Quality early childhood education and care services, also referred to as early childhood development (ECD) services, are widely acknowledged as playing an important role in the overall education and care of young children. They provide an 'umbrella' for a regular monitoring of the health and nutrition status of children at a critical period of growth. Several researchers have also shown these to help develop children in preparation for going to primary school. They also counter inequalities by ensuring that the majority of children start basic schooling with a common orientation to the competencies required in primary school.
As indicated in Convention on the Rights of the Child, States have a clear role in '...rendering appropriate assistance to parents, legal guardians and extended families in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities...' (arts. 18.2 and 18.3); '...including assisting parents in providing living conditions necessary for the child's development...' (art. 27.2); and '...ensuring that children receive necessary protection and care...' (art. 3.2).
States hold a number of essential means to take up this role, including legal authority, financial resources, human resources, infrastructure. However, the extent to which these means are used - to support families and care givers in seizing the opportunities that high quality ECD services can provide to children - continues to vary greatly across countries.
The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (IRC) seeks to contribute to the public debate on the role of the State in early childhood through research and analysis of good practices in developing and implementing national strategies for quality early childhood development services. This includes the setting of national targets and developing systems for monitoring and sharing of experiences among countries.
This webpage on early childhood development presents IRCs activities related to the theme of early childhood development and links its work to that of UNICEF in programme countries and to early childhood related initiatives of key institutional actors and partners such as the OECD, the EU and the World Bank.