Early Childhood Development for children 0-3 years old: A priority for China and the world
BEIJING, 24 April 2017 – Chinese government officials, including high level representatives from the National Working Committee for Women and Children under the State Council, and the National Health and Family Planning Commission, are meeting in Beijing on 24 and 25 April with national and international experts at the International Early Childhood Development Conference 2017 “Promoting nurturing care for children 0-3 years”. They discuss the importance of improving children's developmental outcomes at an early age, when the brain is developing most rapidly.
According to a UNICEF supported study in four poor rural counties in two provinces, around one third of children in such conditions aged zero to three have suspected developmental delays in one or more areas, such as communication, problem solving, social or cognitive development. Without timely interventions, these children suffer lifelong consequences, impacting their families, and Chinese society as a whole.
Compelling evidence featured in The Lancet Early Childhood Development series released last year, drew the global community's attention to the impressive effects of nurturing care during the most critical first thousand days of a child's life. When well nurtured and cared for during these earliest years, children are more likely to survive, to grow up in a healthy way, and develop better thinking, language, emotional and social skills. When such opportunities are provided, the child and society at large reap the rewards.
Without these interventions, the children at risk of developmental delays will likely lose 26 per cent of their average adult income per year, as stated in The Lancet Series. Research has also shown that investing in early childhood development (ECD) programs yields a seven to ten percent rate of return on investment. Investment returns include children's increased school and career achievements as well as reduced costs for remedial education, health and criminal justice system expenditures. The promotion of social equity and elimination of the inter-generational transmission of poverty are further benefits.
Mr. Sang Guowei, the then Vice Chairman of the 11th National People's Congress, said now China and the world are in a new development era for scaling up of ECD. To ensure every child survives and develops to their full potential, he called for increased efforts to address ECD in the early years, which will help lay a solid foundation for quality human capital contributing to the future development of China.
In China, the National Health and Family Planning Commission, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Civil Affairs, All-China Women's Federation, and the State Council Leading Group of Poverty Alleviation and Development, UNICEF, and partners from other government departments and civil society work together to promote evidence-based interventions on nutrition, early stimulation, child and social protection, and health, to benefit childhood development. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, nutritional supplements, and guidance on preparation of locally appropriate complementary foods are the building blocks of early childhood development. Monitoring of child growth and development further support optimal child development. Community-based play, parenting guidance, and services promoting responsive caregiving and early learning provide a facilitating environment for better parent-child interaction and cognitive and socioemotional development of children. Social workers counsel children's caregivers to practice positive parenting and nonviolent child discipline. They also help remove financial barriers that prevent access to social services. Access to clean, safe water and soap decreases the likelihood of children to fall sick from life threatening pneumonia or diarrhoeal disease. Integrated, multi-sectoral programs are underway to ensure young children receive a comprehensive package of nurturing care so they develop to their full potential. These UNICEF supported programs, currently implemented in selected counties with high rates of poverty, have already shown to lead to significant reductions in suspected developmental delays, and improvements in communication, social, and problem solving skills, and in motor development.
Vice Minister, Wang Pei'an from National Health and Family Planning Commission, pointed out that ECD is an integral part of the National Healthy China 2030 Plan, and concluded that we also need to improve the capacity of primary care providers and make the best use of the current national ECD Centres of Excellence to advance ECD in China at a fast pace.
“UNICEF stands together with the Government of China to ensure the best outcomes for all children across China, with a focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized. Global experience has shown that in promoting the most effective early childhood development programmes, it is essential to strengthen the coordination between existing health, nutrition, education, social and child protection services,” said Dr. Douglas Noble, Deputy Representative for UNICEF China.
The Conference draws attention to progress in global and China's early childhood development programmes, the importance of governance for multi sectoral collaboration, and ensuring optimal ECD outcomes for children with special needs. ECD experts from China, UNICEF, WHO, The Lancet, as well as Universities from Australia, Japan, Mexico, Turkey, and the U.S.A. will contribute to the discussions. Research tools and guidance to measure and assess the impact of ECD interventions, and implications of ECD on poverty alleviation will be highlighted in expert presentations.
Song Wenzhen, Vice Director General from the National Working Committee for Women and Children under the State Council, voiced that – “Promoting ECD will bring about unprecedented development opportunities and contribute to China's economic and societal development. We need to work together to give every child the best start and ensure that each child has a brilliant future.”
Vice Chairman and Secretary General, Lu Mai from the China Development Research Foundation highlighted that “Achieving a sustainable and harmonious society can only happen if we fulfill the promise of a bright start for every child”.
By providing a forum to share and exchange the most up-to-date research and practices on early childhood development, UNICEF is contributing to the achievement of China's vision where every child has access to and receives nurturing care during their first years of life.
UNICEF works in some of the world's toughest places, to reach the world's most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
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