|© UNICEF/ HQ99-0961/ Holmes|
|While her husband walks behind her carrying a baby blanket and a bag of rice, a woman holds an umbrella to shade her newborn from the sun in Dili, Timor Leste.|
Governments are increasingly acknowledging the need for social policy that supports the development of young children. Increased research is leading to new findings and more stakeholders advocating for effective support are behind this emerging pattern.
UNICEF, in collaboration with other international agencies, governments, civil society and NGOs, advocate for National Early Childhood Development policies that lay out concrete commitments and guidelines for young children’s survival, development and protection. Its ability to support linkages between broad social policies and specific results-based interventions gives UNICEF a comparative advantage.
Over 30 governments now have national policies for Early Childhood Development and dozens more are being developed. Over 35 Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers now feature Early Childhood programmes, either through preschool services, parenting programmes, child care facilities, or other interventions. In Ghana, for example, UNICEF was a strong advocate and supporter in the development of the national comprehensive policy on Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD). The policy promotes holistic early childhood development and programme packages that address the physical, mental, social, moral and spiritual needs of the child. A hallmark of Ghana's ECCD policy is its robust institutional framework that provides a roadmap for government ministries, district assemblies, communities, families, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to invest and implement early childhood care and development programs.
Over 70 countries have developed national committees or task forces for early childhood development to coordinate the work of the ministries and organizations that work with young children. The committees include ministries of health, education, social welfare and in some cases ministries of trade, labor or the military as well as local government, civil society, media, NGOs and religious organizations. These ministries and organizations have become important conduits of information for families and communities. UNICEF's multisectoral nature allows it to play a key role in bringing together these diverse groups to work on issues related to young children.
Policy development or change does not have to be a top-down process, resting solely in the hands of lawmakers and ministry officials. Most importantly, policy is not created in a vacuum. Every local solution, successful research project, or advocacy effort has the potential to influence the thinking of decision-makers about what best supports young children and their families. As parents, teachers, community leaders or concerned citizens, we can all impact on robust and effective policy formation.