The state of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world’s most vulnerable children

Report on the ECPC "Global Call to Action in Response to COVID-19 for Children in Fragile and Conflict-affected Settings", delivered by ECPC member experts at the G20 Civil Society (C20) Virtual Summit – C20 Saudi Arabia 2020

Click above to read the fully interactive, downloadable and sharable 21-page ECPC report.


G20 Civil Society 20 (C20) Virtual Summit — C20 Saudi Arabia 2020

The ECPC Global to Action — Response to COVID-19 for children in fragile and conflict-affected settings: The promise of early childhood development

 

A young migrant girl, wearing a Covid-19 protection mask, is relocating from the overcrowded refugee camp on Lesbos Island to the Greek mainland, May 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)


At the G20 Civil Society 20 (C20) Virtual Summit — C20 Saudi Arabia 2020, the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC), by acceptance, held a live panel session based on the ECPC Global Call to Action Response to COVID-19 for Children in Fragile and Conflict-affected Settings: The Promise of Early Childhood Development.
 

A panel of six international experts representing Yale University, UNICEF, Early Years, the Arab Network for Early Childhood Development, and World Vision demonstrated by science and practice the vital importance of ECD strategies and services to mitigate the immediate and long-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis and its indirect consequences on the world’s most vulnerable children and families.

 

The panel assessed global efforts towards achieving universal access to inclusive Early Childhood Care and Education, most notably for children living in situations of violent conflict, war, and displacement, and looked at the global actions needed to expand and guarantee access.


What you will find in the sections below:

  1. A brief introduction to the science and practice of early childhood development with respect to peacebuilding,
  2. A video recording of the C20 Summit ECPC panel session,
  3. Highlights per each of the six presentations that are featured in this report, and
  4. Recommended actions.

1. What science and practice say

Millions of children today are trapped in situations of domestic violence, other violent conflicts including war, military occupation, and displacement. Neurobiological research shows that adversity and “toxic stress” have a detrimental effect on young children’s physical and mental health, their social and emotional development, safety, economic security, and access to education.
 

Science heralds a new era

Science heralds a new era in which early childhood development (ECD) is a vital point of entry to promote a Culture of Peace, by reducing inequalities and promoting sustainable economic productivity, and by building in children a strong foundation for resilience, social justice, and social cohesion through ECD programs and services of proven value.
 

Is nurturing care in early childhood a determinant to health?

The burgeoning field of early childhood development (ECD) continues to generate new knowledge and build better capacity to meet ongoing challenges around the globe in helping all children reach their full developmental potential. Advances in neuroscience and economic studies demonstrate that early childhood experiences can have a profound impact on brain development and on a child’s subsequent learning, social and emotional, and physical health.
 
Quality ECD programs and services that focus on creating and sustaining nurturing environments can not only improve a child’s short-term developmental outcomes but also improve long-term outcomes later in adulthood, including increased financial earnings.
 

How does long-term investment in early childhood development lead to more peaceful and sustainable societies?

A recent random control study (RCT) led by Yale University substantiates the evidence on why investing in quality ECD programs and services can make significant contributions by showing that early childhood parenting education programs have a positive impact on disciplinary practices and parenting stress for families that experience humanitarian crises such as exposure to conflict, displacement, and economic marginalization.
 
 

What the evidence shows

ECD interventions, designed to foster context-specific peace-relevant attitudes, skills, and knowledge in children, families, and communities can lead to:
  1. increased vertical and horizontal social cohesion,
  2. reduced risk of transgenerational transmission of violence, and
  3. increased economic growth and sustainable development.
See: Developing a competent early years system: The importance of leadership and governance

2. Video recording — ECPC panel session, G20 Civil Society 20 (C20) Virtual Summit 2020

ECPC C20 Summit 2020 panel session: “Response to COVID-19 for Children in Fragile and Conflict-affected Settings: The Promise of Early Childhood Development”

Video appearances by a multidisciplinary team of ECPC experts include:

  1. Rima Salah, PhD — ECPC Chairperson, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Yale Child Study Center, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations
  2. James F. Leckman, MD, PhD — Neison Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology in the Yale Child Study Center
  3. Siobhan Fitzpatrick, CBE — Former Chief Executive Officer, Early Years — the organisation for young children (N. Ireland)
  4. Nada Elattar, MPH — Early Childhood Development Specialist — Emergencies, UNICEF
  5. Ghassan Issa, MD — Co-Founder, Arab Network for Early Childhood Development, Lebanon
  6. Ana Tenorio, MA, MS — Global Technical Director, Education, TSO, World Vision International

3. ECPC report highlights

The ECPC panel session report features six presentations by the multidisciplinary team of ECPC experts indicated above. Below are highlights from each of their presentations.
 

