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International Child Policy

The international early childhood policy initiatives being directed by Pia Rebello Britto are in response to the clear and urgent need to improve the situation of young children globally. The goals of this work have been motivated by poor developmental outcomes for young children and the incredible scientific evidence that is being generated to ameliorate these outcomes. These initiatives endeavor to bring the evidence to bear upon the formulation, implementation and analysis of international development frameworks and national-level social policies that impact the lives of young children. On-going projects include:

Developing an Evidence-Based Comprehensive Policy Framework

In a historic partnership, the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF) has joined hands with the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) to develop a comprehensive evidence-based policy framework to address the needs and rights of young children across the globe. The aim of this partnership is to bring scientific evidence to bear upon national policies that directly or indirectly impact the lives of young children. The Zigler Center has been awarded the role of the secretariat for this initiative and will serve as the executing agent of the partnership. The partnership will result in an internationally relevant policy framework, an edited scholarly volume on international policy and a meeting with high-ranking staff from the UN development agencies to endorse the framework and resultant publications. It is anticipated that the work emanating from this partnership will impact positively national social policies in developing countries around the globe.

A conference of 23 authors, scholars and development specialists from 13 countries around the globe, has been accepted by the Bellagio Conference Center in Italy, ( in February, 2011. The aim of the proposed conference is to develop the concrete evidence base for comprehensive ECD policies and programming with global relevance and strategies for effective communication and dissemination of academic knowledge to policy makers. The papers will examine the current situation of ECD and national and international policies, programs and systems that have been effective in improving young child outcomes and under what circumstances and the implications of those findings for the work of government, NGOs, and international development agencies (VOLUME SUMMARY). An update on the meeting and publication will be provided as the work progresses.

Going Global

Dr. Britto, in partnership with Sharon Lynn Kagan, National Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, Columbia University, is working with UNICEF and several countries around the globe to create an integrated system for early childhood services, using a standards approach. Early learning and development standards are statements of expectation of what children at particular ages should know and be able to do. These standards serve as indicators for programs, services, instructions, teacher training, program evaluation, national monitoring and public advocacy to improve the lives of young children. These standards are rooted in scientific evidence and in the national and cultural values of each country. The process of developing these standards is supported by the national government within each country and involves a participatory approach that for most countries, includes representatives from academia, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector. This project began with 6 countries (Brazil, Ghana, Jordan, Paraguay, Philippines, and South Africa) and now has expanded to include close to 20 countries around the globe. Countries are using their developed standards in multiple ways to improve programs and services for young children in their country.

Early Childhood Policy: Development, Implementation and Analysis

Many countries are interested in developing or evaluating their national social policies to ensure that the survival, development, protection and participation rights of children are being met. Consequently, several countries have embarked on a process of national early childhood policy development. Dr. Britto and a team of multidisciplinary colleagues from across Yale University have been working with several of these countries to provide guidance and technical expertise for the development of National Sustainable ECD policies based on evidence and in inclusive participatory process (Concept Note: Sustainable National Policies for ECD).

The goal of equity for access and quality of early childhood is universal. To that end, the need to examine how national governance and finance impedes or supports that goal is important. A study lead by Dr. Britto and van Ravens conducted in collaboration with Dr. Yoshikawa of Harvard University, funded by Innocenti Research Center and Bernard van Leer foundation, is investigating the role of governance and finance on equity, access and quality of early childhood systems in East Asia and East and South Africa. Further work on quality of early childhood is being explored by Dr. Britto with Dr. Yoshikawa and Dr. Boller of Mathematica Policy Research. The conference on Early Childhood Quality in that regard was sponsored by New York University, Abu Dhabi Institute in collaboration with Yale and Harvard Universities, Mathematica Policy Research and Dr. Raver from New York University (Background Conceptual Note: Conference Beyond Child Indicators).

A key dimension in policy analysis is monitoring and reporting. To that end, both national policies and international development frameworks are moving towards developing systems that accurately capture and report on ECD. There are several international, regional, and national initiatives underway to develop indicators of ECD. The team from Zigler center has been working on collaboration with countries to develop indicators for national monitoring (e.g., Jordan) and more internationally with the Policy Working group of the Early Childhood Consultative Group ( to generate indicators and targets for the next generation of international goals. The Yale group has been working with collaborators on the development of an Early Human Development Index. The conceptualization and overview of methodology is presented in the attached note (Concept Note: Early Human Development Index).

School Readiness

One of the largest challenges in reaching the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education is linked with school readiness. Children are either enrolling in school late, dropping out, or then not prepared for schooling. Additionally, schools are not ready for children and in several regions of the world, parents are experiencing difficulties in navigating the transition to school for their children. Pia Rebello Britto is drafting a series of technical papers for UNICEF on defining school readiness. These papers will inform the early childhood and educational practices of UNICEF programs.


Dr. Britto teaches a course on international child and youth policy as part of the International Relations program, at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. In spring 2008, she and her students visited Laos to see early childhood policy being made. Click here for a report.