Special message of hope to ECEC sector from Harvard’s Dr Jack Shonkoff

by Freya Lucas

March 25, 2020

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has long been viewed as a source of high-quality information and research, sharing findings and insights with the global early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. 

 

As the world grapples with the fallout from COVID-19, the Center has again stepped up with an inspirational message of hope for those in the frontline of caring for children and families while others practice social distancing and work from the safety and comfort of their homes. 

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has the capacity to affect every person in the world — and how each individual responds can potentially affect everyone else. In addition to the efforts of courageous health care providers, first responders, and a wide range of workers providing other vital services, countless numbers of selfless individuals are leaping into action to meet the rapidly changing needs of people most affected by the economic, social, and health impacts of this crisis,” Director of the Centre, Dr Jack Shonkoff said in a statement issued recently. 

“We at the Center on the Developing Child especially wish to honour and support the extraordinary efforts of our colleagues across the early childhood community who are working tirelessly to assure the continuing availability of essential services while focusing public attention on the many challenges facing families with young children.”

While the challenges of COVID-19 are likely to be long term, at this early stage, two lessons are already clear, he said: 

 

  • The immediate effects and long-term impacts of this rapidly changing situation will not be evenly distributed. The stresses of caregiving (for children as well as for adults at greater risk) are rising for everyone. 

 

For the millions of parents who were already struggling with low-wage work, lack of affordable childcare, and meeting their family’s basic needs from paycheck to paycheck, the stresses are increasing exponentially. 

 

When unstable housing, food insecurity, social isolation, limited access to medical care, the burdens of racism, and fears related to immigration status are added, the toxic overload of adversities can also lead to increasing rates of substance abuse, family violence, and untreated mental health problems. 

 

“We cannot lose sight of the massive consequences of these threats to the health and development of our most vulnerable children and their families — now and for years to come,” Dr Shonkoff said. 

 

Despite this likelihood, he added, “our hope comes from the dedicated, creative individuals and organisations that are innovating minute by minute to overcome barriers in collaboration with the people they serve—often in the face of threats to their own health and economic well-being. We salute these inspiring efforts and we pledge our support in whatever way we can.”
 

  • Acting on the best available and most credible scientific knowledge has never been more essential, yet science by itself does not have all the answers.

 

Coming from two very different areas of research, the most highly relevant science-based messages are urging both supportive relationships and social distancing as critical priorities. Prolonged physical separation is absolutely necessary to slow down the progression of a pandemic; responsive social interaction is essential for strengthening resilience in the face of adversity. 

 

Reconciling these conflicting necessities and developing effective strategies requires the combined wisdom of rigorous scientific thinking, on-the-ground expertise, and the lived experiences of a wide diversity of people and communities. 

 

“This is a moment in time for all of us to stretch the limits of our abilities and the boundaries of our creative capacities,” Dr Shonkoff advised. 

 

“Our Center is assembling easily accessible and actionable scientific knowledge for supporting the developmental needs of young children and their families in this current context — and we’re eager to learn from your efforts so we can, in turn, use our platform to share those insights with others. We’re also mobilising our website and social media channels to shine a bright light on the rich resources available from many other organisations,” he added.  

 

“The question is not whether we will get through the ordeal that lies ahead — because we will,” Dr Shonkoff said. 

 

“The important questions are how well we can work together to protect all young children and their families and how much we will learn from this unprecedented challenge and make necessary changes for the future. Please remain connected, stay safe, and share your creative ideas so we can all learn from them,” he said in closing. 

 

To learn more about the work conducted by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, please visit their website, here

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