Centre for Holistic Initiatives for Learning and Development (CHILD) at National University of Singapore

Smiling child playing with bricks

The Centre for Holistic Initiatives for Learning and Development (CHILD) is a Singaporean initiative established under the umbrella of the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine) with a generous endowment from the Lien Foundation. CHILD's core strategic partners are Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI) and A*STAR's Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS)

Strategic Purpose

CHILD combines expertise in translational research, early childhood development, and implementation science to address gaps in systems and services in Singapore. Ensuring research is properly contextualised to local settings and reaches policy makers, practitioners, and the public, CHILD's work shortens the delay that exists between science and implementation in the early childhood space. By leveraging extensive advances in science and strong, evidence-based practices, CHILD helps guide public policies and interventions to improve emotional, cognitive and social outcomes for all children.

CHILD's role is aligned with Singapore's Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 plans on Human Health and Potential. The Centre works with community service and government agencies as well as industry in the early childhood space, tapping on knowledge and insights from the Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) study.

GUSTO relies heavily on the collaborative efforts of numerous local and overseas researchers representing institutions such as the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS), the National University Hospital (NUH), KK Women's and Children's Hospital, and A*STAR's Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS). This landmark birth cohort study, running for more than a decade, has gathered valuable data - detailed, longitudinal observations and samples - about how conditions in pregnancy and early childhood influence maternal mental health and child neurodevelopment and is proving to be an invaluable source of knowledge for improving the health and potential of Singaporeans from the start of life.

Insights from the study are providing the evidence and illuminating the gaps that CHILD addresses by working with community partners to co-design and implement evidence-based interventions for children and families.

CHILD Objectives:

  • Build a knowledge repository on all available research across relevant disciplines.
  • Share carefully curated knowledge with relevant stakeholders; facilitate their translation into practice; enhance capability in partnership with social service agencies and practitioners.
  • Improve testing and screening of preschool children to identify at-risk children before the primary school years.
  • Co-design specific and personalized evidence-based interventions for preschool children and evaluate these rigorously to ensure effectiveness, feasibility, and scalability in the community.

CHILD is the first centre of its kind in the region. The centre enjoys close access to a network of hospitals and polyclinics, and by extension, their invaluable clinical and medical expertise. We seek to work with all parties in the early childhood space to give children the best start to life. For more information on CHILD's work and our people, evidence insights and partners, please visit the CHILD website.

CHILD Evidence Briefs

CHILD produces ‘Evidence Insights'. Three of its first insights were on maternal mental health, the impact of digital media use on children's brain development and childhood obesity:

Key findings and recommendations:

1. Maternal mental health affects brain development in children

Research from GUSTO, which aims to understand how conditions in pregnancy and early childhood influence the health and development of women and children, has shown that nearly 40% of mothers in Singapore displayed depressive symptoms during pregnancy. Even at mild to moderate levels, this distress may affect the cognitive and emotional development and function of the child, and may go on to have an adverse impact on their school readiness, academic performance and even mental health. The impairment of these functions places the child at a lifelong disadvantage.

“These are significant findings that underscore the need for proactive intervention to take place as early as pre-conception, during pregnancy, and early postnatal period. This will ensure the optimal development of executive functions in the early years of their children and reduce the risks of lifelong downstream disadvantages. Interventions need to focus on both the mother and infant, with parental needs being supported even before the child is born,” explained Associate Professor Robyn Mildon, Co-Director of CHILD and Founding Executive Director of the Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI).

2. Adverse impact of passive screen time on children's cognitive and socio-emotional development

The early childhood years also present a crucial period to shape a child's cognitive development. In a study led by Assistant Professor Evelyn Law from the Department of Paediatrics at NUS Medicine and Principal Investigator, Translational Neuroscience Programme, Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, A*STAR, which drew findings from GUSTO, it was found that almost all Singaporean infants and toddlers under two years of age are exposed to approximately two hours of digital media a day via electronic screen-based devices.

High levels of passive viewing screen time during these early years may have adverse consequences for cognitive development in later childhood, including poorer eating behaviour, poor sleep, attention difficulties, near-sightedness, as well as developmental delays.

3. Eating behaviours in childhood: why they matter and what can we do?

Childhood obesity is a public health concern in numerous public health initiatives worldwide and is also a key concern in Singapore as childhood obesity tends to persist into adulthood and is associated with a variety of chronic health conditions.  This article suggests strategies to prevent childhood overweight and obesity in Singapore by targeting children’s eating behaviours early in life to reduce the impact of early life risk factors.

 CHILD Evidence to Policy and Practice Webinar Series

CHILD also run an Evidence to Policy and Practice Webinar Series as part of key outreach initiatives aimed at engaging policymakers, academics, clinicians and practitioners in a collaborative dialogue focused on innovations in research, policy and practice related to early childhood development. The series explores the different aspects of child development and discuss potential interventions that could give children the best start to life. To watch previous recordings and to learn about upcoming webinars please visit the CHILD website.

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