Early Childhood Development
© UNICEF Bulgaria/2013/Pirozzi
Early childhood – from birth to the age of 8 years – is an exciting period of life filled with many changes that make a long-lasting impact on the child’s personality, health, behavior, abilities for future realization in adulthood. During those first years of life, the baby or the young child obtains and strengthens very quickly some key social, intellectual, verbal, emotional abilities that gradually turns him or her from a helpless and totally dependent from adults to active, seeking and capable human being.
Child development is a complex and dynamic process which is affected by both genetic precondition and current condition of the material and social environment in which the child grows. To be able to get a best start in their life and to develop their potential, babies and young children need healthy food, access to quality healthcare, safe and stimulating family environment, strong emotional connection with a significant adult and diverse possibilities for learning from birth onwards. The health and emotional wellbeing of women during pregnancy and delivery of the baby are also crucial factors.
Young children are full bearers of all the rights guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – from the very start of their life, birth. They have to be regarded as independent persons and active members of their families, communities and societies. The Convention and the General comment №7 (2005) by the Committee on the rights of the child regarding the realization of child rights at an early age, highlight the following principles for guaranteeing children’s wellbeing at an early age:
:: Every child has the right to survive and thrive. The states that are signatories to the Convention have to guarantee not only the physical survival and health of children at an early age, but also the possibility for them for reach their full potential at a later stage of life. For that to happen, states must ensure that children are provided with the most favorable environment for the intellectual, social and emotional development of young children from the very beginning, birth.
:: The best interest of a child is central for every action or decision which concerns the young children. Those young children have to be supported in accordance with their growing abilities, and encouraged to take part in the decision-making process regarding issues that concern them directly or indirectly.
:: Families and parents play a decisive role for the realization of rights in early childhood. Babies and young children develop their abilities in contact with adults – parents and other relatives who carry the major responsibility for children’s best interest and wellbeing. The states who are signatories to the Convention have the obligation to provide the necessary support for parents so that they could be able to ensure the best care for their children.
The efforts of UNICEF in Bulgaria are focused on the creation of new services so that:
- every child in early age could receive quality health care, healthy food, stimulation from birth;
- every child could grow in a safe, stimulating and supportive family environment which strengthens his or her development in all relevant aspects;
- every woman could have access to quality health care during pregnancy and delivery of the baby;
- every child could receive quality early learning and care, and to enroll in school with the necessary preparation of skills;
- every family and parent could receive adequate support so that they are able to provide their children with the best possible care and responsibility.
Bulgaria has well-established traditions in providing the best possible conditions for the development of young children and support of families. Among the most important achievements of the country are: protection of motherhood; labor legislation that allows a paid maternity leave for birth and raising of children to up to 2 years; free health services for children; a well-developed public system for early learning and care – with a high share of reach among children; child protection policies and alternatives to family care; a social benefits system for families and children at risk.
Despite all the achievements described above, the country is faced with a serious challenge – to ensure the best start in life for every child in Bulgaria. High infant and child mortality rates, the big number of pregnant women who don’t have access to health care because they don’t have health insurance; the large share of children who live in poverty or at risk of social exclusion; the low levels of breast-feeding which do not comply with international requirement; the lack of understanding among parents about the importance of early interaction and communication with children; the low reach to disadvantaged children by the systems for early learning and care – these are all factors that put many children at risk of not being able to fulfil their potential in life.
Early childhood in the period when societies and families can contribute to every child’s right to survive and thrive. They can do that through conscious and deliberate measures and actions that would lead to reduction of inequalities which are deeply enrooted in biological and socio-economic precondition.
UNICEF in Bulgaria works in partnership with the Government, local authorities, civil society, business, professional communities, families for enabling early childhood development for every child.
- Our activities in the sphere of early childhood development are directed at:
:: awareness raising regarding early childhood development as a crucial period for every child’s wellbeing;
:: improving of maternity and child health through the guaranteed access of every child and every pregnant woman to quality health care and education;
:: support for parents and strengthening of their abilities, attitudes, knowledge for providing the best possible environment for boosting the physical, social, emotional and learning skills of children from the very start, birth;
:: early identification of children at risk of development problems and provision of early intervention;
:: guaranteeing the access to early learning and care for every child, especially the most disadvantaged ones;
- endorsing support and investment in early childhood development as a national priority;
- implementing of a holistic approach in child care which boosts with equal significance the physical, psychological, emotional, social, cognitive development of every child from birth until enrollment in school;
- National, integrated policies oriented towards the needs of children at an early age and support for their families;
- reduction of inequalities regarding the access to quality health care, social and educational services for children at an early stage of life, as well as for their families;
- creation of favorable public attitudes and supportive environment for the wellbeing of every child at an early age and for his or her family.
- 7,6 per 1,000 (thousand) was the infant mortality – among children aged 0-1, in 2014;
- more than 8 600 women in 2014 lacked access to health care during their pregnancy because they did not have health insurance;
- in 2014, 3 162 girls under the age of 18 became mothers;
- 25,8% of children aged 1-5 years suffer from different stages of anemia (data from 2007);
- only 29% of children in villages and 31% of Roma children attend kindergartens.
Project „Center for maternal and child health” (description, progress, achievements, reports)
Encouraging of early learning and care (description of activities, reports)
Research on social norms