Early childhood development has lifelong outcomes

 

Children learn more during the first five years than at any other time in life. (ACECQA 2018)

There is clear evidence from Australia and overseas that the early years of a child’s life have a profound impact on their future health, development, learning and well-being. Research shows investing in resources to support children in their early years of life brings long-term benefits to them and the whole community (Australian Government, 2013).

A growing body of research suggests that the magnitude of the benefits for children will depend on the level of quality of early childhood services, with especially strong evidence in the case of disadvantaged children. Staff-child interactions and implementation of developmental and educational activities are linked to higher levels of children’s emerging literacy and numeracy skills, as well as better behavioural and social skills. (Engaging Young Children OECD 2018).

These benefits extend throughout a lifetime, well beyond early childhood (Moore and McDonald, 2013).  Conversely, developmental concerns that are evident at school entry tend to continue and exacerbate over the primary school years, particularly for poorer children (Goldfeld et al., 2013).  They can also have lifelong negative effects in terms of future employment and income, mental and physical health and social and criminal behaviour (Moore and McDonald, 2013).

Early childhood development is not only important to the child today, but is also a predictor of future health and human capital (Australian Government, 2013). This makes understanding how children are faring of national significance.

 

(Source – Australia’s Early Childhood Development McKenzie, Glover & Ross, 2014, p5)

Approximately one in five (22.0 per cent) children enrolled in their first year of formal full time school were developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains in 2012, which is down from 23.6 per cent in 2009.

The percentage of Indigenous children who are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains decreased from 47.4% in 2009 to 43.2% in 2012 (McKenzie, Glover & Ross 2014).

The language and cognitive skills domain shows the largest proportional change of any of the five developmental domains between 2012 and 2009, with a significant increase in the number of children who are developmentally ‘on track’ for school between 2009 and 2012. This is illustrated in Figure 2.

 

(Source – Australia’s Early Childhood Development McKenzie,Glover & Ross 2014 p6)

The early childhood period is considered to be the most important developmental phase throughout the lifespan. Healthy early child development which includes the physical, social/emotional, and language/cognitive domains of development, each equally important – strongly influences well-being, obesity/stunting, mental health, heart disease, competence in literacy and numeracy, criminality, and economic participation throughout life. What happens to the child in the early years is critical for the child’s developmental trajectory and life-course. Gender equity from early childhood onwards influences human agency and empowerment in adulthood. Economists now argue on the basis of the available evidence that investment in early childhood is the most powerful investment a country can make, with returns over the life-course many times the size of the original investment (Early Child Development: A Powerful Equalizer Irwin et. al, 2007).