With the publication of Early Childhood Matters last month, we once again shine a spotlight on the earliest years of life. We look back at advances made for young children and families around the world, first to celebrate and learn, but more importantly to provide hope and momentum for the long journey ahead.
In many ways, the past year was yet another watershed moment in the growing recognition of this critical developmental period. From the publication of The Lancet on early childhood development at the end of 2016 to the emergence of a global network, from the increasing voices of new champions to the continued quest for quality and scale, we have witnessed progress.
But we have little time to pause as the conditions facing many children around the world are reflected in war-torn faces, families under stress, young bodies suffering from lack of clean water, inadequate nutrition, and lack of attention. We wonder why the daily news seems to ignore their needs, focusing instead on what most often seems far away from the realities of the children who hold all the promise for the future.
It is our hope that the articles in Early Childhood Matters once again remind us of why the early years are important – from brain science to economics. We hope the advances described, the studies underway, and the innovations emerging, will inspire your own efforts.
For those of you working in programmes with young children and families, we hope it provides you with a sense of “community”, a feeling that you are part of a global movement. Your work is essential to the long-term health, learning and behaviour of hundreds of millions of children, and the support you provide families enables them to parent more effectively.
For those of you who are new to the field of early childhood, we hope you become the next voice for change.
We can no longer ignore those years between the birth of a baby and the day a child enters school. This period of life is not a gap in time between survival and learning. Instead it is a critical period when children can thrive through nurturing care.
As I grow older, I realise more and more that indeed those early years of life are actually the golden years. These are the years that should be enriched with healthy and safe environments, caring and responsive adults, laughter and joy.
As we reflect on important steps taken – from breakthrough ideas to implementation and scale – we ask everyone to renew their commitment to young children. Together, the collective action of many – working in countries around the world – are like pieces of a quilt sewn together to form a blanket of support for young children and their families, particularly those most vulnerable.
We need to continue to look back and learn, but always remember to move forwards. We have no time to waste.