Securing the foundation for sustainable development: towards a new era for young children and families

Published August 3, 2015 – by Joan Lombardi

Research on early development and recognition of the roots of inequality grew during the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1966, The Bernard van Leer Foundation funded its first major project aimed at enhancing the development of young children: The Project for Early Childhood Education (PACE), which was initiated in Jamaica. Funds were made available to the University of the West Indies to improve Basic Schools – nursery schools set up and run by the community.

Since that day nearly fifty years ago, our knowledge and understanding of the importance of the early years has grown dramatically. The emerging evidence from neuroscience to economics, as well as the latest research on effective interventions, underscores the wisdom of investing early and continuously throughout the early years. The anniversary issue of Early Childhood Matters, A Good Start: Advances in Early Childhood Development, celebrates the innovations going on around the world to bring essential services to young children and families and calls for a new era to take such effective interventions to scale.

As we move closer to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, what has become increasingly clear is the importance of early child development to the long term success of families, communities, countries and a peaceful and sustainable world. Yet millions upon millions of young children are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential due to poverty, poor health, exposure to violence and conflict, and lack of early learning experiences.

The world will not meet its long term goals without strengthening the foundation of human development. The new goals provide an opportunity to turn the page, to take a new step, to renew the commitment to long term health, learning and behaviour by investing in young children and their families.

Today more than ever we know what to do. Each sector has something it can contribute along the continuous pathway of development. Providing prenatal care and early health and nutrition services are critical first steps; supporting parents in their efforts to provide safe, nurturing and responsive environments for their children to learn and thrive is essential; and assuring access to quality early learning experiences provides the early opportunity so important to a success in education. Coordination and continuity across these services are key ingredients to assure long term impact.

While access to services continues to be a major concern for children of all ages, and particularly for children in poverty, the quality of services is critical. Historically, early childhood has not received the resources necessary to meet demand or assure quality. In order to build public awareness and advocate for increased financing at the global, national or community level, we need to increase numbers and include more people who can help us communicate the needs of young children. These new voices can include civic and religious leaders, law enforcement, and the business community among others.

The field of child development is at a very important moment. Now is the time to build on our history. It is our hope that this issue of Early Childhood Matters is a call to action on behalf of young children and their families; a call to action that can lay a strong foundation for sustainable development. We look forward to celebrating a different world in another fifty years; a world where all children have an equal opportunity to grow up healthy, happy and successful.

Blog author: Joan Lombardi, Senior Advisor, Bernard van Leer Foundation