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Physical and mental health for young children
Physical and mental health for young children

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3.1 Persistent inequalities in health for young children

Child poverty continues to be one of the most important factors contributing to child ill-health. The Marmot review (2020) highlights which children are most likely to be living in poverty, particularly those living in lone-parent families and minority ethnic children.

Table 4 Percentage of children living in poverty in 2017/18 in the UK. Adapted from Marmot et al., 2020, p. 42
In lone-parent families 47%
Minority ethnic children 45%
White British children 20%

Children in lone-parent families are ‘particularly at risk of low outcomes and poor health, both in childhood and throughout life.’ (Marmot et al., 2020, p. 42). Minority ethnic children living in poverty in the UK ‘experience cumulative impacts of the intersections between poverty and exclusion and discrimination, which harms health and life chances even from the earliest age’ (Marmot et al., 2020, p. 42).

Tackling racism

While it is tempting to despair at the difficulties some children face, there is an important part for early childhood education and care (ECEC) to play in helping children to have healthier lives. Early years services of high quality make an enduring impact on children’s health and other outcomes, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds (Marmot et al., 2020, p. 36). One aspect of ECEC that can help young children is to tackle racism and to provide an environment in the early years that is culturally sensitive, valuing and welcoming all children’s family heritage, within an anti-racist framework. See for example guidance by Liz Pemberton, a Black Nursery Manager (Pemberton, 2022a, 2022b, 2022c and 2022d). Pemberton proposes the ‘4 Es of anti-racist practice’ for early years provision (Pemberton, 2022d).

The 4 Es of anti-racist practice

  • Embrace all children’s racial, cultural and religious backgrounds, especially when they differ from your own.
  • Embed a culture of belonging and value among practitioners and children.
  • Ensure that your practice is culturally sensitive and places the child as the expert of their cultural, racial and religious identity.
  • Extend learning opportunities for the child by showing interest, expanding conversations and using diverse resources.

Books such as My Skin, Your Skin by Laura Henry-Allain also provide excellent tools for talking with all young children about race and racism in ways that they can understand and embrace (Henry-Allain and Iwu, 2021).

There is always something that can be done in ECEC to help young children fulfil their health potential. The Toolkit outlined in Sessions 6, 7 and 8 ahead will help you to plan for action.