Optimizing Early Childhood Development in Underinvested Communities
Lynette Okengo, Ph.D., serves as executive director of the Africa Early Childhood Network, with experience spanning from policy and strategy development to program design and evaluation, as well as advocacy and capacity-building.
Photo courtesy of the Africa Early Childhood Network.
The Challenge and Context: Ensuring Healthy Early Childhood Development and Improved Outcomes for Young Children and Their Families
The first 1,000 days of life provide an unparalleled opportunity to set a child on the path to lifelong health, well-being, educational success and prosperity given that this is a foundational period of rapid brain development. This period begins during pregnancy when prenatal care and other support are critical, and it continues for the first few years of life when the provision of nurturing care from parents and other caregivers is needed.
To have an opportunity to reach their full potential, young children need the five components of nurturing care, as defined by the World Health Organization: good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving, and opportunities for early learning. During the first few years, parents and caregivers and other family members are the best providers of nurturing care. Policies, services, and community supports need to be in place to enable parents and caregivers to provide nurturing care to their young children.
Tailored support is also needed to reach the most vulnerable families, such as adolescent and young parents. The evidence is clear on how young parents face multiple challenges that negatively impact their futures and their children’s trajectories. Adolescence represents a second sensitive period of rapid brain development, and by providing holistic support to young parents/caregivers and their young children, there is an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.
Far too many low-income families do not have access to a holistic package of two-generation support, particularly given the multiple impacts of COVID-19, which have strained overburdened health systems and contributed to loss of income, food insecurity, malnutrition, and more.
What We Do: Improve Childhood Development and Family Well-being
Evidence indicates that investments in human capital are critical for economic prosperity, because countries that underinvest in childhood development risk lower economic productivity, higher health costs for their communities, and the overall loss of billions of dollars in economic productivity. Investing in early childhood development (ECD) is one of the best investments communities and countries can make—creating a clear and proven path to eliminating poverty and inequality; boosting shared prosperity; and creating productive, diversified, and robust economies.
Our Global Early Childhood Development Initiative takes a holistic, two-generation approach to ensure support for parents/caregivers and their young children. By strengthening the capacity of public systems and community actors to support the well-being of both young children and their parents/caregivers, children ages 0-3 in underserved communities in Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and the U.S. can be developmentally on track and ready for school and reach their full potential.
Our current focus:
- Fostering a two-generation approach focused on parents and young children together
- Improving early childhood development outcomes through high-quality services for parents/caregivers and children, including psychosocial support and child care
- Tailored support to specifically meet the needs of young parents under age 24
- Integrating early childhood support as part of health and other systems
- Engagement of men and the promotion of gender-equitable norms
- Building from the strengths and assets of parents/caregivers and community champions, including faith leaders, while elevating their voices in the process
- Strengthening the global early childhood development field and facilitating learning across geographies
- Supporting the development and use of population-wide tools for measuring early childhood outcomes
The Impact of the Work: All Children Ages 0-3 Have the Support They Need to Thrive
In targeted low-income communities within Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and the U.S., our aspiration is that all children ages 0-3 will be developmentally on track by age three and ready for school at age five. Parents and caregivers will have the knowledge, resources, and well-being to enable their children’s healthy development, and adolescent parents will thrive educationally, economically, and emotionally. Ultimately, the Foundation’s support for locally driven, systems-strengthening work can be a model to replicate globally.
Partners Early Childhood Development Action Network
The Early Childhood Development Action Networks catalyzes collective action on behalf of young children and their families around the world by connecting with global and regional partners, facilitating knowledge exchange and learning, and coordinating advocacy for increased investment for quality services.
Resource Nurturing Care Framework
Nurturing care encompasses young children’s needs for good health, optimal nutrition, security and safety, opportunities for early learning, and responsive caregiving.
Meet the Global Early Childhood Development Team
Lisa Bohmer Director, Global Early Childhood Development
Mabel Muñoz Senior Program Officer, Early Childhood Development (U.S.)
Christina Laubacher Program Associate, Global Early Childhood Development (East and Southern Africa)
Katie Januario Program Officer, Global Early Childhood Development (East and Southern Africa)