01 Presentation — “The state of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world’s most vulnerable children

by Rima Salah, PhD — ECPC Chairperson, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Yale Child Study Center, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, and former member of the United Nations High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations
 
Dr. Salah commenced the panel session by underscoring that millions of children are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, especially now due to the short-term and projected long-term detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their wellbeing.
 
She further explained, “The pandemic severely affects young children’s physical and mental health, their social and emotional development, safety, economic security, and access to education and recreational activities, which [has] lead to an unprecedented crisis of care and learning.”
 
She asserted that because children living in conflict zones are at high risk, regarding under-five mortality rates and displacement, the international community must play a major role in reducing the long- and short-term detrimental effects of the pandemic on these most vulnerable children.
 
She called on the G20 and other world leaders to honor the commitments they made in the G20 Initiative for Early Childhood Development (2018) to invest in early childhood development (ECD) programs and services. She affirmed, in doing so, we pave the way toward building “… a Culture of Peace at home, in the community and society”.

02 Presentation — “Pathways to a More Peaceful World: The Transformative Power of Children and Families

by James F. Leckman, MD, PhD — Neison Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology in the Yale Child Study Center
 
Dr. Leckman emphasized that a young child’s healthy development depends upon the child receiving from parents and caregivers, “nurturing care” that extends across the five sectors of high-quality health care, nutrition, education, child protection, and social protection.
 
Today, many of the issues that families and children face, he added, are “compounded by situations of war, conflict, and migration”. Dr. Leckman asserted that the field of early childhood development has more work to do, calling on the international community “to make sure that every child receives adequate nurturing care.”
 
He asserted that “we need to take action to make our world a better place for our children and for future generations” and that the international community must focus on “one child at a time”, from generation to generation. Essential next steps, he underscored, include a commitment to refine and implement, in a sustainable fashion, ECD services and programs of proven value across the globe.

03 Presentation — “Empowering Families and Communities Through Quality Early Childhood Services

by Siobhán Fitzpatrick, CBE — Former Chief Executive Officer, Early Years — the organisation for young children (N. Ireland)

Dr. Fitzpatrick emphasized the positive impact that high-quality early childhood care and education can have on families and communities impacted by both conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
She argued that ECD should not be restricted to the sole focus of the child, but the international community must also adopt a “community development perspective” as well (Connolly et al., 2007).
 
She noted that “Early childhood services operating from this community development perspective can also support and build resilience, promote social cohesion, and build and sustain connections between families and the wider communities,” especially in divided conflict-affected societies (Connolly et al., 2010).
 
Dr. Fitzpatrick underscored that “We need to advocate strongly that gender equality, inclusion, empowerment of children, parents, caregivers, and communities, and integrated early childhood services are at the center of all COVID-19 responses and recovery efforts.” She concluded by outlining four strategies to help ensure that early childhood services are inclusive, equitable, and can contribute to building more cohesive societies.

04 Presentation — “Supporting Our Caregivers Through Home-based Services and Resources

by Nada Elattar, MPH — Early Childhood Development Specialist — Emergencies, UNICEF
 
Ms. Elattar also reinforced a common theme among panelists, how investment in early childhood services can lead to economic growth. Citing the work of economist and Nobel Laureate Dr. James Heckman, she reported that for every single U.S. dollar spent on early childhood development, the return on investment can be upwards of 17 U.S. dollars (see UNICEF, 2020; see also Economic Benefits of Early Childhood Development Investments).
 
Inaction, Ms. Elattar emphasized, can have devastating consequences on a child’s health and educational growth. Investing in ECD services can lead to a child’s optimal learning and health outcomes, which can in turn reduce healthcare and educational costs, she explained.
 
