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CoE research and advocacy on nurturing care in early childhood development

The provision of nurturing care includes giving young children opportunities for early learning, through interactions that are responsive and emotionally supportive


In October 2016, Prof Linda Richter led the publication, on a global stage, of The Lancet series Advancing Early Childhood Development: From Science to Scale. The three main papers, two associated papers and five commentaries took stock of what had been achieved over the previous decade since the publication of the first Lancet series on Early Child Development, reviewed scientific findings that demonstrated the long-range effects of adversity and intervention in the first 1000 days of life, explained the social and personal price paid for lost human potential, plotted a way forward to ensure universal services, and calculated the cost of adding an effective parenting intervention to the health and nutrition platform of services.

The series brought together the work of 45 authors from 22 institutions around the world, and the global launch took place in Washington, D.C., in October 2016. A local South African launch, addressed by the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Naledi Pandor, was held in December 2016 as part of Science Forum South Africa 2016.

Key messages about nurturing care in The Lancet series

Nurturing care is what the infant’s brain expects and depends on for development. 

To reach their full potential, children need five inter-related and indivisible components of nurturing care:
good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving and opportunities for learning and discovering the world.

In the first years of life, parents, intimate family members and caregivers are the closest to the young child and thus the best providers of nurturing care. This is why secure family environments are important for young children.  In order to provide caregivers with time and resources to provide nurturing care, policies, services and community support need to be in place.

Three intervention packages are proposed in the series:

(i) Family support and strengthening package, encompassing the 3 main elements of services (e.g .families’ access to quality health services), skills building (e.g. responsive nurturing care and reduction of harsh discipline), and support (e.g. social protection, safety networks and family support policies);

(ii) Caring for the caregiver package, which emphasises the care and protection of parents’ physical and mental health and well-being while enhancing a caregiver’s capacity to provide nurturing care to their child; and

(iii) Early learning and protection package (for ECD centres and parents).

National policies can expand enabling conditions for families to provide nurturing care by allowing (i) more parenting time through policies that support maternity and paternity leave, breastfeeding breaks at work and leave to look after sick children; and (ii) resources such as cash transfers (e.g. child social grant/pregnancy grant), health insurance, minimum wage regulation and free pre-primary education.

Impact of the series

  • On the day following the global launch, a World Bank summit entitled ‘Human Capital: Investing in the Early Years for Growth and Productivity’ was held, also in Washington D.C. It was part of the World Bank’s annual meeting of finance ministers from across the world. More:
  • 19-20 April 2018, G20 Development Working Group meeting part of G20 Argentina 2018, Buenos Aires, Argentina: The DWG has introduced Early Childhood Development for the first time into the G20 agenda, considering it is a fundamental contributor to boosting economies and reducing inequalities. As such, G20 Leaders will make a statement in their 2018 Summit Communiqué through a Call to Action for the increase of allocation of sufficient and sustainable resources towards quality public programmes that guarantee the well-being and development of children, especially in low-income countries. This also links, via the skills argument, with one of the three G20 overarching priorities of 2018: the future of work.
  • At the Ninety-First World Health Assembly (21-26 May 2018) at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Early Childhood Development (ECD) was a key theme as part of the report on the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent Health. Professor Richter supported the development of the WHO Nurturing Care Framework which was launched at a side event of the WHA on 23 May, together with the publication of country profiles of ECD indicators per country: both will assist ‘Countdown 2030’ which is tracking the Sustainable Development Goals. CoE-HUMAN lead investigators, Prof Mark Tomlinson and Dr Chris Desmond, also participated in the production of these two documents.