Early Childhood Development

All children have the right to survival and development. See how UNICEF’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme helps thousands of babies and young children develop to their full potential.

a few months old baby is smiling with hands in his or her mouth

Early years shape long term health and wellbeing

Early childhood – from the moment of birth to the transition to school, is a unique phase in human life, when the foundations for health, learning, behavior and personal development are built. What happens to children during these early years has a long-lasting impact not only on their individual wellbeing throughout life, but also on the future of their communities and societies.

Child development is a complex process, shaped by the continuous interactions among the individual’s genes, the environment and child’s early experiences. Particularly important is the prenatal period and first 2-3 years of life, when human brain develops most rapidly and is most sensitive to external influences.

To thrive babies and young children need nurturing care from parents, families and communities – a stable environment of relationships which ensures child’s good health and nutrition, provides protection from adversities, involves human interactions that are responsive and emotionally supportive and offers diverse opportunities for exploration and learning. Children exposed to adversities during early years are most at risk of suboptimal development with lifelong implications for their health, learning and behavior.

Despite the national efforts many young children in Bulgaria are at risk of not developing to their full potential

Bulgaria has in place a number of policies and services to ensure the survival and development of young children. However, serious challenges remain. Poverty, poor nutrition, lack of responsive and stimulating caregiving, constrained access to quality health care and early education opportunities, stigma and discrimination continue to undermine the development of many children.

The country continues to have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the European Union (6.5 per 1,000 live births)

and as many as 8, 000 women without health insurance give birth each year, the majority of whom with very limited contacts with health professionals during pregnancy. Every year 8.5 - 9.5 % of the newborn babies are born prematurely or with low body weight, which in extreme cases may involve serious risk of future difficulties in their physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. Many children do not receive good nutrition or are exposed to harsh discipline, neglect or insufficient stimulation during their first years of life.

See how UNICEF’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme helps thousands of babies and young children develop to their full potential

UNICEF in partnership with the Government, local authorities, civil society organization, professional association, other UN agencies, academia and the private sector works for ensuring that every young child grows in nurturing family and community environment. We start by focusing on the period from birth through the child’s 2 year and building the skills, knowledge and resources of caregivers to promote child’s optimal growth and healthy social, emotional and cognitive development.

Unfolding the potential of the health sector to support early childhood development

UNICEF supports the Government to enhance the role of the health sector and health professionals – alone and in coordination with other professionals, for improving early childhood development. We advocate for and promote the establishment of a national home visiting service as a core intervention for reaching out families, particularly the most disadvantaged, with individualized support, guidance and information on health, nutrition, safety and responsive caregiving. Worldwide health visiting offers an effective strategy for early detection of children with additional needs and at risk of developmental difficulties and for facilitating access to the services, protection and support they need for a strong start in life. UNICEF will work for strengthening the overall capacity of the health system and other relevant health professionals to deliver coordinated response to enable children with developmental difficulties and disabilities achieve their maximum potential.  

Through advocacy, technical support and gathering evidence we promote changes in policies to ensure that every woman, no matter of her health insurance status, have access to quality health care during pregnancy and around birth for positive birth experience.

UNICEF works for strengthening support to parents and caregivers of young children by modelling parenting support programs and advocacy for expanding their availability across the country, as part of the universal services for children and families.

Building a strong and holistic early childhood development system for the best start in life of every child

UNICEF works for strengthening the national system for early childhood development and for a “whole of government approach” to early years.  Through evidence, policy advice and technical assistance we aim to ensure that the most disadvantaged children benefit from equitable access to quality health, social, protection and early education opportunities. We also work to enhance caregivers’ and public understanding of early childhood and build a skilled early childhood professional workforce.