In conclusion, Ms. Elattar underscored that “we are not talking about early childhood development as a bonus, or a plus, or an added thing.” Instead, she asserted, “these are fundamental rights of children.” Children have guaranteed rights “to adequate nutrition, to health, to education, learning, to protection, to development… to responsive care, and…play-based opportunities”.

05 Presentation — “COVID-19s Impact on Young Children in the Middle East

by Ghassan Issa, MD — Co-founder and the General Coordinator of an Arab regional non-governmental organization, Director of ANECD — the Arab Network for Early Childhood Development (Lebanon)
Dr. Issa drew attention to the adverse impact that COVID-19 has had on the political, social, and economic systems in the Middle East. Findings from ANECDs recent fieldwork show that refugees and internally displaced people are suffering especially from “food insecurity, violence, traumatic and post-traumatic mental health disorders”, he said. Unfortunately, these inherited problems impact “the most significant entry point for community social justice, social cohesion, and peacebuilding efforts and consequently, political stability and economic recovery,” he underscored.
 
He called for increased investment in young children and families to combat these political and economic concerns. He emphasized that this cannot be achieved without “a global solidarity movement among governmental institutions, civil society bodies, academics, activists from different countries, regional and international networks, institutions and UN agencies in the field of early childhood care and development.”
 
He asserted that the international community must “ensure that all children in all countries and communities enjoy their rights, happiness, and wellbeing in an enriching environment of freedom, social justice, and equity.”

06 Presentation — “The Importance of Faith-based Leaders and Educating Our Young Children

by Ana Tenorio, MA, MS — Global Technical Director, Education, TSO, World Vision International (Representing ECPC Advisory Board member, Dilshan Manoj Annaraj, World Vision International)
Ms. Tenorio spotlighted the importance of community leaders and networks in helping parents and children better cope during times of crisis. She explained that establishing and using community networks are vital in that they quite often become the last resort for caregivers who urgently need resources and aid, such as healthcare, nutrition, and educational services, which become absent or intermittent.
 
She underscored the important role of community faith-based leaders in helping families better cope during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. She reported that nearly 85 percent of the world’s population follow a religious tradition, making faith-based leaders invaluable resources for families (The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2012).
 
She reported that nearly 1.6 billion learners are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those, nearly 40 million early childhood-aged children are not participating in preschool education (United Nations, 2020).
 
She emphasized the crucial role that early childhood education plays in a child’s development. The early years, she contended, are when a child’s “capacity to learn, to adapt to change” and build “psychological resilience…are formed.” Missing this vital window, she underscored, makes it more difficult for a child’s brain to get back on track later.

4. Our global responsibility to champion the rights of the child — is now.

The purpose of investing in early childhood is not only to acquire economic dividends, but to guarantee that all children globally are guaranteed their basic human rights while simultaneously developing to their fullest potential, enabling them to become contributing and innovative members of inclusive and cohesive societies, agents of change for peace, and inheritors of a just world, from generation to generation.
 

Take Action

The ECPC report culminates with four recommended approaches that the international community can adopt to help ensure that all children adequately develop to their full potential during and beyond the pandemic. These involve:
  1. Utilizing a one-child-at-time approach
  2. Providing for the needs of parents
  3. Building community partnerships
  4. Offering additional creative and innovative strategies
Be informed. Read the fully interactive, downloadable, and sharable 21-page ECPC report: The State of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the World’s Most Vulnerable Children.

About the G20 Civil Society 20 (C20)

As one of the Group of Twenty’s (G20) eight official engagement groups, the C20 has a diverse coalition of civil leaders spanning across 80 countries who play a prominent role in fostering social and economic justice across the international community and holding our world leaders accountable for protecting the rights of all people. This year’s summit, hosted by C20 Saudi Arabia 2020, drew 40,000 participants and focused on 5 core themes:
  1. The world’s response and recovery to COVID-19,
  2. Economic and social justice,
  3. Sustainable development,
  4. Protection of human rights as well as the accountability, and
  5. transparency of governments across the world.
 

About the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

Where all children are the stars of today and leaders of tomorrow!
 
The ECPC is a global movement of United Nations agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, academia, practitioners, and the private sector focused on sharing scientific and practice-based evidence on how investment in early childhood development (ECD) can contribute to sustainable peace, social cohesion, and social justice. We recognize that investing in ECD is a powerful and cost-effective strategy for reducing violence, poverty, and exclusion and for building peaceful societies.

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