Early childhood, which spans the period up to 8 years of age, is critical for cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. During these years, a child’s newly developing brain is highly plastic and responsive to change as billions of integrated neural circuits are established through the interaction of genetics, environment and experience. Optimal brain development requires a stimulating environment, adequate nutrients and social interaction with attentive caregivers.
Early childhood development encompasses many dimensions of a child’s well-being, so measuring it is an imprecise science. UNICEF has been working with countries to close this knowledge gap and to develop specific indicators in three vital areas of measurement:
- the quality of care within a child’s home environment;
- access to early childhood care and education;
- the overall developmental status of children
Data in all three of these areas are being collected through the UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS). Along with existing evidence about the developing brain, data from MICS and other household surveys provide a compelling case for more effective, better resourced and targeted interventions in early childhood development.