PMNCH | Early childhood development (ECD)

Investing in the early years of life has a profound impact on brain development, affecting a child’s learning, health, behaviour, and ultimately, income.

Why is ECD a focus area for 2018-2020?

It is well recognized that targeted investments in ECD offer opportunities to address inequalities, break the cycle of poverty and improve outcomes in later life. Such investments also produce wider societal benefits, creating healthier, more prosperous and more resilient societies for generations to come. The way parents, other family members and caregivers nurture and support children in the first 1,000 days is one of the most important factors for healthy child development.

“Nurturing care” is an indivisible cluster of interventions related to health, nutrition, responsive caregiving, safety and security and early learning. It provides a vital foundation for ECD, enabling healthy brain development, which improves a child’s capacity to learn, and later to earn. The Nurturing Care Framework (NCF) for ECD makes the case for investments in and consolidates guidance on practical approaches to support families. Launched during the World Health Assembly in May 2018, the NCF is designed to enable the health sector to deliver results while strengthening national multisectoral programming.

What needs to be done?

In recent years, evidence from successful ECD programmes has grown, especially from high-income countries. Strong political leadership, a shared vision, clear legal frameworks and budget allocation are key elements for such initiatives. However, much more needs to be done to ensure long-term integrated services providing nurturing care for young children in less well resourced settings.

All relevant stakeholders need to work together proactively, aligning their actions, advocating for essential changes and holding each other accountable for commitments made. These joint efforts must focus on the efficient and effective delivery of a comprehensive package of services, combining health, nutrition, early stimulation and social and child protection, to support families providing nurturing care.

Success requires action in five areas: expanding political will and increasing investments; creating national policy environments; building partners’ capacity; improving multisectoral management systems; and strengthening national data and evidence.

How is PMNCH making a difference?

PMNCH supports efforts to enhance coordination at all levels and across sectors to ensure increased and more visible inclusion of ECD in national, regional and global policies and plans. It works with partners to build linkages between sectors, promote collaboration on related initiatives and reach consensus on roles and responsibilities.

PMNCH engages in high-level advocacy to secure political, financial and non-financial commitments to integrating ECD programmes across sectors in national health and development plans. In the area of accountability, PMNCH facilitates consensus for improved monitoring, review and alignment of resources and actions, and for improved tracking and reporting of commitments relevant to ECD.

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