Proximity of care: A new approach to designing for early childhood in vulnerable urban contexts

When it comes to refugee and informal settlements, the data is clear: the number and size of these areas will only increase in the coming decades. Given the multi-source vulnerabilities of populations living in this context, the needs of the youngest and most vulnerable are often unheard in decision making and planning. Although children up to 5 years old have significantly different needs to older children, they often remain invisible to municipal leaders or are categorised with older children from a planning perspective.

Arup and the Bernard van Leer Foundation have partnered to develop a guide to assess, design and implement child-centred interventions in vulnerable urban contexts such as informal and refugee settlements, to improve the living conditions and well-being of young children and their caregivers, with benefits to the broader community.

The publication lays out the needs of four key groups living in vulnerable urban contexts: 0–3 year olds, 3–5 year olds, caregivers and pregnant women. It then outlines recommendations to support each of them at a household, neighbourhood and city level.

We followed up by publishing the Proximity of Care Design Guide (March 2021) to support the design and implementation of cost-effective interventions that improve the living conditions and well-being of infants, toddlers and caregivers in vulnerable urban environments. While designed for informal and refugee settlements, the Guide has become more widely relevant as the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed more urban families into poverty around the world. It collates best-practice examples from around the world in assessing needs, co-creating design solutions and advocating to decision-makers.