In Wales the ‘early years’ is one of the Welsh Government’s stated five cross-cutting priorities. It is defined as the period of life from pre-birth to the end of Foundation Phase, or 0 to 7 years of age.
These years are a crucial time for children. Children grow rapidly and both their physical and mental development are affected by the environment in which they find themselves. The first three years of life are particularly important for healthy development due to the fast rate of neurological growth that occurs during this period. There is an abundance of research showing that investing in the first years of a child’s life improves outcomes for them throughout the rest of their lives.
The UNCRC is an international treaty which outlines children’s rights under the three main umbrellas:
Young children are closely linked to a family unit. The Convention strongly recognises and supports parents and families and their crucial role and responsibilities for protecting and caring for children and helping them acquire values and standards (Articles 5 and 18).
How a society views children can have a strong relation to policy development. Are they ‘empty vessels’ at the start of life and are made ‘ready to learn’ and ‘ready for school’ during the early years? Or are they curious, capable and intelligent individuals, a co-creator of knowledge who needs and wants interaction with other children and adults?
Today, politicians and policy makers along with researchers and academics are aware of the significance of the early years. Wales’s policies strongly recognise, acknowledge and invest in the early years as seen in Building a Brighter Future: Early Years and Childcare Plan, Flying Start, Healthy Child Wales Programme and First 1000 days.
While awareness of the early experiences having a key role in the health outcome of later life, science has further explained that the quality of the environments around children greatly impacts their early experiences and shapes their health outcomes.
In order to understand child development in general, and the development of any particular child, we need to keep in mind three aspects; the child as an individual, their environment, and the socioeconomic culture which surrounds the child and family (Siraj-Blatchford et al, 2012).
Every child is unique and their needs will reflect this; most of what children learn in the first few years, they often discover naturally for themselves and they do it in their own way and time. The environment children grow up in both in terms of physical space and social environment play a vital role in their development. Hence the need for positive and nurturing interactions and care from primary caregivers.
However, development also happens within the socioeconomic culture surrounding the child. In Wales 29% of children are living in Poverty1. We need to be aware that children are affected by policy across a wide canvas. For example, the effect of policies relating to tax, benefits and incentives will have implications for many children. Many aspects of the UNCRC have direct and discrete impact on the first 7 years of a child’s life.