Psychosocial Support

Psychosocial support (PSS) is a continuum of love, care and protection that is an essential component of nurturing care. PSS lays strong foundations for a child’s mental health, emotional and spiritual wellbeing as well as their social and cultural connectedness. The most effective and sustainable PSS for young children is provided through every day systems of nurturing and loving care and protection from their families, communities and a range of local services. Psychosocial needs are diverse, requiring coordinated response from health, social, education and other services. Good practice in PSS is gender sensitive and draws on the strengths of the child, family, community to build their resilience which leads to thriving.

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development divides the early childhood phase into 3 stages during which a child moves from total dependence on a caregiver, to greater autonomy and ability to do things for themselves to taking initiative.  This is a period of rapid physical, emotional, social, spiritual and cognitive growth and development.  PSS from those in the child’s immediate environment is especially critical for successful achievement of the tasks of these developmental stages as young children are so dependent on others.  Attachment to caregivers and the quality of nurturing care and protection that a child receives from caregivers impacts on all aspects of development.  Children who are secure in a loving, responsive relationship with a caregiver develop trust and begin to learn psychosocial skills that they need for the rest of their lives; they move on with hope, confidence in their own abilities and a sense of purpose.  All children have strengths and all face some challenges.  PSS encourages young children to develop their strengths, which allows them to confront and accommodate challenges.

PSS builds resilience in children, protecting them from stress and enhancing their mental health. When a baby’s immature brain produces a fight or flight stress response this triggers intensely distressing emotions such as fear, panic and rage.  Warm, sensitive, comforting, to-and-fro nurturing, including feeding and relieving pain, helps the baby’s brain to understand that these terrible feelings will pass, replacing them with comfort and safety.  This allows the baby to reduce or switch off the stress response.  Sustained PSS for children who have experienced toxic stress can reverse the damaging effects of stress.

Caregivers can only give warm, responsive, love, care and protection when they have good mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.  Social and other support for caregivers, from partners, other family, the broader community and service providers, enables them to thrive, even in adverse circumstances such as those resulting from COIVD-19 and the COVID restrictions, other emergency and conflict situations.  Some caregivers, such as those who experience stigma, rejection, physical or emotional pain and ill health, particularly need such support.  The UNCRC recognizes the role of parents in the upbringing and development of their children and the role of the state in supporting parents to provide care and protection.

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Key features of psychosocial support interventions that promote early Childhood Development Practices:

  • Psychosocial support is best provided through strong families and communities, mainstreamed into other services and programmes, rather than as stand alone interventions. Psychosocial support relies on multi-disciplinary service provision for children, families and communities.
  • Parents and other family caregivers of young children aware of the importance of love, care and protection for their babies and young children, with particular focus on the first 1000 days of the child’s life.
  • Parents and other family caregivers of young children supported by government services (such as health, social services and education) and communities, including faith communities, to provide love, care and protection to their babies and young children, especially when caregivers are in situations of adversity (including emergency situations, illness, physical or emotional pain, poverty) or they face exclusion or stigma (such as adolescent parents, ethnic minorities) or their young children face challenges, including illness or disability;
  • Governments and communities provide facilities for early childhood development that incorporate psychosocial support in development and humanitarian contexts;

Illustrative Interventions:

  • Raising awareness of parents and caregivers on the importance of love, care and protection for children, and of their own mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, through various forms of media, community meetings, through faith based communities, at health centres in conjunction with services for mothers and babies;
  • Parenting support groups, bringing together parents with similar experiences to reflect on ways in which they can improve their situation and that of their children e.g. discussion sessions on ways in which caregivers can give love, care and protection to young children; with group activities to improve the psychosocial wellbeing and mental health of the parents and caregivers, and to improve livelihoods at household level; with play groups for the young children to engage with one another;
  • Community mobilization and sensitization of the need to support parents / caregivers of young children so that they can provide love, care and protection to their children;
  • Community mobilization and sensitization of the need to establish community based early childhood development centres which integrate the provision of love, care and protection into developmental activities; (in rural and urban, development and emergency settings)
  • Establishment of government early childhood development services, in which teachers are trained to integrate the provision of love, care and protection into developmental activities.
  • National training for ECD providers developed and provided which includes mainstreaming of PSS
  • National ECD guidelines which include mainstreaming of PSS
  • Promote multisectoral coordination for young children and ECD as psychosocial needs are diverse.
  • Training of health and social service providers to mainstream PSS into their service provision.


General Websites

Briefs and Reports

Richter, L., Foster, G. and Sherr, L. (2006) Where the heart is: Meeting the psychosocial needs of young children in the context of HIV/AIDS. The Hague, The Netherlands: Bernard van Leer Foundation.

Program Guidance:


The Nurturing care framework for early childhood development: A framework for helping children SURVIVE and THRIVE to TRANS- FORM health and human potential builds upon state-of-the art evidence of how child development unfolds and of the effective policies and interventions that can improve early childhood de- velopment.