In 2020 Eurochild, ISSA, Roma Education Fund and European Public Health Alliance launched the First Years First Priority Campaign to highlight the need for more focus on early childhood development (ECD) and to ensure that all children can have the best start in life. As a member of Eurochild, Early Childhood Ireland provided the Irish case study. The campaign seeks to increase the understanding and support of early childhood development in government policymaking and public investment as well as among families, communities, and the general public so that early child development becomes a public policy priority.
There is a wealth of evidence of the importance of ECD in shaping children’s lifelong outcomes and opportunities. Therefore, governments have a critical role in supporting parents, families and caregivers through creating a system of policies and services that meet the needs of young children and their families. Child poverty and social exclusion affect children from their beginnings so early intervention are essential in tackling discrimination and ensuring that all children have access to quality services and support. It is important to pay special attention to the most marginalised children and to babies and the youngest children.
COVID has exposed and worsened existing social inequalities and the effects on young children and their families have been severe, demonstrating the need for a recovery that builds in the long-term, more resilient early childhood systems. Public investment in early childhood is one of the most visionary and effective policy measures that government can take. Proper investment in nurturing care and quality early years services is a key lever in tackling child poverty inequality and social exclusion.
Key Findings from Analysis of Early Childhood Indicators across Policy Areas
The analysis undertaken by ISSA summarises the situation of young children across 6 policy areas impacting their development based on data collected in 9 EU countries along with the consolidation of this data in one cross country analysis. The cross-country analysis draws attention to 4 key findings impacting ECD and some priorities for policymaking and investment in early childhood at the EU and country level.
The 6 policy areas are Child Poverty Maternal and child health and nutrition Child safety and security. Cross-sectoral coordination for ECD. Parenting and family support Early Learning ECEC
A set of comprehensive indicators was assigned to each policy area, however, once the research was underway it revealed limited data for ECD related indicators especially for children under 6 and even more limited for children under 3 and their families. This was the case for all 9 countries and across all 6 policy areas.
1. Scarcity of data on children’s early years especially under 3 years.
2. Limited or non-existent disaggregated data on the lives of young children under 6, even less under 3 years.
3. Across countries there is a need to guarantee universal access to ECEC services especially for those under 3 and those who are most in need, alongside greater support for families with young children. This requires increased public investment in ECEC and parenting services as well as strengthening the capacity and prof dev of the ECD workforce.
4. There is a need for an integrated multi-sectoral approach to early childhood, with leadership and coordination that addresses children’s and families needs in a comprehensive way.
The Role of the EU in upholding children’s rights in early childhood
The EU Child Guarantee and the EU Strategy of the Rights of the Child, both ground-breaking initiatives, present the timely opportunity to take real action on early childhood at a national level. With 24.2% of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2020 and the full extent of the impact of COVID 19 yet to be understood, the effective implementation of the EU Child Guarantee across member states is essential to develop integrated cross-sector approaches to fully realise what the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child recognises as every children’s right to an adequate standard of living and equal opportunities from their earliest years.