Hundreds of millions of children (aged 0-8) will not have the best start in life and develop to their potential because they grow up facing a broad range of risks, most notably poverty; poor health including HIV/AIDS and malnutrition; high levels of family and environmental stress; and exposure to violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation, and inadequate levels of care and learning opportunities. This includes risks that result from emergencies related to conflict, climate change and global demographic shifts through migration and urbanization (Lancet Journal Series on ECD, 2007 and 2001).
A compelling body of cross-disciplinary research and practice highlights the importance of investing in the early childhood years especially during critical and unique periods of brain development. Adverse risks and experiences can be mitigated by strengthening the environments in which young children grow through evidence-based strategies: i.e. parent support; early detection and intervention for developmental delays and disabilities; early childhood programs of care, support and learning; targeted health, nutrition, sanitation and social protection services; good quality preschool and early primary grade experiences.
Investment in development and learning during early childhood results in greater cost savings than investment later in the life cycle (Heckman 2012) with a return ranging from $8-18 for every dollar invested. Good quality early primary education (grades 1-3) combined with quality early childhood services prior to children entering school improves the efficiency of the schooling system and saves money by reducing repetition and drop-out and improving completion rates and achievement, especially for girls and other marginalised groups.
A measurable and actionable Early Childhood Development (ECD) goal – that all children get the best start in life and for learning in order to reach their developmental potential through ECD policies and programs is part of a human development and rights-based framework that promotes equitable and sustainable development and needs to be implemented in partnership with multiple sectors and multiple partners. This will help advance other important development goals. In particular, improving birth and achieving key health outcomes, improving access to quality basic education and learning outcomes, promoting social justice, advancing women’s rights and gender equality and ultimately reducing inequality and poverty.