Skip to main content

When the first steps make a difference

Early childhood development in Latin America and the Caribbean: a priority

The comprehensive development of children in their early years should be a top priority for Latin America and the Caribbean. Investments in health, nutrition, cognitive, and emotional development during the first years of life not only help children realize their potential, but can also contribute to reducing the economic inequality that characterizes this region.

In its work with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Inter-American Development Bank supports the efforts of the region’s governments to expand coverage and improve the quality of early childhood services, particularly of those that serve the most vulnerable populations.

Between 1994 and 2010, the IDB financed 107 projects that include components for supporting early childhood development. Top experts in the field maintain that such social policies and programs offer the greatest benefits of any action that governments can undertake. According to James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, the return on investment for early childhood development programs in the United States has been on the order of 7 to 12 percent annually. Samuel Berlinski, a researcher at the IDB, has found that such programs in Argentina have had rates of return of up to 19 percent.

Nevertheless, providing services of high quality is a necessary condition for early childhood programs to have the impacts described above. "Quality is essential,” says IDB economist Florencia Lopez-Boo, a social protection specialist. “For this reason, the Bank insists on assigning the highest priority to this subject at all levels, especially in public policy."

New blog

In a move to promote dialogue, disseminate new ideas, and share experiences related to early childhood development policies and programs, the IDB has created a new interactive space, the blog Primeros Pasos (“First Steps”).  The blog is currently published in Spanish and will soon be launched in English.

The blog will help the IDB to respond more effectively to the needs of the region’s countries, according to Bank economist María Caridad Araujo, a blog contributor."We hope to stimulate conversations that improve the way we think and act about early childhood development,” she says.

Jump back to top