In 2021 UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (ECARO), WHO Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe), and the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) joined forces to launch Health Systems for Early Child Development initiative. The overarching goal of the initiative is to enhance the wellbeing of children during early childhood through accelerating efforts in Europe and Central Asia (ECA) to build more “developmentally oriented” and family-centred health systems and services empowering caregivers to provide children with nurturing care – a safe and enabling environment that ensures good health and nutrition, protects them from threats, offers opportunities for early learning and encourages responsive and emotionally supportive interactions with parents and caregivers.

UNICEF ECARO, WHO/Europe and ISSA have a long history of collaboration and technical expertise in health and early child development. Over the years, this partnership has resulted in positive changes throughout the ECA region, especially for the most vulnerable children. The work of this initiative is supported by a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) composed of international and regional experts, and representatives of health professional associations.

The Health Systems for Early Child Development platform is a one-stop-shop for policy makers, service providers, and service planners, where they can access latest evidence-based guidance and resources on early childhood development policies and programmes that health care systems can incorporate and build on. It is also a learning community that enables discussions and knowledge exchange on building a responsive system that addresses the needs of young children and their families.

The initiative:

  • advocates for change by supporting key stakeholders at regional and national levels to expand their advocacy efforts for improving health care systems, policy, and practice.
  • curates core knowledge and disseminates contemporary, evidence-based guidance, resources, and expertise on ECD in health care to inspire, inform and guide policies and practices, which promote early childhood development.
  • fosters a learning community among stakeholders at national and regional level — supporting exchange, joint learning, and knowledge creation

“We are delighted to be part of this important initiative, which aspires to change the perspective on the role and capacity of the health system to support Early Child Development (ECD). This is something that ISSA has invested in heavily over the years, by supporting professionals bringing ECD into health systems in Europe and Central Asia. Through the Health Systems for Early Child Development initiative, we believe we can make a definite and long-lasting impact.”
- ISSA's Executive Director, Liana Ghent. 

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Health Systems for Early Child Development initiative celebrates its first year, focused on aiding policymakers and health workers to prioritize child development and nurturing care.

ISSA Member Centro per la Salute del Bambino, presents practical approaches to integrating nurturing care in Italy’s primary health care services.

UNICEF, WHO and ISSA join forces to enable all children in Europe and Central Asia region to develop their full potential.