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Supporting caregivers in their most precious task of all – raising their children.
Parents and caregivers are the chief architects of early childhood development. Like no one else, they shape the experiences that build their children’s brains and set them on a path towards healthy development.
Parenting – whether it’s taken on by a mother, a father, a grandparent, sibling or another relative, or another adult – is the job of providing nurturing care throughout childhood, preparing children to live in society, form relationships, learn, work and thrive. In early childhood, parenting offers the opportunity to set a foundation for lifelong success.
Parents and caregivers are entrusted with nourishing growing bodies as well as developing brains. It’s a multifaceted, time-sensitive and ever-evolving job, in which each element – from proper feeding and health checkups to singing and playing, from cuddling and creating stable routines to protecting children from harm – is indispensable for babies and young children to not just survive, but reach their full potential and thrive.
There is great power in the simplest acts of parenting – the unstructured, playful and loving moments that caregivers share with their babies and young children. Whatever a family’s circumstances, growing up feeling loved makes a critical difference for young children, protecting them from the effects of stress and disadvantage.
Providing nurturing care takes time, resources and services. But these essential ingredients are in short supply for many parents and caregivers around the world, who contend with poverty, deprivation, conflict and other crises; lack access to quality services; or are stretched thin as a result of poor mental health, stress or the struggle to balance family life and work responsibilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic, meanwhile, has thrust parents and caregivers into the role of frontline responders. School shutdowns and overstretched services have piled on additional responsibilities – from teaching at home to managing health care needs to balancing work with added hours of childcare – while taking away critical support.
Parents and caregivers from the most vulnerable communities and those living in humanitarian contexts are bearing the greatest burdens, while many more are left feeling overwhelmed and alone.
Parenting is too big a job for parents and caregivers to do alone. They need support to give their children the best possible start in life.
UNICEF strives to be a trusted partner for parents and caregivers everywhere, to support them in their most precious task of all – raising their children.
Strengthening integrated services for early childhood development (ECD) is one key part of this support. We work with governments, businesses, civil society, academia and other partners to promote parents’ and caregivers’ access to ECD services, and to help strengthen the service providers that support them.
These evidence-based interventions assist caregivers in two important ways:
1. By equipping them with the skills to provide nurturing care
2. By bolstering their own mental health and emotional well-being.
When caregivers receive the support and skills to cope with stress and manage their mental health, they are better able to care for their children.
UNICEF’s parenting resources and ECD programmes seek to empower caregivers to give their children the best start in life, providing knowledge of what babies and young children need and how to provide it. We work around the world to raise awareness, empower parents and communities, build demand for ECD services and amplify the voices of parents.
Our parenting programmes elevate the particular needs of children with disabilities, because intervention during early childhood is key to identifying, preventing and managing disabilities. And because children’s gender identity takes shape in early childhood – while gender-unequal norms can already begin to constrain their life trajectories – we incorporate positive gender socialization and norms that promote gender equality, right from the start.
So that parents and caregivers can meet their children’s needs while making a living, UNICEF works with governments, businesses and civil society to strengthen enabling environments for ECD, including through family-friendly policies. These include paid parental leave, for both mothers and fathers; support for breastfeeding; affordable, accessible, high-quality childcare; child benefits and adequate wages. Evidence shows that such policies contribute to thriving children and happier families – as well as gender equality, workforce productivity and sustainable economic growth.