Calling for a two generation approach to child development


Over the years there has been a long standing recognition that child development is influenced by conditions facing families and in turn families are influenced by the community around them. These concepts have recently received renewed attention through a new report released by the World Bank, Stepping Up Early Childhood Development: Investing in Young Children for High Returns (Denboba et al, 2014). The document provides a simple guide for policymakers and practitioners about how to invest in young children and families.

Ascend at Aspen Institute defines two generation approaches as those that “focus on creating opportunities for and addressing needs of both vulnerable parents and children together”. The new report from the World Bank highlights 25 interventions, grouped into five packages (pregnancy, birth, child health, preschool and family support). It reflects a two generation approach by including interventions directly focused on young children as well as a continuum of interventions that support families throughout the early childhood years from conception to 6 years.

The family support package as outlined in the report consists of twelve different clusters of interventions and services to support both young children and their families. Along with five interventions focused on health, nutrition and sanitation for families, the seven parental supports for vulnerable families include:

  • Maternal education
  • Planning for family size and spacing
  • Education about early growth and development
  • Social assistance transfer programmes
  • Prevention and treatment of parental depression
  • Parental leave and adequate child care
  • Child protective services

As investments in early childhood grow and new policies emerge, it will be important to reinforce this two generation approach by ensuring that we plan services in a way that builds on multiple platforms and integrates services for children with services that support their families. On the ground, this can take various forms, for example:

  • An employment or training programme for parents can include a quality child care option for the children.
  • An early childhood development programme can be coupled with an initiative to support maternal education or break the isolation that can lead to parental depression.
  • A preschool programme can pay special attention to family engagement and the promotion of networks of support for families.

chart of key interventions for young children and their families

At the policy level, it means that those agencies planning for adult services should be mindful of the needs of children, and that child serving agencies should recognise the holistic needs of families.

As the report points out, “while interventions can be delivered by individual sectors, packaging several interventions together can often be more efficient and may yield greater impact”. Stepping Up Early Childhood Development provides a roadmap for planning services for young children and their families and reflects the potential that a two generation approach to policy and service delivery holds for the future.

Originally posted on the Bernard Van Leer Foundation blog.