EARLY CHILD DEVELOPMENT
I had the pleasure to document what UNICEF does in Early Child Development (ECD) in Guatemala in different areas: Health, Nutrition, Responsive care and Early learning! Here is a sneak peek of an amazing assignment with an amazing team!
ABOUT EARLY CHILD DEVELOPMENT
In the earliest years of life, especially from pregnancy to age three, babies need nutrition, protection and stimulation for healthy brain development. Recent advances in neuroscience provide new evidence about a baby’s brain development during this time. As a result, we know that in their earliest years, babies’ brains form new connections at an astounding rate – according to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child more than 1 million every single second – a pace never repeated again.
In the brain-building process, neural connections are shaped by genes and life experiences – namely good nutrition, protection and stimulation from talk, play and responsive attention from caregivers. This combination of nature and nurture establishes the foundation of a child’s future.
Yet too many children are still missing out on the ‘eat, play, and love’ their brains need to develop. Put simply, we don’t care for children’s brains the way we care for their bodies.
A mix of factors determine why some children receive the nutrition, protection and stimulation they need, while others are left behind. Poverty is a common part of the equation. 250 million children under five in low- and middle-income countries risk not reaching their development potential because of extreme poverty and stunting.
Often, the most disadvantaged children are least likely to have access to the essential ingredients for healthy development. For example, frequent or prolonged exposure to extreme stress – such as neglect and abuse – can trigger biological response systems that, without the buffer of a protective adult, create toxic stress, a response that can interfere with brain development. As the child grows, toxic stress can portend physical, mental and behavioural problems in adulthood.
Conflict and uncertainty also play a role as children younger than five in conflict-affected areas and fragile states face elevated risks to their lives, health and wellbeing.
Oversight and inaction have a high price and long-term implications for the health, happiness and earning potential as these children become adults. They also contribute to global cycles of poverty, inequality and social exclusion.
Despite the need, early childhood programmes remain severely underfunded with lacklustre execution. Government investment in early childhood development is low. For example, in 27 sub-Saharan African countries measured, only 0.01 per cent of gross national product was spent on pre-primary education in 2012.
There is also little public understanding of the importance of a child’s first years and slight public demand for policies, programmes and funding.