At the recently held 71st ongoing World Health Assembly which held in Geneva, Switzerland, a framework on nurturing care for early childhood development was launched.
The framework, a joint effort by the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, World Bank and the Partnership for Maternal, New born and Child Health (PMNCH), proffers ways to help very young children live and “thrive to transform health and human potential”.
The framework says investing in early childhood development can boost a country’s prosperity, promote inclusive economic growth, expand equitable opportunity and end extreme poverty.
“For every $1 spent on early childhood development interventions, the return on investment can be as high as $13,” the foreword to the framework reads.
If children thrive – meeting all their milestones, including cognitive goals, they are very likely to become productive members of a society. Their development directly affects issues like employability and innovation that contributes to economic development.
While early childhood development covers children’s cognitive, physical, language, motor, and social and emotional development between conception and age eight, the nurturing care framework focuses on the period from pregnancy to age three.
This is because children at this age are at the most critical stage when the brain grows faster – 80% of a baby’s brain is formed by this age.
According to the framework, when a child gets to two years, “neuronal connections have been made in response to interactions with the environment, and especially interactions with caregivers,”.
And while a child’s brain development follows historical genetics patterns, earliest experiences makes the difference in how the child experiences and interprets the world
What nurturing care framework says youngest children need
Security and safety
Children need to grow up in a secure and loving environment, with the right nutrition and stimulation from their parents and caregivers.
Also, young children, especially toddlers experience extreme fear when people abandon them, threaten to, and punish them; almost always inordinately, because of realistic expectations from caregivers. So, young children need to feel safe, they need to feel loved. They need to have trusted, reliable and informed caregivers who understand the needs of children in their early years.
Because kids from extremely poor sand low income homes face serious risks, there has social assistance and policies to mitigate risks.
Also, youngest children – babies to toddlers – need nurturing care, and this can start from pregnancy.
Singing and talking to children, especially when at the tail of the second trimester, helps babies, experience a loving parental connection. Plus, from birth, a baby can recognise the mother’s voice. Babies also need gentle touch, pleasant and soothing words, storytelling, being read to and being played with. There is now scientific evidence proving that caregiver-child interactions are highly beneficial for early childhood development and have long term effects.
Breastfeeding and skin to skin connection, amplifies the mother and child bonding a child needs to thrive and feel loved. When a mother is supported by baby’s father and/or supportive companion(s), exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is facilitated. But a mother’s well being and her nutritional intake are essential to baby before and after birth.
Pregnant women need to have sufficient micronutrients including iron. When the babies are eventually birthed, breast milk has proven to be the best for babies; and from six months onwards, complementary feeding that are diverse and contain all the micronutrients should be included for rapid brain growth