Early Childhood Development: First Years First
About First Years First
Taking Action on Early Childhood
All children deserve the best possible start in life, with opportunities to develop good mental health, resilience, and a strong ability to learn.
First Years First is the Canadian Paediatric Society’s early child development strategy, developed to engage health professionals, policy makers, communities, parents and educators in a broad-based effort to support young children and families.
First Years First builds on the wealth of scientific evidence that shows early experiences have a lasting and far-reaching impact on health, development, and later life. Focusing on the first days, months, and years of life is not only in the best interests of children and their families, it is good for society.
The late Dr. Clyde Hertzman, a founding member of the CPS Early Years Task Force and a driving force behind this strategy, described how early experiences leave a biological imprint: “Early in life, the environment talks to genes and the genes listen,” he wrote.
During the early years, children’s experiences can either nurture health and resiliency, or make them vulnerable to poor health and development. If children are supported with positive environments and social experiences, their future will look bright. But if they experience chronic stressors such as poverty, maternal depression, abuse or neglect, their development and health and well-being risk being disrupted or undermined.
Putting the First Years First means creating the conditions so that all children have the opportunity to grow up in:
- Supportive relationships, surrounded by families and caregivers who provide loving and nurturing early experiences.
- Supportive communities, where physical spaces and local services encourage child development.
- Supportive systems, where policies and programs ensure that all children have access to early learning opportunities and families have the time and resources to support their young children.
All Canadians have a stake in building the best systems for early child development because of the long-term benefits: a strong and productive workforce; economic prosperity; chronic disease prevention; reduced spending on health and social services; and crime reduction. (For more on the economic case for investing in the early years, visit the website of Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. James Heckman: The Heckman Equation.)
Principles of First Years First
Our vision is system-wide change that better supports young children and families. It emphasizes these principles:
- The need to focus on assets and strengths: what do children and families need to be the best that they can be.
- The need for a system-wide approach, and what specific aspects of the system must change to support young children and families.
- Early intervention and prevention, which is more effective and less expensive than later remediation.
- Proportionate universality, which ensures all children receive what they need.
- The need for and effectiveness of community-driven solutions, developed and delivered locally.
- The importance of ongoing monitoring so that we can reliably measure how young children are doing, and regularly evaluate and refine the system so that it meets the evolving needs of young children and families.