To commemorate Mother's Day on May 10, the international child welfare
advocacy group Save the Children is issuing its 10th annual "State of
the World's Mothers" report with recommendations for mothers and policy
makers to help support early childhood development.
State of the World's Mothers report says early childhood - the period
from birth to age 5 - is the most critical period of growth and
learning in a person's life. What happens - and what does not happen -
during these earliest years can influence how the rest of a person's
childhood, adolescence and adulthood will unfold. And that is why
mothers play such a central role in preparing children to reach their
"There is nothing more important than a mother
and a child; this is the first, initial and best partnership," says
Judy Jerald, Save the Children's early childhood advisor. "And it's
mothers who need to know how to educate their children, and that's what
Save the Children around the world is trying to do - to help the
mothers focus on what they can do with their children that will make
them successful in school. We know also that the better a mother's
education, the more likely that the child is going to have better
health and better education themselves."
The State of the
World's Mothers report examines early childhood care and development
around the world and identifies some of the best and worst places to be
According to the report, Sweden tops the list of 158
countries. Niger is at the bottom, and the United States ranks 27th.
Pablo Stansbery, Save the Children's senior director for early
childhood development, explains the U.S. ranking.
"Part of it
is the lack of providing parental leave of at least one year for
children, providing some sort of salary reimbursement," he says. "The
U.S. does not yet have a national plan with a priority for
disadvantaged children. There are some, like Head Start, which reaches
a lot but not a substantial amount. So these are just a few of the
reasons the U.S. is ranking so low compared to some of what we define
as 'best in class' countries."
The report says 68 percent of all
American fourth-grade public school children are not reading at their
grade level. It suggests the large numbers of children at risk of
failure in school reflect a widespread lack of the care and support
children need in their early years. The Save the Children report cites
one estimate that substantial investments in children's development at
the earliest stages could yield a 17 percent better annual return to
society, in terms of improved class performance, reduced health care
costs, higher workforce productivity and less crime.
Jerald says the U.S. Congress should act swiftly to make early childhood development a national priority.
know that other countries are doing it. We know it can be done.
Certainly, if we look at Sweden and the Nordic countries, but even if
we look at some of the less wealthy countries such as Cuba, Armenia,
Cyprus and Azerbaijan. They have the political will. They are investing
in their children and their youngest children, and that's exactly what
the U.S. has to do as well."
The 10th annual State of the
World's Mothers report says the future of humankind will be defined by
how well mothers today are able to raise the next generation. Stansbery
lists some of the report's recommendations for improving mother and
"The first one is to really focus on better
health care for mothers and young children. We want to provide coaching
and information to help new mothers and fathers give their young
children the best possible chance to succeed," he says. "We also want
to expand early learning opportunities for children affected by AIDS,
armed conflicts and natural disasters. These are critical for, again,
getting children into school, staying in school and being successful in
Stansbery says Save the Children has high expectations
for the Obama administration, especially since the new president has
been stressing the importance of investing in early childhood
development. Stansbery says so far, nearly $5 billion have been
allocated from the government's economic stimulus package to support
Early Head Start programs.
He hopes the administration will
continue supporting early childhood programs outside the United States,
as well. Investments in such programs, Stansbery says, will better
serve America's national security by helping the world's mothers raise
healthier, stronger children.