Early childhood development

In the earliest years of life, especially from pregnancy to age three, babies need nutrition, protection and stimulation for healthy brain development. Evidence from a diverse range of countries concludes that investing in early childhood development is an extremely effective and cost-efficient way of accelerating progress for children, their communities, and societies more generally. 

Yet too many children are still missing out on the ‘eat, play, and love’ their brains need to develop, especially those whose lives have been struck by conflict and disaster. 

“Kindergarten is especially important for refugee children who have lived through experiences that have been traumatic and are living with toxic stress that can create difficulties for them,” – Eduardo Garcia Rolland, UNICEF Early Childhood Development Specialist

Investing in early childhood development (ECD) is a cost-effective way to boost shared prosperity, promote inclusive economic growth, expand equal opportunity, and end extreme poverty. 

That’s why UNICEF is working to increase investment in family-friendly policies, including paid parental leave and access to quality, affordable childcare; it makes good sense for governments because it helps economies and businesses, as well as parents and children.

We are working closely with the EU in the following areas: 

  • UNICEF welcomed the adoption of the European Parliament directive on Work Life Balance. The new regulation introduces European paternity leave, European careers’ leave and consolidating parental leave rights for parents and careers in Europe. Moreover, the directive introduces the right to request flexible working arrangements for parents and careers. 
  • UNICEF is currently partnering with the European Union (DG INTPA) in Namibia to enhance access to quality, inclusive and integrated early childhood development, including pre-primary education, by strengthening system delivery capacity. The action aims to benefit children aged 0-8 years through the provision of pre-primary education, notably for the most vulnerable including children with disabilities. 
  • The European Union and UNICEF are working together in Azerbaijan to support young children through the development and implementation of early childhood development programmes, allowing early learning for all children, by supporting pre-primary education. 


Picture: UNICEF/2016/Sebastian Rich