Ensuring Parenting Support through Early Childhood Care and Education

Malawi’s Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Annie Kaliati (centre) during the UNESCO World Conference. (Photo credit: UNESCO)

On the first day of UNESCO’s 2022 World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education, ECDAN and its partners in the Global Initiative to Support Parents (GISP)—UNICEF, WHO, Parenting for Lifelong Health at the University of Oxford, and the End Violence Partnership—hosted a session on parenting. Available for viewing in its entirety here, this event provided an excellent opportunity to elevate parenting as a fundamental priority for ensuring Early Childhood Development (ECD) and explored the important role the education sector has to play in ensuring access to quality evidence-based parenting support.

Our keynote speaker, UNICEF Head of Campaigns & Advocacy Benjamin Perks, keenly noted to the crowded room that experts estimate young children ask their parents around 100 questions per hour. This is a testament to what goes on during the intense period of brain development and to the relatable challenge of being a parent during this time. It should also lead us to ask one big question of our own as members of the ECD community: Are we investing enough in parenting programs to optimize lifelong learning?   

Perhaps the answer is ‘no’ right now, but it doesn’t have to be and the pathway to ‘yes’ is not as long as we may think. Evidence continues to show that programs providing support to parents are as feasible as they are impactful.

Despite the evidence, many stakeholders shy away from parenting programs because they assume it means trying to standardize one of the most culturally-specific and family-specific aspects of life. Yet, all children indeed face an identical set of risks that parents can prevent and a vast potential that parents can help them fulfill. In short, when we eliminate the risks of harsh parenting and neglect, we engender a sense of attachment and belonging that is essential to learning; and when we bring learning through play into our households, we prepare young children to become lifelong learners by fostering their socioemotional and cognitive development

Parenting support can be delivered reasonably and effectively across multiple sectors, including through the health and education systems, and across the life course. Moreover, technology like smartphone apps is increasing the reach, timeliness and frequency of our ability to communicate with parents. 

A panel discussion during the session involving representatives from Malawi, Indonesia, and Brazil demonstrated the diverse forms that parenting support initiatives can take in early childhood. This includes areas like nutritional support, reducing mental health problems, and treating childhood illnesses. Malawi’s Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Annie Kaliati notably emphasized that parenting interventions are critical well before and after the 1000-day early childhood period. That is, they should begin during pregnancy and last at least until a child has reached eight years of age. Her commentary reinforced the importance of recognizing that ECD is not composed of distinct stages, but instead of linked interventions and role players over time.

Representatives from the LEGO Foundation and Porticus also spoke as part of the panel discussion, providing lessons from their initiatives for parents and caregivers around the world, especially those living in crisis contexts. Finally, the audience actively participated with questions and commentary, covering such themes as the under-targeting of fathers in parenting support interventions, the challenge of achieving reach in rural areas, and the potential use of cash transfers to facilitate certain parenting aspects. 

In the end, it’s an issue of making parenting interventions a policy priority and then focusing our efforts on coordinating effective scaling from universal to intensive and targeted interventions for vulnerable populations. As the Global Initiative to Support Parents continues to advocate for universal access to parenting support everywhere in the world.Support us by learning more about GISP.

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Execerpt from the GISP postcard

For more questions on the initiative, please reach out to:

Shekufeh Zonji

Global Technical Lead, ECDAN

[email protected]

Amanda Germanio

Global Initiative to Support Parents Coordinator

[email protected]