opinion | Investing in child-friendly care

Richard Delorme (Head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Roberta Debre Hospital)

Posted on July 21, 2022, 12:09 p.m

Childhood is a period of high vulnerability, but also sensitivity to the environment, which is important for creating the foundation of the individual’s potential. A child’s development is based on a strong interaction between complex brain mechanisms and a rich and structuring environment. This provides the child with emotional security, as well as the cognitive skills necessary for lifelong development.

However, among the 11 million children living in France, one in five lives below the poverty line, one in five has significant difficulties in schooling, and almost one in six has a disorder that seriously affects their cognitive development. These gaps highlight more than ever the need for massive investment in early childhood development to address these early life inequalities. As noted by Nobel laureate in economics James Heckman, sustained investment in childhood, especially in children under the age of 5, yields a return on investment estimated at 10-15%.

Better support for parents

Over the past five years, the French state has responded to this need by deploying policies to respond to the main challenges faced by children and their families. For example, the 1000 days policy allowed for the development of a support policy for parents from pregnancy until the child reaches the age of 3. The Association for Mental Health and Psychiatry has launched the Children’s Brain Institute, which aims to unite families, doctors and scientists around a global project to address children’s vulnerabilities.

Like major international universities, this institute, located at the Robert Debre Hospital, aims to stimulate excellence in scientific research, promote innovation and the emergence of new knowledge, and improve the affective and cognitive development of children, their learning and health.

Scientific assessment

However, in order to outline the science, education and medicine of the future for children, it is important to promote an investment dynamic that combines stronger ties with private actors to overcome sometimes limited economic needs.

In this sense, impact investing has the potential to be mobilized to address the grand challenges of childhood, but the indicators as well as the financial instruments to be mobilized have yet to be defined. The identification of performance indicators that are reliable and measurable over the long term can be stimulated by the work of the Institut Robert-Debray for the child’s brain, and thus facilitate the evaluation of the impact of public and private policies aimed at childhood.

Multiply financial instruments

Among the sources of funding, the philanthropic commitment of corporate sponsors and foundations for the benefit of children should become decisive, probably through the strengthening of tax incentives, specialized and focused on this sector. Other financial instruments can be used to encourage investment in childhood, but the potential return methods for this investment need to be better identified.

In France, there is a certain antagonism between the development of public projects that integrate childhood, vulnerability, health care, education, and the ability to involve the private sector in creating a real “changer” and promoting innovation. However, it needs to be stimulated in order to significantly change the individual path of each child. This contrast becomes even more vivid, because in this period of health, environmental and geopolitical crisis, we adults are more than ever aware of the need to deeply invest in our children, to support them in a threatening future.

Richard Delorme heads the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Robert Debre Hospital.