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.
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.
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.
The Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN) is an alliance of over a hundred organizations and networks and thousands of members.