Optimizing Early Childhood Development in Underinvested Communities 

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 critical for healthy growth and development.  

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 other caregivers (both within the family and broader community) 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.  

Hellen, a Kidogo childcare center owner and mamapreneur, engages with a young child inside her childcare center in Nairobi, Kenya. Unlike other childcare options, Hellen’s center is brightly colored and filled with toys to create a positive, fun experience for babies and young kids.

Tailored support is also needed to reach the most vulnerable families, including 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 intergenerational cycle of poverty, enabling both generations to reach their full potential.  

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 and other 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 early childhood development risk lower economic productivity and higher health, education and social welfare costs for their communities. Investing in early childhood development (ECD) is one of the best investments communities and countries can make—with a higher rate of return than later investments, 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 East and Southern Africa (Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania) and within the United States are developmentally on track, ready for school and able to reach their full potential. 

Our Work in the United States (U.S.):

Our Global Early Childhood Development – U.S. initiative seeks to improve the developmental outcomes of all low-income young children (prenatal to three years) in Los Angeles County and the state of New Mexico.  Support to parents includes culturally congruent antenatal care services, home visiting, enhanced pediatric visits and child care. 

Work in these locations builds the capacity of local stakeholders and links to state and national advocacy, focusing specifically on: 

  • Improving caregiving and parent/caregiver well-being (with additional supports for young parents/caregivers under 24 years); 
  • Building capacity of local organizations and systems; 
  • Strengthening the Early Childhood Development (ECD) field through policy, advocacy and communications; and  
  • Research and evaluation 

The Impact of the Work: All Children Ages 0-3 Have the Support They Need to Thrive

Our aspiration is that all children ages 0-3 in our focus communities 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.  

Learn More

Meet the Global Early Childhood Development Team