Children have a higher chance of reaching their full potential if they receive love, food and nurturing care from the time they are in the womb. Added to these basic human needs, are critical services that provide access to nutrition, health care, social security, early learning and positive parenting. These elements are vital for optimal growth, wellbeing and healthy development in young children and combined, make up what is referred to as the ‘Essential Package’ of services and support for ECD. Greater access to these services contributes to improved school outcomes and increased economic productivity later in life.
Increasing access to, and the utilisation of primary health care services for children and pregnant mothers ensure that the risk of child mortality and morbidity is reduced. Primary health care services for young children and pregnant mothers are, therefore, essential for the prevention of common illnesses and the promotion of appropriate childcare and nutrition.
Nutrition intake during pregnancy and the first two years of life is critically important for both mother and child. Poor nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies can lead to potentially serious health issues. It also impacts negatively on learning capacity and physical and emotional development.
Social Services include birth registration, the Child Support Grant (CSG) and child protection and are critical for children living in poverty. The child is first required to have a birth certificate before they can access the CSG (and many other services), and this is also required before a child will be permitted to apply for grade R.
Play is the main component of early childhood stimulation and stimulation is required for healthy brain development. Stimulation activities start in the home with opportunities for play, manipulating objects, problem-solving, exploration and discovery. Age and stage interventions support language development, creativity and critical thinking.
When a caregiver’s mental or physical wellbeing is compromised, the capacity to care for young children suffers as a result, and child outcomes such as health, nutritional status, and psychological development are affected. Parenting education programmes and psychosocial support promote caregiver wellbeing and bonding while reducing the risk of neglect and under-nutrition in the young child.