According to a new research published by UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) titled "Childcare in a global crisis: The impact of COVID-19 on work and family life," more than 40 million kids around the world will have missed out on early childhood education in a critical preschool year due to the pandemic. The education disruptions caused by the shuttering of childcare facilities and preschools are preventing a big number of kids from having the good start every kid needs.

Coronavirus lockdowns have left a lot of parents struggling to balance childcare and employment, with the heavier burden placed on women who devote, on average, more than three times more time than men on childcare and housework. The situation is particularly problematic in low and middle-income countries where many families already had difficulties to benefit from social protection and help before the crisis. However, good integrated childcare services are essential to provide all the protection, stimulation, affection and nutrition young children need in order to best develop their emotional, social and cognitive skills.

Prior to the pandemic, the poor-quality, unaffordability or unavailability of childcare and preschools already forced a lot of parents to leave their kids in unsafe and/or unstimulating environments. Globally, millions of kids under the age of five were left without any adult supervision, missing play and early learning support essential for their healthy development. Among 54 low- and middle-income countries analyzed, around 40% of 3-5-year-old kids were not receiving any emotional, social and cognitive stimulation in their household.

These worrying deficits in early education infrastructure oblige many parents, especially mothers working in the informal sector to bring their kids with them to work. As many as 9 in 10 women in Africa, and around 7 in 10 women in Asia and the Pacific region are working in the informal sector, with little or no access to social protection. Thereby, many families are trapped in unreliable and poorly paid jobs, perpetuating the intergenerational cycles of poverty.

As everyone knows today, high-quality childcare and early education are critical for children's development and therefore the well-being of families and societies. UNICEF advocates for accessible, affordable and quality childcare from birth to the first grade of school. The "Childcare in a global crisis" report explains how governments and employers can improve childcare and early education policies, enabling all kids to enter high-quality, accessible and affordable childcare centers.

Picture: UNICEF Ambassador Matt Dawson meets pupils at the UNICEF funded Albert School in Johannesburg, South Africa (Wikimedia Commons)