A growing interdisciplinary science base highlights the critical importance of global early childhood health and development as building blocks for broad national and international policies focused on the social and economic development and the overall health of communities and nations. In some of the highest-income countries, these scientific breakthroughs are beginning to transform the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, as well as stimulate innovative thinking about the promotion of early learning and socio-emotional development. However, much work remains to achieve population-wide reach. In middle-income and emerging-market countries, which may have made significant progress in reducing malnutrition and child mortality but continue to face substantial economic disparities and other social transitions, this scientific knowledge base can inform the shaping of comprehensive early childhood policies that can mitigate and prevent severe adversity for young children. In the lowest-income countries, which continue to struggle with severe malnutrition, debilitating infection, and high mortality rates, this new knowledge offers a promising opportunity to integrate basic health and early childhood development services within a broader social and economic development agenda.

As the Center begins its global engagement, it does so in an environment that is increasingly receptive to an expanded focus on child health and development in the early years. Since 2000, early childhood development has received increased attention from international and national policymakers. Other global challenges, however, create greater hardships for children, including stubbornly persistent rates of poverty, increasing educational and economic inequality both between and within societies, and unprecedented rates of migration that create both dislocation and increasingly diverse populations.

Much progress is needed to successfully raise the commitment to an integrated approach to early childhood health and development in global and national policy circles.  A particular challenge in this area is the multidisciplinary nature of comprehensive approaches that bring together all the domains of child development. Success requires not only high-quality service provision, but also cross-sectoral coordination championed by senior leadership within international agencies and governments – something that is very hard to achieve and sustain. The Center looks forward to playing a key role as a “knowledge broker” in effectively communicating a credible, integrated science of child health and development to high-level decision-makers across these various sectors.

The following are recent international reports and publications related to child health and development:

USAID technical brief on using early childhood development principles to support orphans and vulnerable children (2011)

UNICEF Innocenti Research Center report card #8 on child care in economically advanced countries (2008)

Report of the World Health Organization Commission on the Social Determinants of Health (2008)

Series from the medical journal The Lancet on child development in developing countries (2007)

Education for All Global Monitoring Report (2007)