Woodward, Okla. —
MANY WAYS TO TAKE ACTION
In addition to supporting programs specifically aimed at reaching and teaching young children, there are other ways that business and community members can help support early childhood development.
Liles offered some examples from her own previous experience as a business manager of what companies can do to create and support a "family-friendly environment," which in turn supports childhood development by allowing parents to have the time they need to be there for their children.
While she now works at HPTC, Liles was the branch manager of the old Mutual of Omaha office in Woodward for over 20 years until the office was closed in 2012.
She said when she first started working there it was "a very structured work environment." But then the company began implementing different policies and practices that gave employees more flexibility, she said, which was ultimately beneficial to the company as well as the employees.
So based on the change she saw in Mutual of Omaha upon implementing those policies, Liles said she would recommend other businesses do the same.
Her recommendations included "engage employees in conversation about scheduling;" consider use of flex time; establish cross training of duties; offer work from home capabilities; and give employees personal time.
All of these offer employees ways to spend time with their children, she said, whether it's using flex time to allow a parent to leave a little early to make it to a child's school recital or allowing an employee to work from home so they can take care of a sick child but still accomplish their tasks and still earn money to support their family.
The impact that these simple measures can have on a business can be "tremendous," Liles said.
"Your employees are the face and voice of your business and they can have a greater impact on your clients and your customers than anything else you can do," she said.
So by investing in those employees, she said it will encourage those employees to invest back into the company.
"Employees will have a lot of buy-in to the company," Liles said.
Beyond adopting family-friendly policies within a business, Fisher said some other recommendations for how to support early childhood development include "spread the word, make the economic case, take a stand."
This means hosting events like Thursday's summit to share ideas on how to support local families, educating others about how investing in children can have a big economic pay off once they become skilled and educated workers, and being willing to talk to legislators about the importance of supporting programs that invest in young children.
Rep. Blackwell discussed the importance of these last 2 actions.
"When you're dealing with legislators, we don't always know what's going on," Blackwell said. "A lot of times we see dollars and we see figures but we don't know what they represent."
For example, he said some legislators might consider cutting the funding to a program like Smart Start Oklahoma, if they didn't understand that program seeks to make sure families are connected with the resources they need to foster school readiness in their young children.
And since legislators often focus on dollars, Blackwell said making the economic argument can often mean the difference between whether a program is funded or not.
"If I'm looking at a budget of $500 million for the Department of Corrections, and you tell me I can cut that in half in a few years if I invest $25 million in Smart Start Oklahoma now, then I'm more likely to make that vote," he said.