Liberia’s Next Generation Finds Room to Grow
By Tina Hyder & Massa Crayton
Being a child in Liberia today is not easy. The legacy of a brutal 14-year civil war and the impact of the Ebola virus outbreak mean children in Liberia face a range of life-threatening challenges. The country’s infant and child mortality rates remain among the highest in the world. Despite these obstacles, Liberia is making strides on quality early childhood development and serving as an example for other post-conflict countries.
Early childhood—including infancy, the preschool years, and the transition into the early grades of schooling—is the most critical phase of human development. During this period of a child’s growth, there are lots of ways to help them become healthy, engaged individuals. In the early years, prenatal care, support for mothers, parenting education, access to early health care, immunizations, and adequate nutrition for infants are crucial.
Another priority is ensuring a stimulating and safe environment where children can experience the world with the support of caring adults. Support for education and safe environments for children can also have the long-term benefit of leading to more prosperous and stable societies. Quality early childhood development has the greatest impact on children most at risk. It can alleviate the effects of social disadvantage and break cycles of poverty and inequality.
Good early childhood development is about people working together. It is not the responsibility of one group alone. Instead, it is achieved by government ministries—education, health, social welfare, and justice—working together for children. The government also needs to work closely with parents, communities, faith-based organizations, and the private sector to deliver quality early childhood services.
Parents and family play a pivotal role in early childhood development. In Liberia, many parents of young children missed out on proper parenting themselves, as normal family life was disrupted during the civil war. Good early childhood services provide support through parenting classes and by providing information and guidance to such parents to improve their knowledge and build positive relationships with their own children. All parents need help in supporting their children’s development.
After being clouded by years of conflict and instability, the future for young children in Liberia is bright. There is now a national early childhood policy that establishes what the government intends to do to promote the overall development of young children.
To continue on this path, parents, teachers, the local community, and international development agencies need to come together to work with the government to fully implement Liberia’s national integrated early childhood policy. Along with this commitment, more investment from the national government and from international donors is required to achieve the progress needed.
Until January 2021, Tina Hyder was deputy director of the Open Society Early Childhood Program.
Massa S. S. Crayton works for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa as the Liberia country officer and education coordinator, providing support to the Early Childhood Program and Education Support Program.