Addressing Violence in Early Childhood to Improve Global Health

Mike Skonieczny, GHLI Executive Director

From left to right: GHLI Executive Director Mike Skonieczny,
First Lady Ana Estela Haddad,
and James Leckman, MD of the Child Study Center

Childhood violence and global health – two seemingly disparate issues that may be more closely related than one might think. As part of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute Forums for Change program, we worked with colleagues at the Yale Child Study Center and in Brazil to discuss early childhood development (ECD) issues, including the effect of violence on children. 

Comprised of academics, clinicians, policymakers and advocates, our Brazilian delegation recently visited Yale with the goal of continuing to develop effective ECD programs for the children of São Paulo. The group discussed how the welfare of children and families is about more than just physical health, and why emotional and mental well-being are also critical components. But what does violence have to do with global health? 

Research by the World Bank has proven that children who participate in well-conceived ECD programs tend to be more successful in school and are more competent socially and emotionally. The early years are also critical in the formation of cultural norms, identities and prejudices in terms of a child’s behavior towards others.

In 1996, the World Health Assembly declared violence a major public health issue. This signaled an urgent need to reduce the toll of day-to-day violence and finding effective ways of preventing larger conflict. Peace-building efforts have generally involved top-down approaches, but peace is more than just the absence of physical conflict  it is a multi-dimensional process of investing in social, economic and political structures and policies that minimize violence in all of its forms.

Given this wider scope, early childhood development issues have gained unique significance. ECD programs present an untapped opportunity for empowering young children with the values, attitudes and skills that contribute to the reduction of violence in their communities. There is an enormous opportunity for ECD programs to build safer and healthier families, communities and, potentially, nations.

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