10 facts about early child development as a social determinant of health
Addressing ECD means creating the conditions for children – from gestation to 8 years of age – to thrive in their physical, socio-emotional, and language/cognitive development.
Three critical elements of healthy child development: stable, responsive, and nurturing care-giving; safe, supportive, environments; and appropriate nutrition. These can be safeguarded through familiar best practices such as planned, safe pregnancy and childbirth; exclusive breast feeding in the first 6 months followed by an appropriate complementary feeding and responsive feeding; preventive interventions such as vaccines for the treatment of diseases; and protection from violence, neglect and abuse.
The brain develops most rapidly in the first few years of a child’s life. The ongoing interchange between genes and different environments – within which children are born, grow, learn and live – shapes the developing brain. During these critical years, the foundation is laid for a child’s physical and mental health, affecting everything from longevity to the lifelong capacity to learn, from the ability to adapt to change to the capacity for resilience against adverse circumstances.
Stable, caring, interactive relationships with adults – any way or any place they can be provided – will benefit healthy brain development of young children. Conversely, adverse early experiences – eg, unstable caregiving, deprivation of love or nutrition, and stresses associated with neglect and maltreatment – greatly increase the likelihood of poor health and development across the entire life course.
Safe, cohesive, child-centred neighbourhoods, communities, and villages matter for early child development greatly.
High quality early childhood care and education programs can improve children’s chances for success in later life. Investing in early interventions timed to take advantage of crucial phases of brain development is necessary for all children. In particular it can improve the lives of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children and their families, with profound consequences for societies at large.
In order to improve the state of early child development, governments as well as the global communities need to continuously improve the conditions for families to nurture their children by addressing economic security, flexible work, information and support, health and quality childcare needs. Barriers of access to programs and services need to be removed for ALL children.
Early child development is a cornerstone of human development and should be central to how we judge the successfulness of societies. Measuring the state of early child development with a comparable approach throughout the world will provide a way for societies to judge their success. Success in the area of early child development requires a partnership, not only among international, national, and local agencies but, also, with the world’s families.
Many in the international development community agree that child survival and child development are not in conflict but program financing in the international development community has not yet reflected this understanding. As a result while we are experiencing impressive progress in a few survival indicators such as reducing the under 5 mortality rate, we are lagging behind in reducing the number of children who fail to achieve their full development potential.
Other attributes of environments influence ECD as well. Exposure to physical, biological, and chemical risks during a child’s early years can have significant, long-term, and adverse effects. Causes of under-5 mortality and morbidity include physical trauma, biological diseases, and chemical hazards such as drowning and burns, diarrhoea and pneumonia, and mercury and lead toxicity.