‘Early Moments Matter’ for children’s brain development

 

‘Early Moments Matter’ for children’s brain development

On 15 August 2016 in Belize, 2-year-old Abner laughs while being carried by his father, James Choc, outdoors on their family’s plot of land, in San Felipe Village in the Toledo region. The family, which consists of Abner’s parents, grandparents and aunt – participates in the Roving Caregivers Programme (RCP), which brings services to vulnerable families in the region, especially those living in distant and hard-to-reach locations. Just 50 per cent of villages in the remote, predominately Mayan communities in the Toledo region have access to preschool or day-care services for their children. With many caregivers – including Abner’s parents and grandfather – working on plantations or construction sites, young children are at risk of missing out on stimulating interaction, a key element for their development. The UNICEF-supported programme, targets children up to age three who have no access to formal early childhood education. RCP facilitators (known as ‘Roving Caregivers’ or Rovers), who are trained members of the local community, conduct 45-minute home outreach with each of the families they serve, engaging children in age-appropriate stimulating activities through play and encouraging parents and caregivers to participate. They also encourage positive parenting behaviour; and promote behaviour change to address inappropriate parenting practices The 22 Rovers in the RCP programme conduct 45-minute outreach visits with each family. “My favourite part of my children’s lives was when they were young and playing without worry; they were laughing and smiling and growing,” said Abner’s grandmother, Maria Choc (not pictured), a mother of 13.

In recent years, considerable progress was made in the area of Early Childhood Development. In 2011 only 32 per cent of children between 36 and 59 months of age attended an Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme, but this reached 55 per cent by 2015. Disparities however persist as only one in five of the p

© UNICEF/UN032017/LeMoyne

On 15 August 2016 in Belize, 2-year-old Abner laughs while being carried by his father, James Choc.

NEW YORK/HONG KONG, 10 January 2017 – UNICEF today launched #EarlyMomentsMatter, a new campaign supported by the LEGO Foundation to drive increased awareness about the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life and the impact of early experiences on the developing brain.

During this critical window of opportunity, brain cells can make up to 1,000 new connections every second – a once-in-a-lifetime speed. These connections contribute to children’s brain function and learning, and lay the foundation for their future health and happiness. A lack of nurturing care – which includes adequate nutrition, stimulation, love and protection from stress and violence – can impede the development of these critical connections.

The campaign kicks off with #EatPlayLove – a digital and print initiative aimed at parents and caregivers that shares the neuroscience on how babies’ brains develop. #EatPlayLove assets explain the science in a straightforward, visually interesting way to encourage parents and caregivers to continue to make the most of this unrivaled opportunity to provide their children with the best possible start in life.

By engaging with families, the initiative also aims to drive demand for quality, affordable early childhood development services and to urge governments to invest in programmes targeting the most vulnerable children.

According to a recent series in The Lancet nearly 250 million children in developing countries are at risk of poor development due to stunting and poverty. But the need for greater investment and action in early childhood development is not limited to low-income countries. Disadvantaged children living in middle- and high-income countries are also at risk. UNICEF estimates that millions more children are spending their formative years growing up in unstimulating and unsafe environments, putting their cognitive, social and emotional development at risk.

Investment in early childhood is one of the most cost effective ways of increasing the ability of all children to reach their full potential – increasing their ability to learn in school and, later, their earning capacity as adults. This is especially significant for children growing up in poverty. One 20-year study showed that disadvantaged children who participated in quality early childhood development programmes as toddlers went on to earn up to 25 per cent more as adults than their peers who did not receive the same support.

Early childhood development interventions, such as the Care for Child Development package that includes training community health workers to teach families about the importance of playing with their children in a way that stimulates healthy development can cost as little as HK$3.9 (US$50 cents) per capita per year, when combined with existing health services.

UNICEF is calling for governments to increase investments in early childhood, expand health and social services offered to young children, and strengthen support services for parents and caregivers.

This campaign is part of UNICEF’s broader programme on early childhood development, supported by H&M Foundation, The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, ALEX AND ANI, and IKEA Foundation.