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Early childhood education and care pays triple dividend for society

Published: 11 January 2023

Incorporating early childhood education and care (ECEC) within family-friendly policies has the potential for a “triple dividend” of children’s positive development, women’s empowerment and economic growth, as described in a new report from Public Health Wales.

The report, that looks at experiences, policies, programmes, and data from different countries, identifies that by making the most of this window of opportunity, when a child’s brain is developing at a rapid rate, can not only benefit the long term health of the individual child but can also bring benefits to wider society. 

As unpaid care is the primary factor that keeps women from joining the workforce, increasing access to ECEC is one mechanism by which to improve women’s employment and for them to feel more empowered. 

In turn, the report identifies that quality affordable childcare contributes to economic growth, with estimates showing an increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with more women in the workforce and a seven per cent return on investment to society through benefits of improved early childhood development. 

Dr Mariana Dyakova, International Health lead and WHO Collaborating Centre Deputy Director at Public Health Wales, said:   

“Early childhood education and care capitalises on a period of rich brain development that can then lay the foundation for good health and nutrition, educational success, social-emotional learning, and economic productivity throughout a person’s life. It provides a major social infrastructure to support inclusion, equity and social mobility.  

“It is however important to consider ECEC as part of a “two generation” family oriented approach, linking with policies such as parental leave and breastfeeding support, in order to fully realise its potential. 

“Wales, alongside other leading nations, is adopting an integrated approach linking education, childhood development, and health with a focus on reaching out and reducing inequities.” 

Welsh Government currently funds three ECEC programmes, planning to adopt an integrated approach linking education, childhood development, and health with a focus on EYCC, reaching children in deprived areas, increasing Welsh language provision, and facilitating parental employment, particularly amongst women: 

  1. Flying Start offers childcare for 2-3 year olds  
  2. Childcare Offer for 3-4 year olds  
  3. Early Education for 3-4 year olds 

The International Horizon Scanning and Learning reports were initiated as part of the Coronavirus public health response, to support dynamic response and recovery measures, and planning in Wales. In spring 2022, the scope of the reports was expanded to cover priority public health topics, including health improvement and promotion, health protection, and health care public health. 

International Horizon Scanning and Learning Report: Early childhood education and care provides a high-level summary of learning from real life experiences from selected countries, and from a variety of scientific and grey literature. The report series offer a brief snapshot of current evidence, policy and practice, sharing relevant country examples and international bodies’ guidance and principles. 

ECEC refers to any regulated arrangement that provides education and care for children from birth to compulsory primary school age.