Early Childhood Care and Development: A Smart Investment for Future

Early childhood development is the foundation of human development. It is a comprehensive approach to policies and programs for children  from birth to eight years of age, their parents and caregivers (UNICEF, 2014). ECCD policies aim to protect the rights of a child supporting their holistic development potential. Holistic development refers to cognitive, emotional, social, language and physical development (UNESCO, 2012).

The overall goal of the ECCD is to ensure basic needs, such as health, nutrition, education, water, and sanitation, of early age children (UNICEF, 2014). Early childhood development program improves cognitive development, school achievements and increases productivity in later life. It is proven that the returns to investments in children’s early years are substantial, particularly when compared to equivalent investments made later in life (Heckman, 2002).

The benefits to such investments can increase to individual children and society more broadly and can be leveraged to influence diverse policy objectives, including increasing female labour participation, reaching marginalized populations, reducing the intergenerational transfer of poverty, addressing inequality and improving outcomes later in life (Naudeau et al., 2011).

Smart investments in the physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development of young children —from before birth until they transition to primary school— are critical to put them on the path to greater prosperity, and to help countries be more productive and compete more successfully in a rapidly changing global economy (WB, 2020).

Sustainable ECCD programs such as community-supported services and capacity building of parents and empowering women enhances children’s development. Brain research suggests the need for holistic approaches to learning and development, recognizing that children’s physical and intellectual well-being and socio-emotional and cognitive development, are all interrelated (OECD, 2017).

Studies show that early development programs which account for the health care of young children and interact regularly with primary schools have a powerful positive influence on the opportunities for learning, discovery and participation that children are offered in primary schools (Arnold, Bartlett, Gowani, & Merali, 2006).

Quality early interaction between young children and their immediate environment is vital for human development. To ensure continuous holistic development of young children, there’s a need to link ECCD and early primary schools so that children are ready for school and schools are ready for children (Arnold, Bartlett, Gowani, & Merali, 2006). Critical preconditions must co-exist to ensure that young children get the best start in life (UNICEF, 2011).

A whole child approach to ECCD focuses attention on the social, emotional, mental, physical as well as cognitive development of children. The child development theory which underpins the whole child approach states that each child deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. ECCD programs and interventions can improve children’s chances to develop their full potential.

Young children who participate in early interventions that include nutrition, health care, and nurturing have lower rates of school dropout, higher school enrollment, and higher achievement. This nurturing care framework (NCF) provides a roadmap for action (WHO, 2018). It builds on state-of-the-art evidence about how early childhood development unfolds and how it can be improved by policies and interventions. It outlines to develop to their full potential, children need nurturing care – the conditions that promote health, nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving and opportunities for early learning.

There is a strong relationship between education with ECD programs. As a child’s early environment and experiences have a direct and long-term impact on the way the brain is structured – influencing their present and future cognitive, emotional and social development, and their overall health and wellbeing, adequate investment in ECD programs through the services help parents provide their young with nurturing care – we all benefit (UNICEF, 2020). the concept of socioeconomic gradients and reviews results show that the gradients, school outcomes, and school achievement profiles vary widely among countries in the region and that the gradients are related to inequalities in society and children’s developmental outcomes.

From the literature, it is found that socio-economic condition of the parents is directly related with development opportunities of the children. However, in Nepal, it was found those the parents who are economically well off are also not spending quality time with their children which negatively affect the development of the children.”

Young children’s good health is the result of their physical and emotional wellbeing is directly related to parent’s and caregivers emotional health-giving affectionate and appropriate responses to children’s daily needs. Therefore, nurturing care needs to pay attention to the health and well-being of parent’s and caregivers as well as children. Such programs also improve children’s cognitive and socio-emotional skills.

The actions depend on caregivers’ physical and mental well-being and make them less/ able to engage in responsive caregiving. Young children can not protect themselves and are vulnerable to unanticipated danger, physical pain and emotional stress. Extreme poverty and low income pose serious risks that have to be mitigated, by social assistance that may include programs such as cash transfers.

Studies show that capacity building programs for parents were more likely to empower women by continue their education, make independent decisions regarding their finances, and have a greater role in intra-household decisions (Lavy, Lotti, & Yan, 2016).

Interventions during the early years of a child have multiple benefits for subsequent investments in the child’s education, ranging from on-time enrollment in elementary school to an increased probability of progressing to higher levels of education.

Likewise, investments in health are an investment in human capital and have long-term benefits. Another important factor is the notion of improved social behaviour (as a result of being enrolled in an ECD program) with the formation of social capital. This linkage is more speculative but is suggested by some interesting research results and the ECD is linked to human development by the potential of ECD programs to address inequality in society. And, ultimately, education, health, social capital, and equality are linked to economic growth and, hence, to human development (Heckman, 2008).

Creating a productive workforce begins by investing in human capital starting in early childhood. In 2009–2010, Nepal started a social protection programme called the Child Grant. It was provided to children under 5 in the Karnali region of the country and families of the Dalit ethnic group. Early evidence about the programme indicates that it has led to substantial increases in birth registration and has allowed beneficiaries to purchase food, clothing and other basics. In the period 2016–2017, the Government of Nepal committed to expanding the programme to reach all children younger than 5.

Source: Government of Nepal National Planning Commission and the United Nations Children’s Fund, Demographic Changes of Nepal: Trends and Policy Implications, Government of Nepal and UNICEF, Kathmandu, March 2017.”

Natural disasters, conflicts and emergencies have a negative impact on young children, who are extremely vulnerable to such stresses (UNICEF, 2011). ECCD interventions in such contexts need to be mindful, safeguard the rights of young children and support them and their caregivers (UNICEF, 2011).

This is particularly important for countries that are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and conflict. Thus, along with disaster risk reduction strategy, quality of ECCD services, and inter-sectoral coordination, are a few concerns that need to be addressed.  

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