Early childhood development and the role of the father

I attended the launch of the HEART Early Childhood Development (ECD) topic guide this week.

Experts who attended put emphasis on parenting and nurture. Nutrition programmes are currently the strongest element in ECD. As a way forward there was a suggestion that parenting advice could be built into existing nutrition programmes.

The importance of early nurturing was emphasised and research was highlighted that identified nurture as having a higher impact on child development than poverty.

Some points were made about educating mothers for early childhood stimulation and improved nurturing. I feel strongly that fathers should be included in this discourse and action. A nurturing mother is important but an inattentive or abusive father can still be damaging. The mother-child bond can be isolating for the father and can cause resentment. Interventions to achieve the best early nurturing and stimulation for a child should aim to include the father to avoid perpetuating this. There are traditional, social and cultural norms creating barriers to addressing this but that should not stop us from looking at the issue. A fatherhood project in South Africa has seen some success.

This is one of the many points that could be picked up on in the huge area of ECD. The topic guide does well to include evidence on many issues such as antenatal preparation, breast feeding, newborn care, infant nutrition, community-based day care, pre-school, school readiness, WASH and many more. Unfortunately there was not space in the guide to cover this enormous breadth of issues in depth. The hope is that this can be the start of a more extensive resource going forwards.

One of the challenges in addressing the breadth of this topic is in looking at what would be effective to integrate ideas across themes. The author of the guide, Martin Woodhead, suggests that we should be integrated in our vision. Implementation of a scheme covering all elements of ECD is likely to be cumbersome and ineffective. Some examples of quick-wins and piggy-backing are highlighted in the guide and may be a realistic way forward for action.

By Laura Bolton, Research Officer, HEART, IDS

The hashtag #ECD4dev can be used to join in the conversation with others who have accessed the Topic Guide.

3 comments on “Early childhood development and the role of the father

  • December 17, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I agree that fathers’ crucial roles don’t get much attention in new ECD Topic Guide. This is partly a reflection of the imbalances in the research literature, as well as priorities of programming which is most often child-centric and mother-centric, and too often plays lip-service to the important role of fathers, wider family members, as well as young children’s siblings and peers.

    We introduce a holistic systemic framework (based on Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model) at the start of the guide, which is useful in recognising fathers’ actual (and potential) impact as you mention – both directly on the child, and through the quality of parent relationships. A systemic framework also draws attention to more indirect affects on children’s well-being through through fathers’ (and mothers’) economic activity, household poverty levels, access to social protection etc. And of course fathers – and men in general – are all too often holding the power and making the key decisions that affect children’s well-being at all levels – within households through to government ministries.

    In the UK we have a Fatherhood Institute on these issues

    Maybe overdue to launch a global campaign on strengthening the role of fathers in ECD?
    Maybe it is time for a global campaign

  • December 23, 2014 at 11:59 am

    The social and economic situations in industrialized countries are different from that of third world countries. Division of labor based on gender is more common in low income countries than in industrialized countries. As men are are usually engaged in outdoor activities and field works, women are mostly responsible for indoor activities and household chores and early child care practices. Mothers and grandmothers are given the role of looking after children (caring & feeding). Hence, this difference should be taken into account when developing a manual to involve both parents in effort to enhance child care practices across different social and economic contexts.

  • January 2, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Quite right Temeklu. Social and economic situations differ around the world but the joy of children is universal. It is often the case in less developed countries that fathers are away from the household working long hours. And what better way to spend any time at home than reaping the rewards of interacting with their children. In an ideal world this may lead to some balancing of roles. Mothers may be encouraged to seek work outside the home to contribute financially so fathers don’t have to miss out so much. Suitable employment opportunities for women is, of course, a challenge which needs addressing as part of this.


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