opinion | Investing in childcare

Richard Delorme (Head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Robert Debré Hospital)

Published on July 21, 2022, 12:09 pm

Childhood is a period of high vulnerability, but also sensitivity to the environment, which is necessary to build the foundation of individual potential. Child development is based on a strong interplay between complex brain mechanisms and a rich structuring environment. This provides the child with emotional security as well as the cognitive skills necessary for their development throughout their life.

However, of the 11 million children living in France, one in five lives below the poverty line, one in five has severe learning difficulties in school and almost one in six suffers from a disorder that seriously affects their cognitive development. These weaknesses highlight more than ever the need for huge investments in childhood to end these inequalities in the first years of life. As Nobel Laureate in Economics James Heckman noted, sustainable investment in childhood, especially in children under 5 years old, brings an investment return estimated at 10-15%.

Best Parent Support

Over the past five years, the French state has responded to this need by deploying policies to address the major problems faced by children and their families. For example, the 1000 days policy allowed for the development of a policy to support parents from the moment of pregnancy until the child reaches the age of three. The Mental Health and Psychiatry Jury created the Child Brain Institute, which aims to bring families, doctors and scientists together around a global project that addresses children’s vulnerability.

Like major international universities, this institute, located in the Robert-Debreu Hospital, aims to stimulate cutting-edge research, promote innovation and new knowledge, improve children’s emotional and cognitive development, their learning and their health.

Scientific assessment

However, in order to chart the science, education and medicine of the future for children, it is important to foster an investment dynamic that creates closer ties with private actors to overcome the sometimes limited economic needs of public funds.

In this sense, impact investing has the potential to mobilize to solve the serious problems of childhood, but indicators have not yet been identified, as well as financial instruments that need to be mobilized. The identification of performance indicators that are reliable and measurable in the long term could be stimulated by the work of the Robert-Debré Institute on the study of the child’s brain and thus facilitate the assessment of the impact of public and private policies aimed at childhood.

Multiply financial instruments

Among the sources of funding, the philanthropy of corporate sponsors and foundations in favor of children should become decisive, perhaps through increased tax incentives that are specialized and targeted at this sector. Other financial instruments could be mobilized to incentivize investment in childhood, but the potential methods of recouping this investment need to be better identified.

In France, a certain antagonism remains between the development of public projects that combine childhood, insecurity, health, education, and the possibility of involving the private sector to create a real “game changer” and promote innovation. However, it needs to be stimulated in order to significantly transform the individual path of each child. This contrast is all the more striking as, in this period of sanitary, environmental and geopolitical crisis, we adults are more aware than ever of the need to invest deeply in our children, to support them in a threatening future.

Richard Delorme Head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Robert-Debreu Hospital.