WASHINGTON D.C. — In October 2019, Senators Roy Blunt [R-MO] and Chris Coons [D-DE], along with Representatives Joaquin Castro [D-TX] and Brian Fitzpatrick [R-PA], introduced the Global Child Thrive Act to Congress. The act emphasizes the need for increased early childhood development interventions (ECD), integrating ECD into existing foreign assistance programs.
Early Childhood Development Interventions
The integration of early childhood development interventions can profoundly impact a child’s development. It provides a diverse range of services. These include, but are not limited to, health and nutrition assistance, training for child caretakers and the educational development of impacted children. These programs affect the cognitive, emotional and physical health of children. They can mean the difference between a life of devastating poverty and economic/educational opportunities in a child’s future.
In 2005, Congress passed the Assistance for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children in Developing Countries Act. This developed the role of U.S. Government Special Advisor on Children in Adversity. This role is responsible for ensuring that assistance reaches all orphans and other vulnerable children. The Global Child Thrive Act would build upon the special advisor’s role by expanding the advisor’s authority to include more direct control over certain agencies. The advisor would also oversee the implementation of EDC into foreign assistance programs.
The Importance of the Act
This act is crucial since children around the globe are continuously affected by widespread poverty and a lack of adequate childcare. As the Sponsor of the bill, Joaquin Castro, explains, “‘The approval of this important legislation in the House Foreign Affairs Committee marks an important step forward… Despite the progress we have made in reducing child mortality and improving the quality of life for children across the world, serious challenges remain in ensuring children in developing countries are able to reach their potential.’”
According to UNICEF, extreme poverty in low and middle-income countries is the reason why 250 million children five years old and younger may not achieve their full developmental potential. Moreover, UNICEF reports that at least “75 million children under-five live in areas affected by conflict.” Conflict increases a child’s “risk of toxic stress” and “can inhibit brain cell connections.”
Studies show that ECD has beneficial outcomes. It can reduce medical risk factors later in life. Furthermore, ECD lowers the likelihood for individuals to engage in harmful/risky behaviors and increases positive social outcomes. The RAND Corporation conducted a study that found that ECD showed high economic returns. They concluded for each $1 in foreign aid, there was a return margin of $1.80 to $17.07. That is equivalent to the amount society at large would receive back from the initial investment. This means that the Global Child Thrive Act not only has the power to change the lives of children but to improve societal wellbeing in the long term.
Those Supporting the Act
The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously voted in favor of the bill once the Senators introduced it in October 2019. This leaves it up to the House and the Senate to decide if the bill will be passed. Fortunately, the bill has garnered widespread support from some of the world’s leading nonprofits that are consistently advocating for children around the world.
In a letter sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in November of 2019, nearly 60 nonprofits and advocacy organizations declared their endorsement of the Global Child Thrive Act. They noted that incorporating ECD into current programs will make the most effective use of U.S. foreign aid. Among the most notable supporters are the American Public Health Association, the Child Health Foundation, the International Rescue Committee, the National Association for the Education of Young Children and UNICEF USA.
The Future of the Global Child Thrive Act
With growing support, the likelihood of the Global Child Thrive Act passing will continue to increase. After the bill’s successful markup in the House on Foreign Affairs Committee, 45 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have agreed to co-sponsor the bill. Fortunately, the Global Child Thrive Act has been touted as a bipartisan bill. When congressional leaders are less focused on polarization, unity regarding key issues is possible.
The true indicator of a bill’s potential is support from the outside. By contacting congressional leaders and speaking on behalf of the Global Child Thrive Act, people can make its potential a reality. Because young children cannot rely on themselves, initiatives such as the Global Child Thrive Act are essential for young children who rely on such programs to prepare them for their futures.
– Aly Hill