Across the forum’s 3 years and nine global workshops, forum members and speakers representing a range of sectors and disciplines have come together to address three fundamental questions:
- Why should stakeholders invest in young children?
- What are promising areas for investment to support young children?
- How can stakeholders invest in young children and what are important considerations?
As stated by Bhutta, these thoughtful and timely discussions highlighted the importance of investing in young children and their caregivers and underscored the assertion that the time and opportunity to invest is now. The transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals offers a unique window for action. As reflected above and in the proceedings from each workshop, multiple participants presented significant evidence that investments in young children are necessary, cost-effective, and achievable. According to Masten, investing in young children can yield high returns to individual children and families, as well as to society, over the life course and across generations.
Children have multidimensional needs across the areas of social protection, health, nutrition, and education. Consequently, investments in these domains that are culturally responsive, grounded in the research, and coordinated may help support children’s, growth, development, and well-being, stated Bhutta. While programs and policies have many universal elements from one community to another, several individual workshop speakers emphasized that many groups of children have unique needs, and that programs and policies should be adapted to the needs of specific groups as well as to the channels for reaching them. For example, children living in complex and pressing circumstances such as mass migration, natural disaster, infectious disease outbreak, and civil conflict might necessitate more intentional and multidimensional investments, reflected Masten. During these times, special protections can be important for children, and many workshop speakers recommended that decision makers consider a range of factors that may affect the child, including brain development, social environment, family circumstances, and the national political climate. This might be especially relevant for children with developmental delays and disabilities; children living outside of family care; ethnic minorities; migrant, immigrant, or refugee children; and children from other marginalized groups.
Multiple speakers mentioned that the strategies employed when investing in young children deserve as much attention as the investments themselves. Investing only in education or nutrition at the exclusion of social protection and health may not effectively maximize those investments. Possible considerations
for making investments in children include the benefits of collaboration, coordination, and alignment across sectors; coordination of financial investments across ministries and agencies; integration of programming across different platforms to address social protection, health, nutrition, and education; and targeting investments across the life course. There are many promising and evidence-based practices that stakeholders and decision makers can learn from and build upon. These also include opportunities for outreach services in community settings through health and education workers and linking to poverty alleviation strategies. To facilitate scaling and the expansion of programs and policies to invest in children and their caregivers, Bhutta and Masten stated that stakeholders can measure and periodically assess policies and programs to ensure they are meeting anticipated goals; developing capacity in leadership, research, and service provision; and using integrated models of development.
The forum gained substantial knowledge during its 3-year tenure. The research, policies, and programs highlighted in the nine global workshops provide a global resource for learning and solid platform for decision makers to build on. This unique collaboration sparked a global dialogue on investing in young children and their caregivers that we hope will guide and inspire future efforts to carry on this vitally important conversation with the goal of improving the lifelong well-being of young children and the future of their societies.