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Early Childhood

What's special about UNICEF's integrated approach to early childhood?

© 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.

Integrated approaches that address all the critical aspects of early childhood yield the highest dividends and the most sustainable gains for children and their families, for communities and nations – and for the world as a whole. 

Decades of UNICEF experience show that the most powerful and sustainable way of providing young children and their families with essential services, commodities and skills is through an integrated approach to early childhood.

This approach is more effective than focusing on any one health or developmental need or service.

The integrated approach advocated by UNICEF draws on successful, time-tested, large-scale experiences in countries on every continent.

UNICEF strongly urges countries and international partners to adopt and invest in an integrated approach to early childhood:

  • Policies and programmes in health, nutrition, water and environmental sanitation, psycho-social care and early learning, child protection and women’s rights should share common goals for early childhood and work towards convergence. 
  • Delivery systems for commodities and services have to be coordinated at the community level by local government, non-governmental organizations and families and caregivers. Real integration is essential for families and communities – they need integrated services and help with improving all aspects of care for their young children.

Vital emphases of the integrated approach include:

  • Strengthening the capacities of families and other caregivers. This is logical because most care in developing countries (including about 80 per cent of health care) occurs in the home – and the majority of children who die do so at home, without being seen by a health worker. 
  • Mobilizing community demand for the skills, knowledge and services essential to ensuring their children have the best start in life. 
  • Coordinating and integrating maternal health interventions with those focused on early childhood, which brings mutual benefits.
  • Investing in programmes for psycho-social care and early learning. These are by far the most neglected of the programmes essential to ensuring that young children not only survive but also thrive.

Integrated approaches to early childhood are also essential in emergency situations, particularly in complex emergencies – because children and families are exposed to increased risks and families’ coping strategies have dwindled.



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