WASHINGTON, D.C. — In September 2020, the Global Child Thrive Act (H.R.4864) passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan voice vote. The bill will now move on to the Senate for a vote as S.2715. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced the bill in the Senate where it enjoys almost equal partisan support with 15 Democratic, 11 Republican and 1 Independent cosponsor. Skopos Labs, a New York data analysis company, now predicts that the Global Child Thrive Act has a 72% chance of becoming law.
The Global Child Thrive Act would direct the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop and implement early childhood development (ECD) interventions into its existing programs. ECD interventions are intended to support the neurological and physical development of children in their critical infant years, which greatly influences their capacity for success as adults.
Early Childhood Development
ECD as defined by the World Health Organization is any intervention “physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and motor” that promotes a child’s mental and physical development in the first eight years of life. Since a child’s brain develops rapidly in early childhood, ECD interventions especially target healthy neurological development. Interventions invoke a range of neuro-stimulation through games, education, healthcare, adequate nutrition, positive social interaction and healthy parenting practices. These interventions help children develop mental resilience and physical health essential to future success as they maintain the capacity to attain essential education and job skills.
Implementing early childhood development interventions into USAID programs will have a plethora of U.S. foreign policy implications. Such implications include keeping children with their parents whenever possible, helping families care for disadvantaged children and assisting countries to transition to family-based child care models. Small-scale ECD interventions might include using brain-stimulating learning games while teaching children or creating classes to help parents create appropriate emotional bonds with their children. They could also include learning nutritional and hygienic principles for themselves and their children. Such interventions will bolster conditions essential to healthy childhood development. This would enable children to better withstand the stresses of poverty.
Rep. Julian Castro on the Global Child Thrive Act
Before the voice vote took place in the House of Representatives, Rep. Julian Castro (D-TX-20) stepped forward to emphasize the importance of the Global Child Thrive Act to his colleagues. He pointed out that more than 250 million children could experience “stunted growth and damage to their brains due to the long-lasting impacts of poverty, conflict and displacement” globally.
He emphasized that “The Global Child Thrive Act shows that the United States is there for the world’s most vulnerable and precious possession, its children.” Furthermore, he reminded the House that helping ECD also helps relieve poverty in the long run. In addition, he emphasized that, during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, children are experiencing more loss and isolation. This makes the Global Child Thrive Act more important than ever.
The Importance of ECD Intervention
ECD intervention is proven to be one of the most cost-efficient methods to reduce intergenerational poverty. Proper development in early childhood is essential to the future health, education and skill capability of individuals. As a result, the United Nations added ‘early child development’ (ECD) to its global Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. If passed, the Global Child Thrive Act would put U.S. humanitarian policy in line with existing U.N. Sustainable Development ECD objectives.
In 2016, WHO reported approximated “43% of children in low-and middle-income countries are unable to realize their full development potential.” These children statistically earn up to 25% less than their peers when they reach adulthood. Children in extreme poverty often lack the most foundational ECD interventions like sanitary conditions or proper nutrition. This stunts physical and mental growth as well as ultimate educational and economic success.
Children in extreme poverty also often suffer from the results of extreme stress, abuse and lack of emotional support that can also be addressed by ECD measures. A lack of ECD intervention in an impoverished country creates a vicious cycle where stunted children born to low-income families are unable to gain the skills necessary to attain adequate employment of their own in adulthood. In India, the lack of ECD costs double the amount of GDP spent on healthcare. In contrast, adding ECD to existing aid programs would only cost an estimated $0.50 per person per annum.
The Lancet Commission
WHO and UNICEF created a Lancet Commission to improve the existing U.N. Sustainable Development Goals’ focus on children’s well-being and physical health. The Lancet Commission published its report in February 2020. It determined once again that directly addressing the well-being of children in foreign aid planning would curb the effects of malnutrition from birth onwards, allowing children to grow into healthy and socially functioning adults.
The Commission called for U.N.-affiliated nations to immediately develop adolescent-centered foreign aid goals. It stated, “[Our report] makes positive and optimistic recommendations–but we have no time to lose, and no excuses if we fail. A new global movement for child and adolescent health is today an urgent necessity.”
While that urgency to help children escape poverty through EDC measures has resonated in the House of Representatives, the Global Child Thrive Act must still pass the Senate with a majority (51 votes) before it becomes law. With 27 bipartisan cosponsors representing 21 states, that leaves 24 essential votes and 29 states on the table undecided. Additionally, the bill will need to be reintroduced in both houses if a Senate vote is not held before the end of Congress’ 116th session, January 3, 2021. Civic engagement for poverty relief measures, like phone calls and emails, among the constituents of undecided Senators might yet make the difference as to whether the Act becomes law.
– Elizabeth Broderick