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United Way Blog

Multisectoral collaboration, an alternative to improve early childhood services in Central America

Early childhood requires comprehensive solutions, and this approach depends on many actors, governments, organizations, families and individuals.
The collective dream of Central American countries for the future of the region is to see adults equipped with knowledge, skills and capable of generating opportunities; resilient in the face of challenges to build their life projects in their own countries. However, to achieve this, it is vital that parents, teachers and communities positively influence their brain development in the first six (6) years of life. 

By the end of 2020, the impact of the pandemic meant a 4.91% reduction in GDP in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama; inequality increased by 3.62%; and the poverty index grew by 3.33%. Against this backdrop, improving early childhood services has become a social and multisectoral challenge. Thus, the leaders of the Central America Grows initiative invite the business and public sectors and non-profit organizations to reflect on strategic alternatives to advance in interventions to scale services and improvements for Central American children.
The event, which took place on September 16, was attended by more than 300 people.

For the first time in Central America, Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, doctor and world reference scientist in early childhood development, addressed the event.

What happens in the brain in the first 6 years of life

Children in the first years of life learn much more from play, exploration and interactive discovery. These situations of constant brain stimulation help and strengthen brain plasticity, and imply a challenge for traditional formal education in providing pleasant, didactic and stable environments.

Although in the early school stages children interact most of the time with their teachers, can teachers improve their skills and how can educational agents improve the quality of their environments to stimulate learning and brain development? These are broad questions, to which we will find solutions through public and private sector collaboration.  
Although children share more with teachers, parents often have more influence on children's brain development. The influence of the family is the most important, since children learn from the environment that involves them. 

We need work environments to support families; work so that the public sector provides support to the private sector; and thus generate environments conducive to the development of brain and social skills for learning, social and language skills. When exposed to circumstances of violence in the family or in the community, such as physical, verbal or sexual abuse, the corporal response in children is translated into three levels of stress. Positive, mild bodily reactions; tolerable, with passing episodes of physical or verbal reactions. However, children constantly exposed to contexts of inequity and poverty may experience toxic stress, where high blood pressure and brain pressure lead to states where the brain does not feel safe and in a state of tranquility conducive to learning.  As a result, in families with higher incomes, children at 6 years of age can develop 50% more language skills compared to infants in vulnerable social situations. 

The business sectors not only owe their clients and projects, it is and will be important to generate development in the countries. It is therefore urgent for entrepreneurs, corporate leaders and public policy leaders to design and redesign public policies in our countries to start putting children at the center of our decisions, provide tools and ensure that their parents and caregivers are properly prepared for the task of educating them.