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.

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