ICDP, or the International Child Development Programme, is an organisation that has done ground-breaking work in early childhood development.Its work is based on well-documented scientific research and has been recognised by and it has cooperated with important development agencies such as UNICEF, Plan, Save the Children and the World Health Organisation.The programme has also been adopted by different government agencies around the world.

With a truly global reach, ICDP is based on the premise that the ‘basic starting point for human psychological development is the formation of an enduring, loving relationship between the baby and either one or a small group of carers. This is a universal feature, both across and within cultures.’ (From Love Hunger is Stronger than Food Hunger, a paper by Nicoletta Armstrong).

In other words: ‘What a baby needs most is a long-term relationship based on love’.

So, what does ICDP do?

Simply put, ICDP helps vulnerable children by helping their caregivers and families to enhance and enrich the quality of adult-child relationships. This prevents the development of those relationships that are detrimental for the child’s well-being. It raises the awareness of caregivers about their children’s psycho-social needs and increases their ability to respond to these needs; and it can be used as a preventive as well as rehabilitative measure.

ICDP was begun in the 1980s by Karsten Hundeide, psychologist and professor, and Henning Rye, psychiatrist/psychologist, and partly inspired by new-at-the-time research into child development (the importance of attachment and caregiver-child communication for children’s mental and emotional development) and by witnessing the situation of young children in institutions in Sri Lanka.

Indeed, many researchers have described children in some institutions where they were deprived of meaningful human contact, with only their physical needs looked after. Such children show symptoms of apathy and withdrawal, or restlessness, hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, and craving for affection. Receiving no love and experiencing no real communication, these children are delayed in all areas of development: motor, language, social, emotional and intellectual skills.

Therefore, two basic care-giving skills are particularly important in determining the effectiveness of care: sensitivity and responsiveness. The ICDP programme helps caregivers to learn about these skills and develop them.

One example of ICDP’s successful work and collaboration with governmental and non-government agencies is its work in Colombia. In 2001, Nicoletta Lailah Armstrong, now Chair of the ICDP Foundation, presented the ICDP at a UNICEF seminar in Bogotá. The representative, Manuel Manrique, saw the potential of ICDP in the context of violence prevention/peace building and the promotion of children’s rights. After a successful large-scale pilot, designed by Nicoletta and sponsored by UNICEF, ICDP Colombia was registered and cooperation with UNICEF started in a more systematic way – and this is ongoing.

ICDP worked with Gladys Constanza Medina Brando the wife of the governor of the department of Boyacá who asked to be trained in ICDP by Nicoletta Armstrong having attended her presentation. She supported and helped spread ICDP in the whole of Boyacá, advocating for the programme in radio interviews and creating eight radio programmes – one for each of the eight ICDP guidelines.  10 years later, she is still an ICDP supporter, and has joined forces with ICDP Colombia’s Anisa Andrade to help revive interest in Boyacá, and there has already been a lot of media coverage. The launch of ICDP took place in Tunja, the capital of Boyacá and was attended by local government officials.

Similarly, in Guatemala, the movement spread over the country through the influence of the First Lady. As for its success in other parts of the world, in Norway and El Salvador, ICDP is a country programme. In Nepal, the Philippines, India, Somalia and Brazil, ICDP is currently working with Save the Children and with governments to strengthen child protection programmes. In total ICDP has worked in 55 countries worldwide.

What is special to ICDP that makes it acceptable to people from different countries, backgrounds and cultures? “We think that one important reason is that it is simple and close to everyday experiences most people feel familiar with. The other – and it may be an even more important reason – is that the programme is based on a human understanding and on human values that most people recognize, feel happy with and wish for themselves and their children”. (Karsten Hundeide and Henning Rye: The early history, development and basic values of ICDP – from the ICDP website).