Publication Date
Publication Date: 
June 1, 2015

"Nearly 50 years ago, 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 (PECE), which was initiated in Jamaica. (Bernard van Leer Foundation, 1999)."

This series of articles brings "evidence that investing in young children and families can lead to better outcomes for the current and future generations... [and] innovations that have emerged across the early years and demonstrate the need to continue to build capacity". It is part of the Early Childhood Matters series from the Bernard van Leer Foundation [BvLF] and is a special issue to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bernard van Leer Foundation's first grant in early childhood.

Section one includes topics on brain development in early childhood and the importance of intervening across the early years to ensure optimal development in children. Section two addresses issues of need for future scaling of services and capacity building, "including areas such as research and measurement, quality assurance, financing, and leadership development."

Contents include the following:

  • A foundation for sustainable development: advancing towards a new era for young children and families - Joan Lombardi - provides an overview of the issue.

Section I: Supporting Children and Families Right from the Start and throughout the Early Years

  • Early adverse experiences: what does the latest brain research tell us? - Johanna Bick and Charles A. Nelson - " overview of brain development. Starting with four basic principles, it goes on to explain why early experiences have such a powerful effect in shaping developmental trajectories and draws attention to the deleterious impact of early adverse experiences on the developing brain. It concludes by discussing evidence suggesting the potential for recovery, both at the level of the brain and in behaviour, and implications for prevention and intervention."
  • Progress and challenges in ensuring healthy births and babies - Gary L. Darmstadt - " some major global trends in newborn health and survival, and considers major priorities for investment and actions to address the unfinished agenda." For example, the author calls for advocacy to politically prioritise healthy births and healthy babies in low- and middle-income countries within their budgets, policies, and programmes, with a major focus on the economically poorest and most marginalised women's and children's health and nutrition.
  • Bridging survival and development in the post-2015 agenda: partnerships in nutrition and early child development - Aisha K. Yousafzai and Mandana Arabi - ...addresses "[i]nadequate nutrition and stimulation [as] key risk factors associated with poor development of children. This article ... describes their prevalence and then explores the rationale for integrated and comprehensive approaches which combine interventions to mitigate these risks. It reviews the evidence that informs best practice in delivering integrated nutrition and stimulation interventions, and concludes with recommendations for practice, policy and research."
  • The Jamaican early childhood home visiting intervention - Sally Grantham-McGregor and Susan Walker - "… outlines the intervention, reviews evidence of its effectiveness - with benefits to cognition found in 12 evaluations conducted in three countries - and discusses issues with adapting to new cultures and going to scale." The programme studied, from its early phases, frequent visits by paraprofessionals to infants' and young children's homes for activities using homemade toys and culturally appropriate books.
  • Partnering with families: improving home visits in Europe and Central Asia - Deepa Grover and Bettina Schwethelm - "… describes how UNICEF [the United Nations Children's Fund] is working to promote positive parenting skills and reduce equity gaps in the region by strengthening home visiting systems and building the capacity of the frontline workers who are in first and most frequent contact with pregnant women and families of young children."
  • 'Key success factors are joint management and intersectoral cooperation' -  An interview with Jorge Luis Fernández and Norma Vidal - ...describes a "[Peruvian] government [new] in 2011, Cuna Más [which] aims to improve the cognitive, social, physical and emotional development of boys and girls under the age of 3 in areas of poverty."
  • Global gains and growing pains: pre-primary education around the world - Michelle J. Neuman and Kavita Hatipoglu, - "… takes stock of the current accessibility of pre-primary education, the main forms of delivery, and the key challenges. It reviews current global trends and highlights lessons learned from country case studies..."
  • Why men’s caregiving matters for young children: lessons from the MenCare campaign - Gary Barker - "...explains how the MenCare campaign is leading research into why and how to engage fathers, and advocating for changes in public policy and practice in the early childhood arena."
  • Parenting in times of war: supporting caregivers and children in crisis - Katie Murphy, Sandra Maignant, Laura Boone and Sarah Smith - "… highlights recent findings from the International Rescue Committee’s parenting programmes in Syria, underscoring the importance of such programmes not only in strengthening caregiving practices but also in addressing the psychological needs of parents."
  • Special needs, special rights: addressing young children with disabilities via inclusive early childhood development - Donald Wertlieb and Vibha Krishnamurthy - "… outlines the key considerations [of] construct[ing] an ‘inclusive early childhood development’ framework synthesising fragmented traditions in the fields of early childhood development and early childhood intervention...[for] special needs and rights of children with disabilities."
  • Innovations and initiatives - provides a summation of some of the initiatives supporting early childhood development including: the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), an alliance of more than 680 organisations active in reproductive, maternal, newborn, adolescent and child health; UNICEF's lead for action to improve birth registration; the 1,000 Days Partnership, launched by the US and Irish Governments in 2010 as a hub for advocates, thought leaders, policymakers, and a network of over 80 partners to combat malnutrition; Save The Children's February 2015 report, Lottery of Birth; Young Lives longitudinal cohort study of 12,000 children; and Know Violence in Childhood, a time-bound global learning initiative to leverage credible global evidence to promote the prevention of violence in childhood as a global goal.

