WHO releases new guidelines on boosting development of children from birth – three

by Freya Lucas

July 10, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued new guidelines on boosting the development and well-being of children aged birth to three years of age earlier in the year, which have been joined by a “nurturing framework”, each of which mark a significant shift in thinking about how best to meet children’s needs from ‘survive’ to ‘thrive’. 

 

The nurturing care framework and the new WHO guidelines are not the same thing, though they build on each other. The information shared below has been adapted from a comprehensive piece written by Annabelle Timsit, early childhood reporter for Quartz, which may be accessed here

 

Emphasising the need to shift toward science that proves children need warm, loving care in order to reach their full potential, the 67 page framework document has a simple conclusion: In order to support children, we must support their caregivers, because their love and care is what children really need to thrive.

 

While the findings may appear obvious, particularly to those in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) profession, the release of the document represents “a revolution” in how governments and organisations think about supporting some of the worlds most vulnerable people – infants and toddlers. 

 

Rather than emphasising the core fundamentals of survival, such as nutritious food and medicines, the new guidelines show that just as children’s physical needs must be met for optimal growth, so must their emotional needs. 

 

Getting the world’s leading public health body to back guidelines supporting love and nurturing care was “a feat of science and advocacy decades in the making”, Ms Timsit said. 

 

While nutrition and health have long been the focus of international aid funding, it is hoped that the new guidelines may convince donors that their money would be well-spent on more holistic programs that target children’s development and environment, and not just the more measurable outcomes, such as weight and height. 

 

Bernadette Daelmans, coordinator in the department of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health at the WHO, says the guidelines are proof that a movement towards recognition of holistic development is well underway. 

 

The guidelines also mark a shift in policy makers thinking. Governments the world over, Ms Timsit said, “largely considered their responsibilities towards children to start when kids (sic.) entered school at age five or six; all the years before that were considered parents’ (and mostly mothers’) concerns.”

 

While programs which are aimed at more holistic angles of development are harder to measure, it is hoped the new guidelines will help support Governments to prioritise funding.

 

Rachel Machefsky, an early childhood development expert, was quoted in Ms Timsit’s article as saying “today, in the halls of the WHO, World Bank, or UNICEF, it’s accepted that if what you care about is human capital and cognitive development outcomes, then the very serious thing to be doing is talking, singing, playing, telling stories – that’s as essential, if not more essential than [a] good diet.”

 

For the first time, a global framework has been created, which explicitly outlines the need to move from a “survival” perspective for women and children, into a mode which promotes and prioritises child development.

 

Nigel Rollins, a researcher on maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health at the WHO, said the guidelines do something that the nurturing care framework does not.

 

“They tell us the quality and the nature of the evidence behind a recommendation” he said, explaining how the guidelines “help governments choose which interventions are feasible, equitable, and affordable, so as to eventually decide, “is this something that [we] should do and that communities and families would want?”

 

Programs that draw from the nurturing care framework could benefit from the legitimacy that the WHO’s new guidelines will bring, particularly for those in low and middle income countries, Ms Timsit said in closing.

 

To access the full article, please see here

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