The Local Church and the First Thousand Days of a Child's Life: A Mixed Methods Study from South Africa
Keywords:early childhood development, first thousand days, missional, nurturing care, church, social development
Background: Whilst there is a growing body of research indicating the life-long significance of the first thousand days (F1000D) in a person’s life, there is currently limited research regarding the church’s understanding and support of this critical period for human health and wellbeing. Exploratory research was therefore conducted by a Cape Town faith-based organization seeking preliminary answers to the question: What is the specific contribution a local church can make in support of the first thousand days (conception to 2 years) of a child’s life in Cape Town, South Africa?
Methods: A mixed-method study was conducted with 194 respondents, seeking to understand knowledge and attitudes of church leaders towards F1000D, current church responses, existing F1000D models, and approaches that may be suited to the church, the role that respondents see for the church in F1000D, and barriers to mothers accessing F1000D services.
Results: The research showed that although there is limited knowledge and engagement with F1000D by church leaders, there is broad consensus that the church does have a significant role to play in this life stage. The church has many assets that can be mobilised in support of F1000D and doing so will also serve the church’s missional purpose.
Discussion: Key recommendations include the following: F1000D should be included and normalised across all church activities; programmatic responses to F1000D that use the assets of a local church should be developed; the collective voice of the church for advocacy for F1000D support and services within society should be harnessed.
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