous, with growing levels of income and the wealth to save, spend, and invest.
  • Our resource management: Cost-effective systems that waste little, and returns on investment from the most proactive uses of scarce dollars.
  • Our quality of life: Great schools for all, little crime, and the vibrant arts, culture, and great outdoors we’re already known for, driving business decisions to locate locally.

All of this is achievable. But it requires focus—including transformational change in the local climate for children, youth, and families.

In Monroe County over the last decade, progress in many areas regarding children’s physical, mental, and social well-being—which has a direct and sometimes immediate impact on our workforce, customers, resource management, and quality of life—has been frustrating. That’s not because we don’t have good programs here. And it’s not because it’s a mystery which solutions have outcomes proven to work best for children and youth.

We believe our lack of progress stems from “rowing in different directions”—working in isolation without an integrated plan to do the right things at the scale they’re needed. Our community needs to move away from the fragmented approach we have on so many issues to realize efficiencies that a more focused approach can yield to help fund our efforts. We’re committed to make that change happen:

We support ROC the Future. This umbrella community coalition works to improve “cradle-to-career” outcomes for Rochester City School District students. It’s based on a successful model for rowing in the same direction (StriveTogether) which over the years has produced tangible improvements in K-12 academic outcomes in places like Cincinnati and Seattle. Staffed locally in part by The Children’s Agenda, Center for Governmental Research, Children’s Institute and others, ROC the Future brings together the County, City, and School District with businesses, higher education, funders, service providers and others for greater coordination and alignment of existing priorities, goals, measures, and programs. Long-term, sustainable progress is elusive without such strategic collaboration—and without business support in this collaboration, we’ll continue our current unacceptable grades in reading and math, high school graduation rates, and readiness for college or career.

We focus support on programs that help move the needle on both the business climate and children’s health, education, and success. Well-established evidence shows that high-quality child care opportunities for low-income working families lead to:

  • Additional sales for every $1 invested (America’s Edge);
  • New jobs (the early child care sector employs 7,500 people now in Monroe County);
  • Reduced absenteeism of 20-30% and turnover reductions between 37-60 (Cornell study);
  • Decreased disciplinary actions on the job by 17.8% (Cornell study);

as well as improved academic readiness for children, better health, and long-term success. That’s why the RBA Community Coalition successfully championed increased state funding for this program as one of our top five priorities for local jobs and economic development earlier this year. But even with 200 more kids from low income working families likely to receive child care, The Children’s Agenda estimates that at least another 8,200 local children still can’t access the subsidies they need. Public policies that force a trade-off between jobs and families, between sacrificing what’s best for your employer or what’s best for your children, are policies that fail both the local business and children’s climate.

Another example is the Nurse-Family Partnership program (NFP). This year marks a milestone in this critical program, pairing low-income, first-time moms and their families with specially-trained nurses visiting in their homes from pregnancy until child age two. NFP has helped more than 1,000 families (1,085) since Monroe County establish the program here with United Way and the support of the Brush family 8 years ago. What difference has that made? According to the best evidence:

  • Three fewer infant deaths;
  • 52 fewer second births to young mothers and 69 fewer preterm births;
  • 216 fewer person-years of youth substance abuse;
  • 311 fewer youth arrests;
  • 506 fewer child maltreatment incidents; and
  • 599 fewer violent crimes.

That’s moving the needle. But NFP—along with other evidence-based home visitation programs like Building Healthy Children and Parents as Teachers—aren’t funded locally to fully meet the need. Our focused advocacy can change that.

We invite the business community to join us in support of The Children’s Agenda.Business leaders support many programs, partner with many schools, and give to many organizations. But we treat these projects in isolation from each other rather than as parts of an integrated whole, and we see these efforts as charitable activities secondary to our primary goal of advancing our businesses. To combat this disjointed approach, we invite the business community to focus and join us in advocating for what children need most and what works best—across the entire cradle-to-career continuum. We have to move away from short-term, reactive thinking and spending, and create business plans for the best use of the next available dollar, both public and private.

Our business climate depends in part on the local kids’ climate. Business leaders can support these programs together with The Children’s Agenda’s advocacy, or ROC the Future. But we need a business-like approach focused on climate change for kids, rowing in the same direction, with all hands on deck.

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