Note: Images taken prior to the CDC’s recommendation to wear masks in public.
Update on 1/4/21: The Global Child Thrive Act has now passed into law! Thank you for your advocacy on this issue!
Parents around the globe basically want the same things for their children: safety, comfort, education, and a strong foundation for their lives so they can meet their full God-given potential. The goal of the Global Child Thrive Act is much the same — to provide strong beginnings through early childhood development to vulnerable children around the world.
But what does that really mean? What does that look like in practice? To help answer these questions, I look to my own life experience with my 2-year-old daughter, Claire.
The first step in providing my daughter the best possible beginning to life started with ensuring my wife had everything she needed to provide nutrition to herself and our baby. Of course, in the United States this includes many things that we take for granted: clean water, prenatal supplements, and access to healthy foods. But in the developing world, these critical needs are not so readily available.
The Global Child Thrive Act specifically calls out the need for clean water and nutrition to be implemented by USAID throughout their programming as a central part of early childhood development. As the number one non-governmental provider of clean water in the world, World Vision keeps this issue close to its heart. Clean water and good nutrition for pregnant mothers helps give children the best possible start from a health standpoint, which goes on to affect their physical and mental development. However, we know that just providing for a child’s nutritional needs doesn’t stop when they’re born but continues throughout those critical first few years of their life.
Good nutrition goes beyond just what we feed our newborns and includes how we feed them. Studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has also endorsed the Global Child Thrive Act, show that a simple practice like a mother looking into her newborn’s eyes as she breastfeeds is vitally important to their brain development and builds strong connections with their mother. This costs no money and is simple to implement, but this information must be disseminated to expecting mothers. The Global Child Thrive Act would help make that a reality.
My daughter is a toddler now, so our play time has changed, of course. Now that she’s verbal, able to express her creativity, and is more mobile and active, we can engage in activities and games that combine physical development, fine motor skills, and mental development. Claire and I play with puzzles, Legos, read books, sing together, play games, ride scooters (helmets on!), color, play the piano, and kick the soccer ball around the yard (and the house much to the disappointment of my wife, but D.C. can get cold!). During these activities I’ll ask her to identify colors, count, or sing along to songs.
Hide-and-seek has also been a favorite game in our house recently. Claire must remember where she’s looked for her mom and me, because she’ll look first in places we’ve hid in the past. This type of play bonds parents with their children, while also stimulating children’s physical and mental development at the same time.
Similar activities are encouraged in many of the positive parenting programs implemented by World Vision, and the Global Thrive Act seeks to incorporate these activities into all foreign assistance programs focused on children and their families. I saw our positive parenting programming in action last year when I visited a primary school in the MS-13 gang-controlled area of Soyapango, El Salvador.
As a dad, it was difficult to see children not that much older than Claire living their lives in one of the most violent places in the world where there are no police and you can be killed for crossing the wrong street. You could feel the oppression of the people — these were truly the most vulnerable that World Vision aims to help. Our program here invited parents into the school to do joint projects and curriculums with their children. The school had a classroom just for parents where they would learn about loving ways to discipline and interact with their children to avoid emulating the violence at home that their children are seeing in the streets. My prayer is that these positive parenting programs are changing hearts in Soyapango so that the next generation can live peaceful lives where they can meet their full potential in Christ.
Of course, now that our daughter is two-and-a-half, she’s also started preschool and is receiving early education to serve as the foundation for her primary education moving forward. These days she’s learning about numbers and colors, seasons of the year, animals, and getting pretty good at counting to ten in Spanish. We try to reinforce these concepts at home, too. It’s incredible to see her implement what she’s learning on a daily basis, and it’s through the implementation of early childhood education programs that parents in the developing world and humanitarian crises will be able to experience this same joy while their children receive some of the same advantages in their early life. The Global Child Thrive Act seeks to make this type of education accessible by calling for preschool and basic education programming for children younger than 8 years of age.
Above all, there is a need for protection for children in all situations from adverse childhood experiences. These programs can’t make a positive difference for children if we can’t protect them from violence, exploitation, or now, the COVID-19 virus. These protections take many forms, and the issues facing children in the U.S. are far different from those living in a refugee camp in Jordan or facing an early arranged marriage in Bangladesh. But the concerns are the same among parents, and everyone wants to see their child grow in a safe and stable environment. Ensuring a child’s safety is a necessary foundation for early childhood development interventions to effectively provide a great start for children.
As the world faces a new threat in COVID-19, it’s also important to note that the Global Child Thrive Act would help protect children in this situation, as well. In addition to promoting global health projects and hygiene for expecting mothers and children younger than five, the bill also calls for psychosocial support for children who are experiencing traumatic situations because of the virus.
Our colleagues at the World Health Organization have published child-friendly pamphlets with tips for positive and healthy parenting of kids of all ages during this time. These include things like staying positive and creating routines, including more frequent handwashing, and how to talk to your kids about the current crisis and how to stay safe!
As my wife and I strive to give Claire everything she needs to grow up happy and healthy, I know that many parents around the world don’t have that same opportunity. But the Global Child Thrive Act is critical legislation that would help parents around the world provide firm foundations for their children through education, comfort, and protections from adverse childhood experiences and violence.
We all want the same things for our kids. Help drive support for the Global Child Thrive Act by contacting your congressional representatives and encouraging them to cosponsors and pass this bill. Thank you in advance for your help in moving this critical legislation forward!
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Top photo: A family with three enjoy the benefits of the “Dulce Tierra, Nuevo Sol” sponsorship program in Colombia. The program supports some of the most vulnerable people in the area during instability. (© 2019 World Vision/photo by Ben Adams)