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Early Childhood Development

Early Childhood Intervention & The Power of Family
Open Society Foundations

Evidence-based research and multi-country experiences provide a strong rationale for investing in Early Childhood Development (ECD), especially for children at risk of developmental delay or with a disability. Both the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) state that all children with disabilities have the right to develop “to the maximum extent possible”. 

These conventions recognize the importance of addressing not only on the child’s health condition or impairment, but also on the influence of the environment as the cause of underdevelopment and exclusion. The economic rationale is also clear: children with disabilities who receive good care and developmental opportunities during early childhood are more likely to become healthy and productive adults. This can potentially reduce the future costs of education, medical care and other social spending.

The first three years of a child’s life are a critical period. They are characterized by rapid development particularly of the brain, and thus provide the essential building blocks for future growth, development and progress (WHO).  If children with disabilities are to survive, flourish, learn, be empowered and participate, attention to ECD is essential.

Mainstreaming disability into Early Childhood Development programmes may include the following:

  • Inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream policies, systems and services - While the CRPD provides a “renewed” starting point for recognizing the rights and needs of children with disabilities building on existing CRC, EFA and MDG initiatives, a sustained commitment is required to mobilize and support stakeholders to develop inclusive and targeted ECD programmes which are integrated into existing health-care and education systems.  This includes existing initiatives, such as Community Based Rehabilitation, the Global Partnership for Education, Out-of-School Children Initiatives (OOSC), and other efforts to meet international goals, targets and commitments. 

  • Capacity development of human resources across relevant sectors to address disability - A comprehensive approach is required for appropriate care and support including: early identification; assessment and early intervention planning; provision of services; and monitoring and evaluation.  Early screening and diagnosis must be linked to the provision of timely and appropriate support and advice to families, combined with the design and orientation of a corresponding intervention plan for more complex problems and for developmental delays.  Approaches combining centre-based programmes and parenting interventions may help parents and professionals to detect developmental delays early on, improve children’s development, prevent abuse and neglect, and ensure school readiness (Engle P.L. et al).  It is instrumental to provide education and training on disability for relevant stakeholders from mainstream and specialised services.  Training may cover the rights of children with disabilities, the need for both mainstream and targeted services, and strategies for the inclusion of children with disabilities and their families.

  • Public awareness and understanding about children with disabilities - Programmes have to undertake advocacy at all levels to highlight the urgent need to include children with disabilities in ECD initiatives and provide targeted services.  By utilising diverse communication channels, including mass and community media, traditional media, such as puppetry, poetry, song and storytelling, and interpersonal communication, stigma and prejudice can be eliminated and positive attitudes towards children with disabilities and their families promoted. 

  • Data collection and research - Finally, for monitoring and evaluation purposes, programmes planners should identify existing data collection systems that include provisions for the collection of information on children with disabilities, ensuring sex and age disaggregation.

Key references

Photo Caption: Indonesia, 2009: Ainul Mardiah, who was born with physical disabilities, waits with her 18-month-old daughter Zaidah at a community health centre.



ECD and Disability


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