Section II: Capacity Building Critical to Scaling

  • Saving Brains: innovation for impact - Dominique McMahon and Karlee Silver - "This article previews  research results[of Grand Challenges Canada to identify and scale up the most effective ways of helping the world’s children] which are due to be published in the coming year, and identifies some solutions already identified as holding promise."
  • Measuring early childhood development: priorities for post-2015 - Abbie Raikes, Tarun Dua and Pia Rebello Britto - "… [on] United Nations agencies …coordinating efforts to develop a shared measurement framework, from birth to 8 years of age, which cuts across sectors and can efficiently prioritise, validate and report on new indicators and measurement systems to improve policy implementation and programme effectiveness. This article makes the case that measurement of child outcomes is feasible at global and national levels."
  • Quality in early childhood settings: universal values and cultural flexibility - Dawn Tankersley, Tatjana Vonta and Mihaela Ionescu - "… discusses how to strike the right balance between universal values and the need to consider cultural contexts and involve local stakeholders when defining how quality [in early childhood settings and systems]can be measured."
  • The Early Learning Partnership: catalysing opportunities for young children - Aashti Zaidi Hai - "… explores how the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation has partnered with the World Bank to raise the profile of early learning on the international agenda."
  • How business leaders can support young children - Sara Watson, Gideon Badagawa and Ruth Musoke - shows "… growing interest among business leaders in evidence that skills required for workplace productivity are influenced by a child’s early experiences. ReadyNation in the United States has made the highest-profile achievements to date in persuading business leaders to advocate for young children; and, as this article shows, other countries - such as Uganda - are also making impressive progress."
  • Developing leadership for young children in Brazil - Eduardo Queiroz and James Cairns - "…[a] collaboration led by the Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation and the Harvard Center on the Developing Child [that] has so far trained 125 Brazilian public leaders in translating scientific knowledge about early child development into effective programmes and policies."
  • 'The courage to admit to the limits of our knowledge' - A conversation with Kofi Marfo - "…Professor Marfo talks [on] his aspirations for the Institute [Institute for Human Development (IHD)] and his assessment of the current state of knowledge about early childhood development in Africa."
  • Building early childhood Global Leadership - Mark Elliott and Lynette Okengo - "…[t]he Global Leaders for Young Children programme at the World Forum Foundation seek[ing] to develop the next generation of early childhood leaders throughout the world."
  • Looking back to the future: early human development in 2030 - Mary E Young - "… looks back on progress made in the field of early childhood over recent years, and identifies the priorities that should shape the agenda to 2030."
  • Innovations and initiatives - … a summation of some of the initiatives supporting early childhood development advocacy and planning, including: Forum on Investing in Young Children Globally to encourage strategic investments in policies and practices that benefit young children and their families; OpenIDEO Zero to Five Challenge from online platform OpenIDEO, the top ideas on parenting collected during this challengd (see page 101 of the document and OpenIDEO [scroll down this page]); China’s National Development Plan for Children in Poverty-stricken Areas, including 27 policies aiming to bring overall child development level in these areas up to the national average; PRIDI (the Regional Project on Child Development Indicators) gathering child development data in four Latin American countries; Mother tongue-based multilingual education, a BvLF partner initiative begun in the Indian state of Odisha; and the ‘two-generation’ approach, supporting services for both children and parents.
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Email from the Bernard van Leer Foundation to The Communication Initiative on July 27 2015, and the BvLF website, July 29 2015. Image caption/credit: Young African American father holding his baby girl. Photo: ©