Early childhood development

Life’s early years have a profound impact on a child’s future


The challenges

In the earliest years of life, especially in the first 1,000 days, babies and young children need nutrition, stimulation, protection and love for optimal brain development and the best start in life.

These first three years are critical for future development. This is a period of intense learning and rapid brain development and when children don’t get enough to eat and lack stimulation and protection this can lead to a lifetime of emotional, cognitive and behavioural disadvantages. A nurturing environment and attentive care are vital.

Global research suggests that investment in early childhood development (ECD) not only helps brighten the outlook for children themselves but reaps benefits for society as a whole. Findings show that each US dollar invested in ECD results in a return of more than seven dollars and that quality ECD interventions increase a child’s future earning potential.

UNICEF clearly supports the adoption of Goal 4 (Target 4.2) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: that governments should, “ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education, so that they are ready for primary education.”

However, despite progress there is some way to go in the Eastern Caribbean. In some countries, nearly 40 percent of children under three years old do not have access to structured ECD environments.


Research shows that experiences in the early years have a profound impact on a person's life

The solutions

UNICEF is a champion of early childhood development, promoting a world in which all children achieve their developmental potential by the age of five.

Empowering children to succeed is one of the best defences against poor choices later in life. Through early childhood education development, girls and boys from birth to age eight living in the poorest communities can get the best start in life. UNICEF supports governments and other partners in broadening access to quality early development and educational services.   

We call on parents, caregivers, donors, high-profile influencers and foundations to become champions for early childhood development.

UNICEF’s programme supports governments’ capacity to give all children the best start, especially the most vulnerable under-fives, while prioritising quality programming and services for those below the age of two.

Working with partners we focus on: supporting ECD policy development and standards; using the latest scientific evidence and behaviour-change strategies to create safe, nurturing and interactive learning environments; making better use of data and research to improve ECD theory and practice; and promoting increased investment in ECD as a critical foundation for our children.



Caribbean Early Childhood Good Practice Guide, developed by UNICEF in collaboration with the Caribbean Development Bank.