Support to governments and partners on early childhood development
Essential support and services need to be in the reach of every family.
To achieve their full potential, young children need nurturing care, which includes good health, adequate nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving and opportunities for early learning.
Making sure that young children and their caregivers have access to the quality services and support they need requires significant coordination among a wide range of institutions and actors in social service sectors and beyond.
Early childhood development (ECD) services and support for young children and their caregivers cover many different areas and are provided by various sectors, such as health, education, and social and child protection. Examples of these services include antenatal care, routine immunizations, parenting counselling and support, quality childcare and preschool, cash grants for food and other basic expenses, and work leave to bond with a new baby.
More than 80 countries now have policies or action plans that aim to promote holistic early childhood development. But often these commitments are not translated into the budget allocations needed to put them into practice, given the low budget priority of ECD services and the complexities derived from its multi-sectoral nature.
Coordinated support is key to making sure that parents have the knowledge, skills and support needed to provide nurturing care to their young children, including responsive care and playful interactions to nourish their babies’ brains, and not just their bodies; and that children’s development is adequately monitored and supported.
Otherwise, essential support and services remain beyond the reach of many – especially for the most vulnerable children and their families – perpetuating inequities that not only rob many young children of a good start in life, but compromise their future potential as well.
UNICEF works with governments, civil society and the private sector to ensure that all young children can access quality essential services that support their optimal development, and that their parents and caregivers get the support they need to provide nurturing care.
We work across each sector – health and nutrition, education, child and social protection – to strengthen ECD-related services, building on existing structures to reach young children and caregivers at home, in health care facilities, and through community-based childcare and other social services with which families come into contact.
These ECD interventions are grounded in scientific evidence and designed to contribute to the holistic development of all children, especially the most vulnerable – including children with disabilities, those from families affected by HIV, refugees, ethnic minorities, malnourished children and those without parental care.
These ECD interventions are grounded in scientific evidence and designed to contribute to the holistic development of all children, especially the most vulnerable.
Through partnerships, UNICEF plays a leadership role in supporting countries to enhance the quality and coverage of their ECD programmes. For example, the Nurturing Care Framework, launched in 2018 by WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank Group, in collaboration with the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) and the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN) and many other partners, highlights the need for strong systems, increased investments, multi-sectoral collaboration, and empowering families and communities to implement quality ECD programmes at scale and support the optimal development of all children.
UNICEF advocates for ECD and works to strengthen systems, so that the policies that underlie social services (including family-friendly policies), the budgets that fund them, the services and support they provide, and the people who deliver them are attuned to the needs of young children and caregivers. We contribute to creating training packages on how to support caregivers in providing nurturing care (Care for Child Development), as well as improving caregivers’ own mental health and well-being (Caring for the Caregiver).
Public finance is another key strategy to improve and scale up ECD programmes. UNICEF works closely with governments and development partners to address the financing bottlenecks that impede the implementation of ECD programmes at scale, which requires sufficient, equitable and efficient budget allocations and spending.
To better track how young children are faring – and to improve the services and support they receive – UNICEF also helps governments strengthen their measurement of ECD, incorporating indicators into national information systems for sectors like health and education, as well as national household surveys.
|Nurturing Care for Early Childhood Development, a partnership between WHO, UNICEF, World Bank||Nurturing Care for Early Childhood Development|
|UNICEF||Care for Child Development|