By Richard Delorme (Head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Robert Debré Hospital)
Posted July 21, 2022, 12:09 pm
Childhood is a period of high vulnerability, but also of sensitivity to the environment, which is crucial to building the foundation for the individual’s potential. Children’s development is based on strong interactions between complex brain mechanisms and a rich and structuring environment. It gives the child the emotional security but also the cognitive skills necessary for its development throughout life.
But among the 11 million children living in France, one in five lives below the poverty line, one in five has significant learning disabilities in school, and almost one in six has a disorder that severely affects his cognitive development. These fragility underscores more than ever the need to invest massively in favor of childhood in order to break with these inequalities in the first ages of life. As Nobel Laureate James Heckman has pointed out, sustained investment in childhood, especially in children under the age of 5, provides an investment return estimated at 10-15%.
Better support for parents
Over the last five years, the French state has responded to this need by implementing a policy to respond to the greatest challenges facing children and their families. For example, the 1,000-day policy has made it possible to build a policy to support parents from pregnancy until the child is 3 years old. The Assizes of Mental Health and Psychiatry has enabled the creation of a Child Brain Institute, which aims to unite families, doctors and scientists around a global project that responds to children’s vulnerabilities.
Like large international universities, this institute located at Robert-Debré Hospital aims to stimulate expertise in scientific research, promote innovation and the emergence of new knowledge, to improve the affective and cognitive development of children, their learning and their health.
A scientific estimate
But in order to draw the science, education and medicine of the future for children, it is important to promote investment dynamics that forge stronger links with private actors, in order to overcome the sometimes limited economic demands.
In this sense, power investments have the potential for mobilization to meet the major challenges of childhood, but the indicators as well as the financial tools to be mobilized have not yet been specified. The identification of performance indicators, reliable and measurable in the long term, could be stimulated by the Robert-Debré Institute’s work for the child’s brain, thus facilitating the assessment of the impact of public and private policies aimed at childhood.
Multiply financial tools
Among the sources of funding, the philanthropic commitment of companies and foundations in favor of children needs to be increased to become crucial, probably by strengthening tax incentives that are specialized and oriented towards this sector. Other financial tools could be mobilized to stimulate investment in childhood, but it is necessary to better define the potential methods of return on this investment.
In France, there is still some contradiction between the development of public projects that unite childhood, precariousness, health, education and the ability to involve the private sector to create a real “game changer” and promote innovation. However, it must be stimulated to significantly change the individual child’s individual path. This contrast is all the more striking, as in this period of health, ecological and geopolitical crises, we adults have become more aware than ever of the need to invest deeply in our children, to support them in a threatening future.
Richard Delorme is head of the child and adolescent psychiatric ward at Robert-Debré Hospital.