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Whole Child

The Whole Child Initiative is one of several Strategic Initiatives of the State of the World Forum. The Initiative seeks to integrate the insights of current research in the neurosciences, child development and learning with global models and "best practices" and to promote their application in the design of social and educational policies. Convened by Dr. Jane Goodall, the Initiative was established in 1997 as an umbrella for networking on child-related issues with concerned organizations and individuals.

In the past ten years, exciting breakthroughs in clinical, social, and neuroscientific research have provided a detailed view of how children optimally develop. Advances in functional scan imaging have revealed that the human brain is only partially formed at birth and that early experiences can change its physical structure and wiring. Together with Dr. Stanley Greenspan, one of America's leading child psychiatrists, a group of prominent clinicians and researchers has identified the critical requirements for the post-natal development of a healthy mind which they call the "irreducible needs" of infants and children, or the factors that must be present to enable young children to progress successfully from one developmental stage to another.

Briefly, the irreducible needs of children are defined as:

1) a safe, secure and nurturing environment that includes a daily relationship with at least one stable, predictable, comforting and protective adult;

2) emotional interactions geared to the child's developmental needs and level;

3) ongoing intense relationships with the same caregivers, including the primary one, early in life and throughout childhood;

4) sights, sounds, touches and other sensations tailored to the baby's unique nervoussystem to foster learning, language, awareness, attention, and self-control;

5) experiences that build a sense of initiative and competency including risk-taking and failure;

6) limits and expectation/structure and clear boundaries;

7) stable neighborhoods and communities within which families can achieve these goals.

The recognition that certain "irreducible needs" of the child must be met at various stages of development requires a fundamental reconsideration of how children are being raised in contemporary societies.

The costs of ignoring the basic early needs of our children at all levels of society are staggering and far outweigh the investment we make in the early years. The cycle of damage begins early -- in the young pregnant teen's womb, impoverishes a life with frustration and violence, and ends up with a human being lost to himself and society through murder or incarceration -- and costs untold wasted billions. At the same time, we see the challenges of increasing numbers of working parents struggling to meet and balance family and financial needs. These challenges have finally gained national attention in the United States, where in the fall of 1997 the White House hosted a Conference on Childcare at which issues of quality, affordability and availablity of childcare were discussed.

For the past two years, the State of the World Forum has explored the critical needs of children which ensure their healthy development. Through its "The Whole Child Initiative" the Forum is now putting a spotlight on work-family challenges and on model childcare programs that support the healthy development of younger children throughout the world. In the U.S. over 50% of children are growing up in various day care facilities, 80% of which are inadequate and not properly regulated. Given the fact that the U.S. falls far below international standards in providing quality care for its youngest children, we believe that we have much to learn about childcare policies from the international community, and that all countries might benefit from recent findings on early childhood development.

To this end, the Forum is collaborating closely with Kenneth Jaffe of the International Child Resource Institute (ICRI) to bring together an international panel of policy makers and child development experts, from Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia at the annual five-day State of the World Forum gathering October 27 - November 1, 1998. The Panel will examine the impact of world-wide social trends and market forces on the ways societies have traditionally cared for their children. Dr. Greenspan's "Index of Irreducible Needs" will be used to help provide a context for discussions on childcare policies. The Panel will meet with our ongoing Working Group for interdis-ciplinary dialogue, to profile model programs that help meet the "irreducible needs of children," and to initiate projects promoting criteria for measuring quality care and publicizing cutting edge research.

Notable Quote "However haltingly, we have made some progress."
   --former Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, Gen. Lee Butler
Actions which make a difference... INVESTING IN WOMEN: The SWF has helped to establish a bank in Mexico specializing in micro-loans for women.
Go to INITIATIVES for details...